Bill Ohashi has decades of experience as a prolific and well-heeled trombonist in the New York City and international jazz scene. His experience in jazz, Latin, R&B and show fields is extensive, giving his leadership qualities focus and his musical concept and intelligence order and definition.
Bill’s many influences from his years of associations are great and varied. His versatility stems at it’s source from this exposure to exceptional, broad-based music while attending Julliard, Mannes College, U of PA, and Berkley School of Music & bandstands in NYC, New England and the southern corridor. All these opportunities gave Bill opportunities to teach at NYC’s Third St. Music School, Henry St. Settlement, Boy’s Harbor, New England Conservatory, Metropolitan School of Music and others.
After educating himself and paying his dues in road bands, still retaining a burning desire to play on the NY scene as a professional, Bill found himself getting steady salaries mainly from more commercial pop bands and contracting with backing orchestras for popular artists.
After a move to the west coast and a short hiatus from playing, wisely Bill took the opportunity to join the legendary Ray Charles and his band on the road for about a year, bringing Bill back into the working music scene to subsequently tour Europe three times with Lionel Hampton, playing around NYC, and Bill then began his own record label, EAR Records®, in 1992.
In the early years, I was going to conservatory in Manhattan and studying in Queens, New York with the great trombonist, Jimmy Cleveland who recorded with Gil Evans, Cannonball Aderly, Miles Davis, Dinah Washington and NBC Staff. He would challenge me daily with difficult studies and jazz techniques, we would play baroque flute duets in the register of the flute. I was always feeling inadequate compared to him, but he liked me so much that he started pulling me on high level dates like Thad Jones – Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra and Gil Evans, and recommending me for challenging recording projects and shows. Johnny Coles, Ain’t Misbehavin’, Virgil Jones, Harold Vick, The NBC Rainbow Room, Quentin Jackson, Seldon Powell, Duke Pearson and more jazz greats began calling me. I was also playing with the Weldon Irvine Big Band at Slug’s on Sundays with Lenny White, George Cables, Steve Grossman and Bill Cobham. When that wasn’t happening, Teruo Nakamura would call a jam session at Lenny or Georges’ house.At the same time, a trombonist at Mannes Collage recommended me for the Howard McGhee – Benny Green Big Band. My school career had been eclipsed and I had to take a two year hiatus.
After I played some shows in Westchester and the Catskills mountains, I headed up to Boston to enroll in Berklee School of Music and played with the Motown acts at the ‘Sugar Shack’. I was gassed to play with acts I had heard on the radio since a kid, like Stevie Wonder, Martha & the Vandellas, The Dells, The Spinners, Rufus Thomas and The Miracles. I had been in Boston years before with a popular local rock and R&B band, ‘The Bagatelle’. I got to study with Phil Wilson and the Boston Philharmonics’ John Coffey while also studying with Charley Mariano and Herb Pomeroy.
Returning to NY was a difficult period, relocating and working day jobs to make ends meet. I got a per-Broadway show in Connecticut called, ‘Today is a Good Day to Die’. This afforded me an apartment and musical life in NYC.
I started getting calls from top flight Latin American and Afro Cuban bands like Tito Puente, Larry Harlow and the great singer Hector Lavoe. In between, I was getting called for Jazz orchestras, album recordings and jingle houses during daylight hours. After several years of covering the 15 mile radius of NYC, I got an opportunity to have open studio recording time where I started to write, arrange and record original tunes utilizing what I had learned in schools and experienced playing with heavy musicians. The work I did in this period is represented on the album release ‘Vortex’. I was lucky to have been able to play with the top NY musicians playing at the time and use their talents on these recordings. It is like the who’s who of NY musicians back then.
After a short national tour with the Temptations’ singer Eddie Kendricks and a short trip to Puerto Rico with the Flako Madeira – Jose Mangual band, I decided to try my hand in L.A. on the west coast as I had done some good work and met great people out there. Initially, I played in some high profile and influential big bands and several recordings, but my new progress was marred by a motorcycle truck accident that left me in the hospital for a while. Having stopped playing I was suddenly called by the Ray Charles’ Orchestra on the road and asked to join them mid tour. I of course jumped at the chance and took my rusty chops to Cleveland subsequently doing the whole season with them. Except for some weekly jam sessions, sometimes including the great Joe Farrel and Joe Rotondi (Ocean’s Eleven), the doldrums set in and it was back to NYC.
This time I was going to make a serious effort to finally focus on practicing and playing improvisational, small group jazz and mainstream real jazz. I had good and friendly relationships with a community of top jazz greats, some not well known to the general public, but greats none the less. I started writing and rehearsing and produced two albums that I’m really proud of, ‘Fantasia/Ugetsu’ and ‘Ampullae of Lorenzini’. After talking with people who’s opinions I value, I built a little Indy record label to publish and distribute these recordings in 1992. Establishing EAR Records® was a good idea due to the monopolization of the big record companies at that time. I started focusing on the growth and maintenance of the record label which is still happening today. I guess I am the perennial student and somehow the administration of a business entity like a record label helps me to continue practicing and studying to increase my writing. I don’t feel like I have to develop my personal psychology but rather work on musical techniques to better understand the music.
Throughout my musical career, I have recorded and played with many groups encompassing all kinds of genres and musical situations in order to stay working. You know, the rent has to be paid. Recording wise, I am not very well represented playing jazz on albums except notably, Al Foster and Tereuo Nakamura’s records. Doing and organizing my two solo CDs was my point of stepping out as a real jazz artist. Playing music of different styles was always great, but I always kept my love of the jazz idiom going by sessioning or working out with musicians such as George Mraz, Micheal Brecker, Gary Pribek, Steve Grossman, Bobby Rogovin, Fred Jacobs, Ralph LaLama, William Ash, Harris Simon, Jeff Hittman, Claudio Roditi, Tom Kirkpatrick, Bill Warfield, Omar Clay, Bill Saxton, Tom Harrell, Carter Jefferson, Cecil McBee, Patience Higgins, Cecil Bridgewater, Bob Berg, and many others. In the old days, trombone players had to blaze a trail for the instrument to be included in sessioning and sitting in as much as possible. The new generations of trombonists like Steve Turre, Mike Dease, Conrad Herwig and the great Steve Davis, have made a great pathway for the instruments’ acceptance in jazz. The trumpet-tenor-alto front line is the tradition and the trombone has a hard way to go. The Jimmy Cleveland, JJ Johnson, Curtis Fuller, Bennie Green, Slide Hampton, Frank Rosolino, Kai Winding spot in the jazz soloist firmament was only established by the first trial by fire.