The Bill Cunliffe Latin Jazz Ensemble “Imaginacion” includes Bill Cunliffe- piano, Brandon Fields- saxophone, Kye Palmer- trumpet, Francisco Torres- trombone, John Belzaguy- bass, Ray Brinker- drums, and Joey De Leon- percussion.
Composer, arranger, and educator pianist Bill Cunliffe is known for his innovative and swinging recordings, and compositions. Bill won the 2009 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Arrangement. Bill has received 5 Grammy nominations and 2 Emmy nominations for his arrangements. Bill is comfortable as a soloist, with his trio, big band, and classical jazz ensemble. Bill has been a leader, side man, and soloist with symphony orchestras, and has been a leader/co-leader on 25 recordings. He has worked with Buddy Rich, Frank Sinatra, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson, James Moody, and many jazz greats. Bill has payed musical tributes to Bud Powell, Oliver Nelson, Paul Simon, Oscar Peterson, and wrote the score for Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s film “On the Shoulders of Giants”, a homage to the professional basketball team, the Harlem Rens, and the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920’s and 1930’s. This film received the NAACP Image Award for Best Documentary, and Bill’s recording was nominated for Best Album. Bill has written four jazz instructional books, and received The LA Jazz Society Composer and Arranger Award. Bill has taught at College of the Arts, Cal State Fullerton, the Skidmore Jazz Institute, the Vail Jazz Workshop, Central State University, the Hollywood Musicians Institute, Cal State Northridge, USC, and Temple University. A native of Massachusetts, as a youth, Bill listened to music that had hip harmony and melody, and enjoyed the music of the Fifth Dimension, Bert Bacharach, and Herb Alpert. Bill played in Rock ‘n’ Roll bands in college, but after listening to jazz pianist Oscar Peterson, Bill became a jazz player overnight. Bill studied with pianist Mary Lou Williams at Duke University, and received his Masters’ Degree at Eastman School of Music. Bill won the 1989 Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition. Bill has worked with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, the Clayton Brothers, Holly Hofmann, Ray Brown, Natalie Cole, and the Joe LaBarbera Quintet. Bill is active as a composer and player in classical orchestras, chamber groups, choirs, and any kind of jazz setting. He gives workshops, clinics, and is the composer in-residence for the All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena. Bill has won several “Downbeat” awards, and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, and from the New Zealand School of Music. Bill won the Philadelphia Jazz Composer Competition sponsored by the American Composers Federation. As a modern jazz mainstream player Bill is inventive, melodic, and soulful. Bill’s personality described by his peers is charming, witty, warm, and humble.
Saxophonist Brandon Fields has played in the Southern California area for the last 35 years. He has recorded four albums of his own, has been a sideman with the funk band “Tower of Power”, recording 16 albums, and has been an eclectic artist with over 35 different groups. Brandon has played on 8 film scores, and played on the recording of the 2002 Latin Jazz Album of the Year by Alejandro Sanz, “Y Solo Se Me O Corre A Marte”. Brandon also played on the 2005 Grammy Award winning album by Ray Charles “Genius Loves Company”. Influenced by saxophonist Dave Sanborn, Brandon has toured with George Benson, Kenny Loggins, the Rippingtons, Earth, Wind, & Fire, and Dave Weckl.
Trumpeter Kye Palmer is a long time LA studio player who played with Kevin Eubanks band of the “Tonight Show” for four years. Kye has played on several Grammy Award nominated and winning projects over the last 20 years. Kye attended the Stan Kenton Band Clinic as a youth, and studied at University of Redlands, Cal State Long Beach, and Fullerton College. Kye has received the “Downbeat” Award for the winning “Time Tripping”, and also played classical Bach music at Cal Poly Pomona. Kye has studied with Bobby Shew, and Charlie Shoemake, and is one of their students who really understands the music. Kye cites Clifford Brown and Freddie Hubbard as his trumpet influences. Kye has worked with Woody Herman, Chris Walden, Lee Ann Rimes, Bob Dylan, Tony Bennett, Tom Jones, Joe Williams, Seal, Diane Schuur, Stanley Clarke, Helen Reddy, the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, Pancho Sanchez, Kurt Elling, Ray Charles, Diana Krall, Gordon Goodwin, Arturo Sandoval, Johnny Mandel, Emil Richards, and many others. Kye has worked on TV shows with Jay Leno, David Letterman, Good Morning America, the Today Show, Late Night with Conan O’Brian, the HR Big Band, the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra, many TV shows, and commercial jingles. Kye has played on 10 film scores, and recorded on the Brian Seltzer Orchestra Grammy Award winning “Caravan”. Kye has taught at USC, Cal State Fullerton, Riverside City College, North Florida State, Memphis University, Mount San Antonio College, and currently is a faculty member of Bob Cole’s Conservatory of Music at Cal State Long Beach. Kye has authored jazz trumpet improvisation articles for “International Trumpet Guild”, and has played on 23 recordings.
Trombonist Francisco Torres is an arranger, composer, educator, and musical director for Pancho Sanchez. Francisco has worked with Gordon Goodwin, John Beasley, Claire Fischer, and has been part of several Grammy Award winning records. Francisco has been on five nominations for Grammy and Latin Grammy Best Latin Jazz Album. Francisco has played on over 50 recordings with over 50 different groups. He has played on 5 film scores, with 10 different LA big bands, and on many TV and award shows. Francisco is the director of the SCSBOA High School All-Star Band. Francisco has been commissioned to compose for high schools and universities, and with many of LA’s best Latin jazz musicians, helped Jose Rizo create and conceive “Jazz on the Latin Side All-Star Band”.
Bassist John Belzaguy has been a sideman on 35 recordings. He has played with the Latin jazz group “Yoboso”, Fred Hersch, Howard McGee, and many southern California vocalists and jazz groups. John was influenced by bassist Paul Chambers and Percy Heath. John is a solid, experienced accompanist who is comfortable to play with diverse musical artists.
Drummer Ray Brinker received his Bachelors’ Degree from North Texas State University, and was a member of the Grammy Award nominated “One ‘o’ Clock Lab Big Band”. Ray has toured with Maynard Ferguson, and is a founding 23 year member of Tierney Sutton’s Band. Ray has co-arranged and recorded 10 CDs and has been a part of 5 Grammy nominations for Best Vocal Jazz Album. Ray received a Grammy nomination as a co-arranger for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocalist. Ray plays in the Gordon Goodwin Big Phat Band, and has played as a sideman with over 30 different musical groups that includes jazz, pop, and rock. Ray has played on 11 TV/film projects, and co-wrote, arranged, and performed the music score for Clint Eastwood’s 2016 film “Sully”.
Percussionist Joey De Leon has worked with Pancho Sanchez, Gordon Goodwin, and Arturo Sandoval. He has studied Bach classical percussion at the Manhattan School of Music, and received Most Outstanding Musicianship Award. Joey has been street trained on the timbales and hand drums, and has played with Francisco Aguabella, Alex Acuna, Dean Brown, Robbie Williams, Al McKay, Strunz & Farah, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Joan Sebastian, Juan Gabriel, Chante Moore, Al Jarreau, Queen Latifah, and is co-music director of the Lucky Seven Mambo Dance Band. Joey has been influenced by drummers Steve Gadd, Vince Colaiuta, Fred Hinger, James Preiss, Peter Erskine, Giovanni Hildago, All New York Latin Percussion Heavyweights, Igor Stravinsky, Jaco Pastorious, Kenwood Dennard, and his parents and friends.