Bill McGee / Still Bill …
No matter what your career path is; life happens. Since his first solo CD, “This One’s 4U,” which was released in 2002, Bill McGee has survived prostate cancer, had nine grandchildren, retired after thirty years as a school administrator/music teacher, released seven different CD’s as the owner of the 804 Music Group and has come around full circle as a full time musician and recording artist. He was given his first trumpet lesson in 1963, and says that he’s still learning how to play the instrument. Bill recorded for the first time in 1970, in a small studio in College Park, Georgia with his classmates from Morris Brown College who went on to become “Brick” (Dazz). After receiving two gold records and working with stars like the O’Jays, Lou Rawls, Evelyn Champagne King, and The Sugar Hill Gang, still learning how to play is a bit of an understatement. But after a nine-year hiatus since the hit CD “Chase the Sunset,” Bill wants everybody to know that he is “Still Bill,” a soulful, spiritual, jazzy kind of trumpet guy, who as an arranger and composer can hang with the best in the business. His fourth solo CD “Still Bill” comes with all flavors of Jazz, Soul and Gospel-Jazz. With a great cast of musicians and singers who all have what Bill likes to call “The Gift.” Much of the music is a reflection on his early life as a young trumpet player learning songs like “Watermelon Man,” “Cantaloupe Island” and his first public solo, playing “Grazing in The Grass.” Another group of songs represent his days as a young professional musician with his group (Trussel) and being influenced by Mandrill’s “Fence Walk” performed by new comer, Shawanda Yeldell and “Children of the Night,” by the Stylistics, performed beautifully by Yolanda “Yonnie” Coleman. We also find songs on this CD that reflect on a spiritual journey that recognizes, we all come “Full Circle,” and in time learn to appreciate “The Gift” of music given to us by the creator. Here you find the beautiful uplifting melody of the original Gospel-Jazz composition “Just You Wait and See” performed by the marvelous voice of Reverend Cora Harvey Armstrong, backed by the 804 Jazz Allstars. The CD “Still Bill” reflects the life and experience of the veteran trumpet player Bill McGee, who sincerely believes “To whom much is given; much is required.”
“Still Bill” has eleven outstanding songs all recorded, mixed and mastered at 804Jazz by Bill McGee and his associates, Tom Reaves; a phenomenal guitarist, singer, composer who has played on all four of Bill McGee’s CD’s, and Edward E.J. Shaw; a gifted drummer, bass player and pianist who in the early 90’s was in a high school band directed by Bill McGee. Then there’s Brandon Lane; a gifted composer, arranger, engineer, and bass player extraordinaire. Brandon at thirteen (13) made his recording debut when he played on Bill’s cover of “I Wish” from the “Chase the Sunset” CD. Along with these three fantastic musicians, the CD “Still Bill” features many, talented musicians and singers including FoxHole Records guitarist and the husband of Evelyn Champagne King, Freddie Fox; on Brandon’s composition “Full Circle.” And there is the young prodigy, Ayinde Williams, the 18-year-old pianist who is featured on the lead single “Cantaloupe and Watermelon.” A 2015 high school graduate, Ayinde studied at Berklee College of music for three years in their summer youth jazz program and was awarded a scholarship to the New England Conservatory of Music to study Jazz Performance. Bill says “it was an honor to feature Ayinde on these two Herbie Hancock classics because of the synergy and similarities between a young Herbie Hancock and this fine young pianist who is most definitely heading for bigger and better things as a recording artist.” Also, on the single is Ayinde’s younger brother, Kofi Shepsu on drums and sax man Dexter Moses on sax. Both of these talented guys are still in high school at the Appomattox Regional Governor’s School of the Arts. All three have studied for years with noted, Virginia based, jazz educator Ashby Anderson.
Featured on the CD are 804 Jazz label mates, James Saxsmo Gates, on sax and Dr. Weldon Hill, on piano. Both of these amazing artist have been recently nominated on the first ballot for a Grammy in composition and arranging. Saxsmo stands out once again on several songs, but one in particular is “I Know You Got Soul,” a funky G minor blues that will have you moving your head from side to side. The CD “Still Bill” has so many great originals and cover tunes that it is fundamentally a start to finish listen, no jumping around here, what Bill calls “riding music.” As the CD closes out you will hear an original composition written by Bill McGee to acknowledge the 2015 visit of Pope Francis to the United States. “Homily for the Pope,” which was released on Facebook and YouTube as a tribute video and received thousands of views. Bill explained that while not Catholic, he admires Pope Francis for being a simple man of the people, the sick and the poor; a down to earth man who follows the words of Christ as he ministers to the people. In recording this song Bill stepped away from normal studio production and recorded it a Capella, in one take, keeping all of the flaws and nuances in an effort to reflect the passion and realness of the moment. The music was added in post-production. This song brings the CD to a satiating culmination of excellence and inspiration, and yes he is definitely “Still Bill.”