Billy Wallace ~Early Musical History
Billy Wallace was born in Milwaukee,Wisconsin at Misercordia Hospital August 20, 1929. He grew up in Milwaukee Wisconsin. There was a piano in the house that he grew up in. His aunt used to play popular songs and she was a music reader. Billy learned boogie woogie about the approximate age of 12-13 from a neighbor named Frank Warren. There was a boy that lived near by who he would compete with. The boy was able to read but at the time Billy was not so they exchanged some musical ideas. Billy took music lessons at school. There was a program of 6 levels. After he took the 1st level they skipped him to level 5 and he continued thru level 6 while in High School.
Billy took private lessons after he finished high school for 3-6 months with Thomas Oaks
Who was his music teacher in High School. What he studied was Tones of scales and chords, ear training and more harmony.
He was a gymnast in High School and has stayed physically active playing tennis and living a straight life style, no drinking or drug use.
He worked in Chicago, St. Paul (Hilton 5-6 Years/house band) Minneapolis, New York, Gary Indiana, Los Angeles, Seattle, Las Vegas, Des Moines Iowa and other cities while touring and living a life of a full time jazz musician.
At 16 years of age, Billy’s first gig was with an all white High School band, The Bobby Raye Band. The high school he attended was a boy’s school with only three blacks one of which was a valedictorian, Paul Smith. It was known as “Boys Tech High School’ in Milwaukee. He studied aeronautics however his interest was in swimming. They were fascinated with his playing because he played boogie woogie. Not a part of their cultural upbringing. He graduated in 1947. He had some gigs during school which he worked in Beloit, Wisconsin and Rockford, Illinois with some musicians there he had been introduced to.
In 1948 Billy worked at a Summer Resort for Afro Americans in Idyllwild Michigan. After that he returned to Milwaukee and then went to North Platt Nebraska and worked at a club known as Joe’s Dine and Dance (farmers and ranchers). He played with a quartet.
At 18, Billy went with an older musician who was about 54, drummer Charlie Reed (Owned the car, a 46 Buick), 25 year old sax player Jimmy Mason (leader) and bassist 18, Bobby Robinson from Davenport Iowa. Billy had known Jimmy Mason since grade school. Billy left a note at his aunt’s restaurant for his mother telling his mother he had gone off to play music. He didn’t know at the time where he was going. , he new it was out West. He could then hear the music that was popular at the time and play it due to his training with Thomas Oaks. The performed tunes like “There’s Tune in the Meadow”, “It’s Magic” and other hits that were popular at the time.
He returned in January 1949 to Milwaukee. He was playing at a club know as the Moon glow. Another kept complaining to the police. Due to that he lost the job he had because he was underage he was 19 at that time. He then ventured to Des Moines Iowa, where he worked from June to November at a Hotel.
When returning to he met his wife to be. They were both put in jail to be kept apart. One night he was working at his aunt’s restaurant. He and his wife had a misunderstanding and she came by the restaurant because she wanted to resolve it and he asked to her to wait while he was paying the bassist. Meanwhile, the police followed her there. (She had previously been harassed by the police for being in his neighborhood.) They would take her to the police station.) So the police asked Billy for his ID and he was 20 so they took both to jail.
They made the nation news papers. The newspaper featured the story and a photo of Billy in jail. (He laughs when he talks about it now.) Shortly after that they got married in July 9, 1950. They had a daughter in April 16, 1951, Sandra Wichman.
In 1951 Billy toured with Illinois Jacquet’s 8 piece band. Two trumpet, three saxophones drummer, bassist and pianist for two to three months. Rodney Richardson was on drums part of the time (previously the bassist with the Count Basie Orchestra). Butch Ballard and Joe Newman played with the band as well. While with Illinois Jacquet, he toured to Cleveland Ohio and Philadelphia Pennsylvania. Syracuse, New York, Buffalo, New York, Hartford, Connecticut, Greenville and North Carolina where they worked played at a tobacco warehouse.
He then returned to Milwaukee.
He wanted to move to New York but his mother wanted him to be closer. So Billy agreed and moved to Chicago. He was okay to be close to his parents because he loved them so in 1951 He moved with his wife and child to Chicago.
In Chicago at the time you couldn’t work steady until 6 months after you were there. He worked outside of Chicago in a town called Calumet City in a Gentleman’s club playing music. After his initial six months he worked in Chicago for 11 years. He worked at many different clubs in Chicago. One was Easy Street on the Near North side of Chicago and the bassist he worked with was Bill Lee, (Spike Lee’s Father). While working Chicago he met many musicians from all over. Clifford Brown, Charlie Parker, Max Roach. Max asked him to go on the road. They toured and went to Los Angeles. They re-recorded Max Roaches most famous recording 3/4 time. While working with Max Roach Billy played with Cannonball Adderly and Kenny Durham as they were the band. Kenny Durham wrote Blue Bossa. Billy replaced Wynton Kelly in Max Roaches band.
In Chicago he worked at the Southerland Hotel where he worked opposite of Billy Holiday. She had her own pianist but they shared bassist and drummer and split the show. He also worked opposite Nancy Wilson,Carmen McCrae and Anita O’Day.
Billy Wallace is lived in Denver Colorado. Performing and recording until the age of 89 until his passing
December 7th 12:20 a.m. 2017 in Denver, Colorado, Brookshire House.