Sue Miller – Cuban Flute Improviser, Writer & Academic

Bill Kinghorn – A TributeMay 30th, 2021

Bill Kinghorn – A Tribute

Sue Miller

Bill Kinghorn

Bill Kinghorn, who sadly passed away this year, was a gifted composer, pianist and teacher. Initially he was my lecturer at the City of Leeds College of Music in 1994 when I was studying for a postgraduate diploma in jazz, popular and contemporary music. He later became a dear friend, kindly helping to proofread my musical analyses for my first book Cuban Flute Style – Interpretation and Improvisation in 2014. Bill’s ability to see what lies beneath the musical surface was something I and his many colleagues and students valued highly. I have studied and taught at a variety of Higher Education institutions and had some brilliant teachers and mentors along the way – but Bill stands out for his ability to teach, perform and entertain simultaneously. He was, in short, the best lecturer I have ever had. His piano playing in lectures on jazz harmony, for example, were both inspiring and so much fun – Bill himself said that if students are relaxed and having fun then they are more receptive to learning. He did not provide easy  answers or shortcuts (as he said “questions open doors – answers close them”) – instead he fueled your curiosity and enabled latent creativity to be realized. He encouraged his music students to think deeply about what they were doing and to listen to the results closely.

In addition to illustrating his points through playing the piano Bill would often draw pictures on the board to illustrate his analyses – his analysis of ‘Misty’ with a sea of E flat and an island of A flat replete with palm trees is legend – as is his ‘department store’ metaphor for the structure of the jazz standard ‘Laura.’ Bill led by example and played the piano to exemplify his points but I was always left wanting to hear him play more as he was such a joy to listen to – every day that year I walked down from Hyde Park to the college with a spring in my step looking forward to having my musical horizons expanded. This was no tick box education – it was music for art’s sake.

For Bill teaching was a vocation – he loved his job and it showed. Students loved him which was illustrated well during an ‘Evening with Bill Kinghorn’ organised by  alumnus Nigel Slee (of Jazz North and first bass player in Charanga del Norte in 1998) when a packed recital hall at the new Leeds College of Music enjoyed Bill’s comedy routines (he entered by torchlight followed by a hilarious Bobby Thompson routine replete with dummy),  piano playing, compositions and various entertaining anecdotes. Bill will be missed by all that knew him and particularly by all those students touched by his magic over many many years at CLCM.

The old City of Leeds College of Music – now Leeds City Museum