Bill Cunliffe walked through the halls of his office anticipating an ordinary faculty meeting.
On the way, he passed a colleague who, instead of starting the usual small talk, told the assistant professor he had been nominated for a Grammy.
Deans Ed Flanagan and Robert Stroker informed Cunliffe, assistant professor of jazz studies for the Boyer School of Music and Dance, that he had been nominated for his arrangement of “Do It Again.”
The song is from his latest album Imaginacion, a jazz album drawing heavily from Latin music and themes.
“I’ve always felt that Latin music is one of the last expressions of acoustic music that’s still popular,” Cunliffe, 49, said.
The road to Temple for Cunliffe has not been a short one. He originally aimed to be a classical pianist.
That is, until a college roommate played an Oscar Peterson record for him inspiring a change of direction.
After completing his third and fourth years at Duke University, Cunliffe applied to various music schools but was not accepted to any as a jazz pianist.
Cunliffe was accepted to the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester as a music theory major and quickly switched his major to jazz piano.
After graduation, he took a job at Central State University in Ohio until a friend asked him to go on tour and play piano for artists such as jazz drummer Buddy Rich and Frank Sinatra.
After writing commercial jingles for four years, Cunliffe moved to Los Angeles in 1989.
“I wanted to play jazz and compose, and thought that would be a good move,” Cunliffe said.
Before the fall of 2004, friend and fellow jazz musician Terell Stafford invited Cunliffe to come teach at Temple. Stafford has been teaching at Temple since 1996.
“He was the pianist in my quintet,” Stafford said. “When [the university] was discussing the caliber of the person they wanted, I told him to apply and Temple was impressed.”
“I’ve had a long relationship with Terell Stafford,” Cunliffe said. “He is one of the finest jazz trumpet players and educators in the country. I wanted to be a part of that.”
The duo also has a continuing gig with the Clayton Brothers jazz group for the past 10 years.
“I think [Temple] is an amazing place; it’s a dark horse,” Cunliffe said. “The education here is equivalent of some of the finer music schools for a quarter of the money.”
The musician-turned-professor enjoys Temple and its students.
“Temple students are hardworking, practical, feet on the ground, quite normal as students,” Cunliffe said. “They reflect the city: serious and who they are.”
“I like what I do, and am looking forward to hearing my students’ work.”
Cunliffe is no stranger to awards and recognition throughout his career. He was the winner of the $10,000 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award in 1989.
He has also previously received a Grammy nomination for arranging Alan Kaplan’s “Angel Eyes” in 2002.
“As they say, it is an honor to be recognized.” Cunliffe said. “If I get nominated for four or five, [my career] will be a success.”
Cunliffe is not resting on his laurels after the nomination. He has three upcoming projects: playing for the George Gershwin Symphony, writing a guitar concerto and a composing a patriotic song that is going to be sung by Temple’s choir.
Sean Blanda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.