Bill Potts: 555 Feet High
"He grew to be one of the most generous people with his talent and ability I ever knew,"? Tom adds. "He put together student big bands and organized concerts at Montgomery College just so the kids would have a place to get playing experience. One night I ran into him at Blues Alley [in Washington]. His band had been booked there for a couple of nights. It was made up of some of the best service players and MC students. In the trumpet section were six trumpets. Of course, his charts were written for only four, so while one sat out a chart the fifth would double the lead. Potts just wanted to make sure the students got a chance to play. One of them was drummer Chuck Redd's younger brother, Robert, also an MC student. Robert later dropped trumpet and became a first-class pianist [and is now a member of the Keter Betts Trio].
"Bill was kind, attentive, and always made time for everyone who asked him anything about music, especially Jazz. Although he knew a lot, he was never a know-it-all. He was always open to new ideas. In the arranging course I took with him, filled with kids seeking a quick three credit hours, he would hand out a lead sheet. The students were taught chords, and he indicated where they should go. I asked if I could forgo my lead sheet and write my own chart. He readily agreed. The student charts were the final 'exam' played by the student band.
"My arrangement of Gershwin's 'S'wonderful,' although instrumental, was patterned after the [vocal] chart Ray Coniff wrote for Artie Shaw. The students didn't rehearse so they had a difficult time with it, but brought most of it off. Bill, who played piano at the session, pleased me with an A-plus."?
A-plus. When the good Lord hands out grades for a life well-lived, my hunch is that Bill Potts will receive his own A-plus. Probably already has. In this world, the best any of us can hope for is to leave something worthwhile behind. Bill Potts certainly has done that. I wish I'd been a friend as well as an admirer, but perhaps we'll meet again someday. I'd like to think so anyway. Rest in peace, Bill. You've earned it.
That's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin'!
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Bill Potts: Pianist, Arranger, Educator and Producer
The Washington Post File Photo