William Craig Weiser was born Nov. 18, 1939 in Harvey, Illinois where he went to High School and played trumpet in the school band. After graduation he joined the U.S. Air Force and spent the next three years stationed in Iceland playing trumpet in the military band.
After his service in the military, Billy returned to Chicago in the early Sixties and worked briefly as an insurance adjuster until the fateful day he encountered jazz great Ira Sullivan in a south side jazz club. From that moment on, more or less, he directed all his efforts at a musical career in jazz, absorbing new sounds from the vibrant Chicago jazz scene in the Sixties on both the south and north sides of town.
In the late Sixties and early Seventies, he was a vital participant in the many jazz clubs then happening in Old Town, where his apartment served as a meeting/jamming space for local musicians. He worked all around the city as a trumpeter/flugelhorn soloist with such jazz luminaries as Gene Ammons, Eldee Young, Ari Brown, Von Freeman and many more. He also toured with national acts like Nancy Wilson, the Ink Spots, Ralph Materie, Les and Larry Elgart, Sy Zentner, Dick Jurgens and the Billy May band. He did a national tour as part of the horn section with the Bee Gees. Around this time, he also worked in the band at the Lake Geneva Playboy Club backing up name acts.
In the late Seventies and into the Eighties, he was a featured soloist in the Tommy Ponce jazz group, and in the following years Billy was a regular in the jazz scene happening at the No Exit Café, where he worked with friends Bob Dogan, Jim Cooper, Al Ehrich, Jerry DiMuzio, Merle Boley, Danny Martin, Robert Barry, Bill Klewitz (“Witz”), Akio Sasajima, Mike Linn, Dan DeLorenzo, Mike Friedman, Oliver Williams, Danny and Ben Shapera, Jules DeFelices, Frank Figora, George Bean and others. Throughout the city, Billy’s fluid, lyrical style made him a favorite with jazz players like Dennis Luxion, Kenny Prince, Louis Hall, Jack Hubble, Kenny Frederickson, Boris Smith, Ken Chaney, Russ Phillips, Tom Muellner, Carl Leukaufe, Richie Pardo, Mike Finnerty, Larry Boisen, Jack Barron, Sam Agres, Bob Stoltenberg, John Logan, Mendai, Reggie Nicholson, Chuck Burdelik, Mike Freeman, Mark Steele, Damon Short…and many more. He was a member of the Déjà Vu Big Band, the Jazz Unlimited Orchestra led by Rodney Clark and Joel Sears, the Notebenders Big Band led by Horace “Smitty” Smith, the Jack Foy Big Band, and other aggregations around town. But many said that small jazz groups offered the best opportunity to experience Billy’s unique melodic gifts, soulful sound, built-in swing and, as drummer/bandleader Damon Short put it, “effortless lyricism.”
From about 2005 onwards, various health problems slowed down his musical career, but he kept on keepin’ on and as recently as 2012 he was still playing at jam sessions and in clubs with Richard Monastra’s band The Fore ‘n Afters (Billy came up with the name).
Billy Weiser died at home January 5, 2014.