“Erickson, usually erroneously labelled a Dixieland jazzman, was in every way a comprehensive modern musician, performer and composer whose interests ranged from the blues to Bartok,” wrote Phil Elwood in the San Francisco Examiner. When the gifted musician committed suicide in late 1967 it was a great shock to the San Francisco jazz community.
Bill Erickson (Pasadena, CA 1929 – Berkeley, CA 1967) had worked as a sideman with bandleaders Kid Ory, Jack Sheedy, Bob Mielke, Dick Oxtot and was deeply involved in the East Bay jazz revival from 1950 until 1967. The soft-spoken, gifted multi-instrumentalist who’d been running combos and jams for more than a decade was suddenly gone.
Despite heartfelt tributes and memorials, he was quickly forgotten, due largely to a lack of commercial recordings. Today, his music, catalytic leadership skills and role in Bay Area jazz can be reconstructed through the recollections of those who knew him, photos and a large number of recovered live performance tapes (linked at the end of this article).
Willie the Master
Many called him Willie the Master “and no one seemed to think the term hyperbolic” wrote trombone player Jim Leigh, offering high praise in his self-published jazz memoir Heaven on the Side. He wa