Bill Yancey; bass player toured with jazz greats
January 27, 2004
BY BRENDA WARNER ROTZOLL Staff Reporter Advertisement
Bill Yancey wouldn't have been touring the globe with jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington if he'd stuck to the instrument first assigned him in the DuSable High School band -- the tuba.
But he didn't like the tuba. So he agitated for a switch to the bass, with which he'd fallen in love. From 17 until he died in his sleep last Wednesday at age 70 at his Gresham home, music and the bass were his life. He practiced for hours every day and, right up through the weekend before his death, appeared every Sunday at Bistro 110, and Fridays at the Ramada Inn Hyde Park.
Mr. Yancey was born in Kansas City, Mo., one of six children of Ed and Cora Yancey. He was 8 when the family moved to Chicago.
From the day he graduated from high school, he played professionally, working at local dance halls. His first big break was in 1950, when he started touring with the New York-based group of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. He went on to play with the Sol Hicks orchestra, the John Young Trio and Eddie Harris.
He played for a year or two with Duke Ellington's band and played, recorded and toured Europe with Ella Fitzgerald in 1967.
That year, he was part of the first black American jazz ensemble to play in South Africa to black audiences. After just a few performances, the South African government forced them to leave because white fans came, too, and these integrated audiences incensed backers of apartheid.
Mr. Yancey recorded with artists including Eddie Harris, Brother Jack McDuff and Floyd McDaniel. Among jazz artists he played with were George Shearing, Ike Cole, John Wright, Wallace Burton and George "Stardust" Green. In 1968, he played with Tony Bennett and was invited to join the band, but decided he should stay close to Chicago and his young children.
He is listed in the Encyclopedia of Jazz. His last recording session was in October, cutting a CD with Gina Gibson called ''The Double Life."
Mr. Yancey invented, patented and was planning to market a baseball pitcher's target.
He is survived by two daughters, Bridget Oparah and Wendy Yancey Garrett; one grandchild; his ex-wife, June Yancey; and Gina Gibson, described by family as his special friend.
Some of his musician friends will be jamming at both the visitation and funeral. Visitation is from 4 to 8 p.m. today at Carter Funeral Home, 2100 E. 75th St. There will be visitation there again from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, followed by services at 11 a.m. Burial will be private.