Bill Plummer studied Jazz Bass with Monty Budwig, symphonic Solo Bass under Herman Reinshagen, and East Indian Sitar under Ravi Shankar and Hari Har Rao. He has performed and recorded with a number of artists across a wide range of styles and settings from jazz trios and orchestras to pop, rock and Americana, from experimental projects and film scores to live television shows and major music festivals. Here is Bill’s story.
His Father’s side were mining, dam, bridge, and highway construction engineers, his six aunts providing the musical side.
Bill lived his first three years on the job site in the basement of the Virginia Hotel in Medicine Bow, Wyoming before migrating to Los Angeles, California. The family became involved in overseas shipping as their first Sunday paper in L.A. was Pearl Harbor. Bill continued on in the industry after the war, driving fork lifts at eight and being the youngest member of the International Longshoremen and Warehousemen’s Union at twelve.
His Mother’s side were railroad steam engineers. Bill’s grandfather, Jasper Bartley, played piano and trumpet and was a ‘territorial’ band leader in Horton, Kansas. He taught Bill’s mother piano and trumpet, and in turn she taught Bill piano. Under Eleanor Longquist formal piano study began when Bill was six. Two years later being proficient in bass clef, he began the study of kontrabass under music supervisor Francis Forester, playing in the elementary school orchestra and the Los Angeles All City Orchestra. His bass career continued through junior and senior high, performing as principal bassist in the school orchestras. During this period he also began the study of marimba under Jack Whaley, and saxophone, playing bari-sax in the school concert bands at Washington High and Los Angeles City College.
Bill Plummer became a member of pianist Stewart McKean’s Lighthouse All Star Juniors his last year at Washington High. The sextet produced monthly ‘noon’ concerts and was contracted by the American Red Cross to perform Jazz concerts at high schools throughout Southern California. They were the only high school band to perform in Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse Spring Break Collegiate Jazz Competition. Bill started study of Jazz bass under Monty Budwig also at this time.
After graduation Bill enrolled as a music major, psychology minor at Los Angeles City College studying counterpoint and harmony under Leonard Stein, orchestra and concert band under Hugo Strelitzer, and arranging and Jazz band under Bob McDonald.
Many of the students at LACC would later become recording and performing associates. Pianist and bari-saxist Richard Thompson being one who would later be a member of the Cosmic Brotherhood. Richard introduced Bill to drummer Paul Togawa, leader of several jazz trios and quartets where he performed and recorded with Joe Sample, Anthony ‘Batman’ Ortega, Teddy Edwards, Dick Whittington, Joe Lettieri, and Freddy Rodriguez.
Touring – Gigs – Solo Study
Bill’s first road gig was with Joanie Summers and the Tommy Oliver Trio at Lake Arrowhead, California.
Bill next performed in Las Vegas and at the Monterey Jazz Festival with Miriam Makeba before touring with the Buddy DeFranco -Tommy Gumina Quartet with drummer John Guerin. They recorded “Street of Dreams” for Mercury Records.
Bill returned to Las Vegas with the Frankie Ortega Trio playing the Riviera Hotel, recording and filming the “77 Sunset Strip” series for Warner Brothers, and performing at the Melody Room on the Sunset Strip.
Joining the Joanne Grauer Trio at the ‘Ventura Inn’ Bill met drummer Maurice Miller from Alton, Illinois and they quickly became one of the “hottest rhythm sections” in town. This was a double opportunity for Bill as Joanne’s brother Jay Grauer, principle bassist with the New Orleans Symphony, introduced Bill to Herman Reinshagen, principle of the NY Philharmonic and Toscanini NBC Symphony orchestras, whom Bill studied Solo Bass with until his passing.
Lorraine Geller replaced Joanne Grauer on touring absence and was a strong influence in introducing Bill to the East Coast Jazz genre. Bill became a member of the Herb Geller Quartet with Lorraine and drummer ‘cool’ Nick Martinis; they played Jazz clubs in Santa Monica and backed the Mickey Rooney Show at the Club Largo (Roxy).
Bill and Maurice Miller then joined the Paul Horn Quintet with vibist Emil Richards and pianist Paul Moer, recording “Mirage for Miles” on Columbia Records and performing at Shelley’s Manne Hole, and The Insomniac.
Gigging with Jack Wilson Jr and Kenny Dennis, who was Nancy Wilson’s drummer, Kenny hired Bill to begin performing, touring, and recording with the Nancy Wilson Show. Featuring pianists Lou Levy and Ronnell Bright, they performed at the Crescendo, and the Cocoanut Grove in L.A, Their US tour culminated with The Free Sounds of 1963 at the Apollo Theater in New York City with Nancy Wilson, Ronnell Bright, Bill Plummer, Kenny Dennis, Cannonball Adderly, Nat Adderly, Charles Lloyd, Joe Zawvinul, Sam Jones, Louis Hayes, Ramsey Lewis, LD Young, Red Holt, and Slappy White. The show was in tribute to Dinah Washington.
Upon returning home to L.A., Bill gigged with Lou Rawls at the Soul Brothers and Al Jarreau at Dino’s Lodge. He then became a member of Tommy Peltier’s Jazz Corps; they were together for ten years. Their first recording featured the Jazz Corps with Roland Kirk. The Jazz Corps became a Sunday night feature at the Lighthouse Jazz Club in Hermosa Beach. Music director and bassist Howard Rumsey recorded the band live and three CD’s “Live at the Lighthouse” have been released from these recordings.
Bill then toured with the George Shearing Quintet in Hawaii and the World’s Fair in Seattle, returning to L.A. to gig and record with pianist Pete Jolly at Sherri’s on the Strip.
Bill and vibist Lynn Blessing then joined the re-formed Paul Horn Quintet, with pianist Mike Lang and drummer Bill Goodwin. They recorded five albums for RCA and completed three national tours.
Motion Picture Scoring, Miles and Tony Bennett
The last album under film composer/conductor Lalo Schifrin, “Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts” became a stepping stone into an extensive motion picture and recording career with Bill performing under Henry Mancini, Jerry Goldberg, Dmitri Tiomkin, Gil Melle, Oliver Nelson, Don Ellis, and Quincy Jones. Performances of the Mass included the Los Angeles Philharmonic under Zubin Mehta, the Minneapolis Philharmonic and the USC and UCLA Symphony orchestras.
During this period Bill also performed with the Miles Davis Quintet at the Jazz Workshop in San Diego, and the Orange County Jazz Festival. He recorded Tom Waits “Closing Time” and two albums with Judee Sill for David Geffen’s Asylum Records, Marc McClure’s “Songs for ‘Ol Ladies and Babies” on Capitol, Bill Henderson’s “Sleepin Bee” on UA, and Roy Ayers‘ “West Coast Vibes” on UNI. He also performed at the “Losers” with artists Anita O’Day, Herb Jeffries, and Mavis Rivers before touring with Fran Jeffries in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
As a member of the re-formed Paul Horn Quintet, Bill toured in concert with Tony Bennett, appearing at Sinatra’s Cal-Neva Lodge, Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, the Cocoanut Grove in Los Angeles, and filming two NBC television specials for the Singer Co. in New York City.
India Comes to Los Angeles: The Cosmic Brotherhood
Recording with Emil Richards and the Hindustani Sextet Bill met Hari Har Rao and began the study of Sitar. Bill studied with Hari Har and Ravi Shankar at Shankar’s Kinara School of East Indian Music before forming the Cosmic Brotherhood Sitar Band.
Jazz producer Bob Thiele began using Bill on sitar, recording albums for Tom Scott, Gabor Szabo, and The Happy Times Orchestra; he then commissioned him to form The Cosmic Brotherhood Sitar Band and record “The Journey to the East” album on ABC-Impulse. They were the first of the Jazz/East Indian fusion bands.
The Brotherhood produced a series of Sunday concerts sponsored by the City of Los Angeles at the Pilgrimage Theater, provided ‘cosmic’ music for Timothy Leary lectures, and appeared at the Lighthouse, the Encino Smoke House and a series of Monday night concerts at the Brass Ring in Sherman Oaks.
Americana – Gas Food & Lodging – Spanky & Our Gang
Bill’s keen interest in Americana traditional music is represented in his recordings with Byron Berline, Jim Pulte, Rick Vito, Ry Cooder, Joey Latimer’s Blues Monks, Phil Boroff, Gas Food & Lodging, and Spanky & Our Gang.
Under the baton of composer Hial Bancroft King, Bill Plummer, Art Johnson, Lynn Blessing and Bob Morin premiered his work “Future Shock” with the Tucson and Ft. Worth Symphony Orchestras.
In Ft. Worth, Art, Lynn and Bill decided to form a new band, eventually known as “Gas Food & Lodging.” GF&L initially was a trio with Lynn on drums and Art on guitar and vocals, they appeared Tuesday nights at the Sundance Saloon in Calabasas. During this time Bill was recording Marc McClure’s album “Ol Ladies and Babies” and Marc was tracking vocals with GF&L. They decided to add Kevin Kelly from the Birds on drums, and Lynn moved to piano and organ; suddenly they were a quintet. They recorded three albums with this band, Ron Dunn Jones drumming on the third.
Art, Marc, and Bill as GF&L, then joined the Pat Boone Show, being featured for two years. They also filmed episodes for the Bionic Woman with Lindsay Waggoner and won the California Educational Film “Cindy Award” for their scoring of Ted and Carol, Bob and Alice”.
Professionals in demand, Art began touring with Lena Horne, Marc and Bill then joined the new ‘country’ Spanky & Our Gang. Managed by Al Warbucks, they toured Texas two years as opening act for Willie Nelson, playing the Willie Nelson Picnic, major Texas venues and recorded the album “Change” for Epic records in Nashville and the Record Plant in Los Angeles. SOG performed many times at Tommy and Billy Thomas’s Club Palomino and The Topanga Corral.
Education – Basses International – Rolling Stones
Throughout his career Bill has dedicated time to the music education field which included his tenure in the Los Angeles Docent Alliance program, a three year Presidency of the L.A. Bass Club, coordinating three International Workshops at the Roosevelt Hotel, CSULB, and UCLA, the Wild Rose Ramblers symposiums at UCLA, the Don Ellis 12 University Symposium series, music instructor residential counselor at Morning Sky School, two years Guitar and Music Theory instructor at College of the Desert, and 60 years private teacher of string bass.
In preparing for the L.A. Bass Club monthly meeting/concerts, the two bass Ramblers, in collaboration with Jim Keltner, evolved into a stereo bass ensemble known as Basses International. The project caught the ear of Jimmy Miller, producer of the Rolling Stones, and he commissioned Bill to record four tracks on upright bass for their epic CD “Exile on Main Street.”
Basses International’s CD “Road to the Sky” is now released on ZIVO Records at www.billplummerbass.com. They performed in the La Quinta Jazz Festival with Stan Getz and Diane Shuur, the Mammoth Lakes Sierra Jazz Festival with Joe Sample, and the Idyllwild Jazz Festival.
A new life odyssey found Bill leaving Southern California and settling in Dubois, Wyoming. He began gigging with guitarist Mike Dowling performing at the Jackson Center of the Arts, The National Wildlife Museum, and the Big Horn Institute in Dubois. He also produced and recorded a CD with guitarist songwriter Peter Wagoner.
Bill became a member of the Lander Symphony, formed the Wyoming Conservatory of Music Inc. and formed the Rainbow Rhetti Strings, a Wyoming elementary school music series program.
In Jackson Hole, Bill met pianists Pam Drews Phillips and Keith Phillips; he started gigging at The Granary with Pam and concertizing with Keith Phillips and Nicole Madison. He became a member of the Jackson 6, producing and recording a CD with John Kidwell, Jason Fritts, Lawrence Bennett and Ed Domer on J6 Records. Bill and guitarist John Michael Haines then formed Haines & Plummer, a classical-pop-Jazz genre, playing the Four Seasons, Snow King, and Shooting Star Teton resorts.
Bill has been performing with Pam Drews Phillips at the Granary for fourteen years now, and he has played the Donkey Creek Jazz Festival in Gillette, Wyoming, five times, performing with Pam, Jackson 6, Keith Phillips, Nicole Madison, and the Freddie Rodriguez Quintet.
Residing now in Felt, Idaho, Bill continues his CD production pursuits for GF&L Productions on PLUM and ZIVO Records with Greg Creamer, engineer at Pureland Studios in Driggs, Idaho, with releases and re-mastering projects for Laurann Boss, Jackson 6, Judee Sill, Gas Food & Lodging, and Basses International.