Jack Fennimore
Jazz in the Park

Questions for Bill Bonifas & Legends of Jazz

Bonifas has been playing for 50 years and has connected to every jazz musician in town.

By - Sep 3rd, 2015 01:22 pm
Bill Bonifas on guirar and Greg Marcus on vibes

Bill Bonifas on guirar and Greg Marcus on vibes

Bill Bonifas aims to rock your socks off at the very last performance of this summer’s Jazz in the Park concert series. And he’s brought some of his friends to play with him.

Bonifas is a highly experienced guitarist who, according to East Town Association, has supported Grammy Award-Winner Douglas Spotted Eagle, Peter Buffett and the fusion band Random Walk. His work with Douglas Spotted Eagle had him traveling all around the world, from the Catalina JazzTrax Festival on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, California to the Jazz Yatra Festival in Mumbai, India to the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. Bonifas’ work can also be heard in several different recordings, movie soundtracks and commercials.

Bonifas released his first album, the Bonifas Quartet, to rave reviews in 2002. He is currently working with producer Steve Rodby, 14-time Grammy- award-winning bassist, for his second album, HeartStrings.

According to East Town Association, he has been described by New York Jazz critic (and former Milwaukeean) Bill Milkowski as having a voice that “resounds with a sense of warmth and assuredness” and that he was “a talent deserving wider recognition.”

Bonifas is the Executive Vice President of CBRE, a real estate services company. He also was former Chairman of the Board of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music as well as the current Master of Ceremonies at Jazz in the Park. For his performance on Thursday, he’s bringing many different Milwaukee jazz legends into the mix.

“This is a diverse group of jazz musicians. The night starts with the Bonifas Quintet which will be me on jazz guitar, Mark Davis [on] Piano, Dave Bayles on drums, Jamie Breiwick on trumpet and Jeff Hamann on bass. Then Jamie and friends will finish of the set adding Manty Ellis on guitar and Ada Kola on jazz vocals. Second set is me on jazz guitar, Mark Thierfelder on piano and trumpet, Greg Marcus on vibes and piano, Scott Napoli on drums and John Price on bass. Mark Davis and Jamie may join us to jam.

The last part of the second set – end of the night – will be the Bonifas Fusion band featuring me on electric guitar (rock type overdrive), Warren Wiegratz (from Streetlife) on sax, Eric Hervey on electric bass, Theo Merriweather on electric piano and Dave Bayles on drums. I emcee the night which I have done all year,” said Bonifas.

You can hear this compendium of Milwaukee Jazz tonight at 6 p.m. in Cathedral Square Park. Bonifas responded to our questions via email.

How did you get your start in music?

Started with rock then fusion now straight ahead jazz. I am first a writer and am working on recording with Mark Davis [on] piano, Jeff Hamann [on] bass and Dave Bayles [on] drums. This is a jazz oriented CD, HeartStrings, due out on Feb 14th 2016.

How did your band meet/start playing together?

All [have] been in the scene for many years.

How did you get involved in Jazz in the Park and what do you like about performing there?

Been there as artist with my own band, also with Random Walk (jazz fusion) and Douglas Spotted Eagle. I’m now on the board at East Town and emcee the concerts all year – I seem to play every two or three years.

Who are your main musical influences?

Guitarists Daryl Stuermer, Pat Metheny, John Scofield and Peter Bernstein. I consider Daryl and Peter good friends.

How would you describe your style of music?

Jazz – straight ahead

How do you try to connect to and work the audience?

Just play our hearts out.

Which famous musicians do you most admire and why?

See guitarists above plus John Coltrane.

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

Jazz has become an elite music form – sad but true.

How do you balance your music with other obligations – mate, children, job?

I have been playing for 50 years so that helps and I also use technology. For instance, Mark Davis texted me some ideas on a tune we recorded when Peter Bernstein was in town. Played for Peter – we made a few tweaks and essentially wrote the song on a Thursday – via texts – and recorded Saturday morning. I record at DV and Tanner Mongale.

What is your musical background?

Guitar. Started with [Jimi] Hendrix. I studied jazz with George Pritchett, went to the Conservatory (was former chairman of WCM), started Random Walk – produced by Daryl Stuermer for Milwaukee-based Narada, which became Peter Buffett’s backup band and then Spotted Eagle’s – toured with Spotted Eagle, Catalina Jazz Festival, two times at Jazz Festival in Mumbai, India  – many others – on recordings with both plus film and commercial work.

What do you love the most about performing live?


Where are your favorite places to perform?

Jazz in the Park is my favorite.

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