Fielder, William (Butler)

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Fielder, William (Butler)

Fielder, William (Butler), jazz trumpeter, educator; brother of Alvin Fielder Jr.; b. July 2, 1938, Meridian, Miss. He grew up in Meridian until age 16. He started playing piano in seventh grade, then four months later his father’s cornet. His mother played piano and violin. The cornet was considered therapy for his lungs, which were weakened by asthma. Harry James was an early influence, then Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Kenton. Like his brother, Fielder studied with Duke Otis, a former classmate of Teddy Edwards who directed the school bands, and played alto sax and taught all instruments. Fielder later played French horn in the school band. He began studying with George Frank Sims, a trumpeter influenced by Armstrong. He practiced day and night (once a neighbor called the police who came and took the trumpet away). In ninth grade, he began studies with William “Hillbilly” Davis, who had played in Cab Calloway’s band and was band director at Jackson State Coll. Davis used Fielder in demonstrations in front of his college students and had him play first trumpet in the Jackson State Coll. band while in tenth grade. Fielder transferred from Meridian H.S. to Tougaloo Coll. Prep School, where he studied physics and chemistry for two years. Although his parents wanted him to become a doctor, his heart was set on music. When he graduated, he accepted a music scholarship at Term. State. Hank Crawford, Les Spann, Phineas Newborn, Leon Thomas and Cleveland Eaton were involved in the band program there. Crawford formed a band in 1955 to play jazz. Although Fielder was a strong technician he needed work on playing changes. In 1956, the Dizzy Gillespie big band played Term. State and Fielder asked Dizzy for advice on improvising. Gillespie introduced him to Lee Morgan who played duets with him and told him to contact Booker Little, who had left Term, for Chicago.

In 1957, after a year and a half at Term. State, Fielder left for Chicago. His parents were furious and his father cut off his financial support. Booker Little advised him to take lessons from a symphony player and when he went to Orch. Hall with his trumpet case in the winter of 1957, he was asked by chance to audition for Adolph Herseth, the principal trumpeter of the Chicago Sym. Orch. He played the Haydn trumpet concerto from memory and was placed in the Chicago Civic Sym., playing first trumpet, side by side with Charlie Geyer (now at Eastman School of Music), and trombonist Jay Friedman (who along with Herseth remained in the Chicago Sym.). He studied with Vincent Cichowicz, the second trumpeter in the CSO where he was introduced to the airflow and breathing principles that have become such an important part of his playing and teaching.

Between mid 1958 and early 1959, Fielder was rehearsing every day with Sun Ra. The Arkestra only played a few engagements (including a 1958 road trip to Indianapolis where Wes Montgomery sat in with the band at the YMCA), so many of its members also worked the Chicago theaters such as the Tivoli and the Regal, making up to $800 a week. Fielder played such gigs with Ray Charles and B.B. King, and behind Dinah Washington, Abbey Lincoln, Redd Foxx and Diahann Carroll as a member of Morris Ellis’s band at Robert’s Show Club (with Art Hoyle, tenor saxophonist John Neely, trombonist John Avant and drummer Harold Jones). He also played with Captain Walter Dyett’s working band at the Parkway Ballroom. In late 1958, he dropped out of the American Cons, of Music and toured with B.B. King, playing across the U.S. and Canada. Although offered the straw boss job in this band, he turned it down and returned to Chicago. There he joined Slide Hampton’s group, which included George Coleman and Hobart Dotson. Fielder played on the premiere performance of Hampton’s “Cloister Suite” at the Cloister Inn in Chicago. The Hampton band played engagements in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh and also made short trips to other locations such as Montreal.

In late 1960, Fielder returned to Miss, for a few months, then moved to N.Y.C. Around this time, he subbed in the Duke Ellington Orch., spent time back in Slide Hampton’s group, subbing for Freddie Hubbard, and played in Danny Small’s band which frequently played gigs on Long Island with Philly Joe Jones, Norris Turney, Donald Byrd, Herbie Hancock, Marcus Belgrave, and others. In 1961, Fielder moved back to Chicago, auditioned at the C & C Lounge for a gig with Gene Ammons and spent three years there with the band (co-led by tenor saxophonist Eddie Williams). He also worked with Eddie Harris at the Old East End club. In 1964, Lee Morgan offered Fielder the trumpet chair with Art Blakey and James Spaulding encouraged him to move back to N.Y., but Fielder refused to leave Chicago. He had resumed his studies with Herseth and Cichowicz and received his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the American Cons, of Music.

Fielder began his career as an educator at Ala. State Univ. (1965–72), where he taught trumpet, directed the brass ensemble and was assistant band director, and played in the Birmingham Symphony. He attended an international trumpet symposium in Denver in 1970, where he met and worked with Maurice Andre (an early idol), Louis Davidson, William Vacchiano, and Harry Glantz. He began suffering from glaucoma shortly after this and stopped playing entirely for six months. In 1972, Fielder accepted the head band director position at Term. State and worked with the Nashville Symphony under music director Dr. Thor Johnson. In late 1974, he left TSU and worked for a semester at the Univ. of Okla. In 1975, he moved back to Miss., teaching at several schools. At Miss. Valley State Coll. in Greenwood, Miss, he met Mulgrew Miller and recorded informally with him. Miller played these tapes while on tour with the Duke Ellington Orch. and Mercer Ellington offered Fielder the featured trumpet position. Due to his teaching responsibilities, Fielder could not accept, although he did work with the Ellington Orch. in the N.C. area. An offer to join the Count Basic Orch. as lead trumpeter for a world tour was similarly declined. Fielder also led a group in Memphis, which included his brother Alvin, Bill Easley, Phineas Newborn or Donald Brown and bassist London Branch. It was during this period that Ellis Marsalis asked Fielder to teach trumpet to his son, Wynton. He also worked with Kidd Jordan’s son Kent and Wynton’s brother Branford. From 1977 to 1979, Fielder worked in N.C., as director of the jazz studies program at Shaw Univ. In 1979 he accepted a position at Rutgers Univ., where he has remained. During this time he played Jazzmobile concerts with Frank Foster, David Newman, Charlie Rouse and Kenny Barren, who was also a member of the Jazz Professors group, which toured the country. In 1981, Fielder gigged in Brooklyn with Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Garrett and David Eubanks, but cut back on his performing engagements to concentrate on running the Rutgers jazz program. Since the mid- 1980s, he has played very rarely in public, an exception being an all-star brass concert featuring Slide Hampton and Jimmy Heath arrangements. He is a legendary instructor whose students include Michael Mossman, Terence Blanchard, Terrell Stafford, Riley Mullins, George Shaw, Frank Lacy, and others. He can be seen coaching Wynton Marsalis in the televised classical video Baroque Duet.


Chicago Symphony Orchestra/Fritz Reiner: Pines of Rome (1959); Love Progression (1984).

—Michael Fitzgerald

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Fielder, William (Butler)

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