Wild Bill became one of my favorite jazz musicians very early (1949). The Wild Bill reference applies to his playing, not his manners. However , other than Anne, his wife, most women stayed a pinch away from him. Bill helped us with the Eddie Condon recognition for 1988 at the Elkhart Jazz Festival. When ’89 rolled around I told him we wanted to honor him. Of course, Bill was very pleased. The presenter, the mayor of Defiance, Ohio, drove to Elkhart to present Bill with his award.
I caught several of Bill’s sets that weekend and more than once he told a story about his first visit to Elkhart. He was a teenager playing in a Defiance jazz band but he had reached a point where he knew his horn needed a replacement. When he mentioned this to his folks they agreed to send him to Elkhart to buy a new horn. When he arrived at the Conn building, the folks there found a good new horn for him and he did like it. They mentioned they had a combo gig that night and they needed a trumpet player. They said they hadn’t put the engraving on the bell so he’d have to use his old horn. Here’s where the crowd was somewhat shocked but found it humorous when Bill said, “Elkhart’s where I found a new horn and a case of the clap (whatever that is) from the singer in the band.”
Bill played through the 20’s in Ohio and Indiana, and, then, made his move to where the jazz action was at that time, Chicago. That’s where he became close to Eddie Condon. When Eddie founded his band in New York City, the band became well known and did a lot of recording. He met Anne, a successful movie star and they married and stayed married for the rest of their lives.
Both Anne and Bill loved living in Scandinavia where Bill had a huge fan base, and stayed there for several years. They seemed very happy and content during the EJF. Bill passed a few months later. I received a letter from Anne and it included a picture of an airplane pulling a sign that said something like “Wild Bill, I mis you.” It’s been almost 30 years and we do miss Bill.