Billy Mitchell (jazz pianist)

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Billy Mitchell
Birth nameWilliam Allen Mitchell
Born (1943-11-23) November 23, 1943 (age 75)
Tarrytown, New York, U.S.
GenresJazz, smooth jazz, swing
Occupation(s)Musician, producer, arranger, author, community activist
InstrumentsPiano, keyboards
Years active1970–present
LabelsPausa, Vista

William Allen Mitchell (born November 23, 1943) is an American jazz pianist, music producer, composer, and author. He is also known for his community work with at-risk youth.

Early life[edit]

Mitchell was born November 23, 1943, in Tarrytown, New York,[1] and raised in Buffalo. His father was a Baptist minister and community activist. Mitchell was introduced to the piano as a child by his mother, but resisted all formal instruction. Instead, he learned to play the piano by listening to the music and jazz recordings of the day. Mitchell attended Morehouse College[2] in the early '60s, where he majored in history and political science. Between classes, he would sneak into the college’s music department to play jazz, which was not allowed in the music building. Mitchell joined an off-campus jazz group, performing with a band before an audience for the first time in a local talent show. In search of a career in music, Mitchell moved to Los Angeles in 1970. He formed The Billy Mitchell Trio in the 1970s, which later became The Billy Mitchell Group.[3] The band was active in the 1980s and '90s,performing at clubs and jazz festivals, including the Sedona Jazz Festival.[4]

Early recordings[edit]

Billy’s first solo effort, Blue City Jam,[5] was released on Pausa Records in 1984. His second album, Night Theme (1987), captured the funky, urban flavored vibe of the Quiet Storm format just before the advent of smooth jazz, followed by Faces (1988) and In Focus (1991). After an excursion into swing and three live recordings, Live All Night Long (1994), Cat’s Pajamas (1996) and Passion (1998), Mitchell returned his smooth jazz roots with the PRC release Never Give Up On Love (2001) and Vista Records’ The Traveler (2005).

The Billy Mitchell Group[edit]


Mitchell’s work as a producer spans over four decades and dozens of recordings cover a wide spectrum of genres.


During the 1980s, Mitchell wrote a monthly column for Gig Magazine called "Road Warrior", that gave professional advice to musicians dealing with the issues of work and career. His book The Gigging Musician (Hal Leonard Publishing) is based on Mitchell’s Gig Magazine articles, as well as interviews with industry professionals.[6]


Mitchell appeared in the classic Clint Eastwood film Bird (1988), playing the part of Charlie Parker’s pianist.[7] He also appeared in Jazz, an award-winning docudrama about the lives and experiences of Black musicians.[8]

Community work[edit]

In 2002, Mitchell founded The Scholarship Audition Performance Preparatory Academy (SAPPA)[9] to increase participation of inner-city students in music and art scholarship competitions. SAPPA also sponsors music workshops that provide free music instruction in various programs throughout the Los Angeles area. Mitchell also established the Watts-Willowbook Conservatory and Youth Symphony, where he serves as executive director.


As leader[edit]

  • 1984: Blue City Jam
  • 1986: The Cat’s Pajamas
  • 1987: Night Theme
  • 1989: Faces
  • 1992: Billy Mitchell/John Bolivar – LIVE – All Night Long
  • 1997: The Billy Mitchell Group – Passion
  • 1999: In Focus
  • 2000: Never Give Up On Love
  • 2006: The Traveler
  • 2007: Minority Report – Classified

As producer[edit]

  • 1976: Zebra – Closer to the Feeling
  • 1984: Billy Mitchell – Blue City Jam
  • 1985: The Plunketts – Jazz Christmas
  • 1986: Billy Mitchell – The Cat’s Pajamas
  • 1987: Billy Mitchell – Night Theme
  • 1987: Cheryl BarnesCheryl
  • 1988: John Bolivar – Bolivar
  • 1989: Billy Mitchell – Faces
  • 1992: Billy Mitchell/John Bolivar – LIVE – All Night Long
  • 1996: Cheryl “Charley” Berdell – Charley
  • 1997: The Billy Mitchell Group – “Passion
  • 1998: Charlie Chartmaker – Silhouette of an Era
  • 1999: Jo Marie PaytonSouthern Shadows
  • 1999: Billy Mitchell – In Focus
  • 2000: Nicole Martel – Cest Si Bon
  • 2000: Billy Mitchell – Never Give Up On Love
  • 2000: Brenda Lee EagerStartin’ Over
  • 2002: Lori Donato – I Love Being Here with You
  • 2005: Monica Peterson – International Chanteuse
  • 2006: Billy Mitchell – The Traveler
  • 2006: Chikage Kimura – Perdido
  • 2007: Michiyo Yuasa – Sophisticated Lady
  • 2007: Minority Report – Classified”
  • 2012: Yuko Mabuchi – Waves
  • 2013: Garrett MorrisBlack Creole Chronicle

As Arranger and/or sideman[edit]

  • 1975: Billy PaulGot My Head on Straight
  • 1977: Ricky Lance – The Sun is Rising
  • 1977: Frankie CrockerFrankie Crocker & The Heart and Soul Orchestra
  • 1977: The Gap BandThe Gap
  • 1979: Aura – Take a Trip
  • 1989: Willie Dixon, Stanley Behrens – The Stanley Behrens Willie Dixon Project
  • 1979 Leonard Grandson – The Sands of Zanzibar
  • 1987: Cash McCall – Cash Up Front
  • 1992: Hispanic Musicians Association Orchestra – California Salsa


Pasadena Arts Council Gold Crown Award (2006)[10] The KCET and Union Bank Local Hero Award (2010)[11] The Living Legend Foundation, Living Legend Award (2012, July)


  1. ^ Steward, Zan (December 26, 1966). "Now on a Happier Note: Billy Mitchell". Los Angeles Times.
  2. ^ "Musician Sees Jazz as Gift to the Children". Star-News. August 17, 1984.
  3. ^ "The Billy Mitchell Band". Music Connection. May 29 – June 11, 1989.
  4. ^ "Sedona Jazz on the Rocks features famous educators, artists". Green Valley News & Sun. Retrieved August 7, 2014.
  5. ^ "Blue City Jam: New Album Released". Los Angeles Sentinel. August 30, 1984.
  6. ^ Heckman, Don. "New Book Sheds Light on Getting, Keeping Jazz Gig". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ "Movies: Billy Mitchell". Black Elegance (Vol. 2, No. 8). April 1988.
  8. ^ "Jazz Sweeps Awards". Los Angeles Sentinel.
  9. ^ Piasecki, Joe (June 21, 2007). "One on One, Musical Mentor Billy Mitchell Helps Lead a Generation Out of Crisis". Pasadena Weekly.
  10. ^ Wilson, Larry (March 10, 2006). "And the envelope, please". Pasadena Star News.
  11. ^ "Local Hero: Billy Mitchell". KCET.

External links[edit]