In memory of Bill Tole

The great friend and member of Bones Southwest, Bill Tole passed on May 20th.

Bill had a great career, and one that not many trombonists experience. Bill came from a musical family. His father was a music teacher who played trombone and piano, his mother also played piano, and his brother was a Los Angeles studio musician.

Immediately out of college, Bill auditioned for the Tommy Dorsey band. Winning the audition, Bill went on tour with the band for several years. Shortly thereafter, Bill became principal trombonist, soloist and co-leader for four years with the Airmen of Note.

Bill next moved to New York City in the mid 60’s and played for many of the top Broadway shows, worked club dates and kept busy doing recordings in the studios. A change in the studio scene relocated Bill to Los Angeles in 1967 where he continued recording on albums, commercials, television and movies. Bill’s career took a different turn when a producer put out a casting call for a trombonist to portray Tommy Dorsey in a film starring Liza Minelli and Robert DeNiro. In Bill Tole they not only found a professional trombone player who understood the musical era and who had a big band of his own for the movie, but someone who could play as sweet as Dorsey. Tole had the musical credentials to land the part, and looked just like that “sentimental gentleman” in the 1977 release New York, NY.

Bill Tole as Tommy Dorsey in the film New York, New York

Bill Tole clip FINAL from Michael Lake on Vimeo.

My personal experience with Bill Tole came shortly after I returned to live in Phoenix. A friend had suggested I attend a rehearsal of a band that needed a trombone. The band was the MCC “Red Mountain” band and the lead trombone was none other than Bill Tole. What I remember about Bill was how kind he was in letting me play some lead charts and solo. He was a true section leader in helping me navigate charts and providing expert musical guidance to me and the rest of the trombones.

Since then, I had the honor of playing occasionally with Bill, and what I always found was a kind and gentle man who played wonderfully and who never uttered an unkind word about anyone.

Bill Tole will be missed not just for his silky smooth trombone tone and vibrato, but for his honest benevolence toward all with whom he came in contact. He also serves as a reminder to trombone players and others that it is entirely possible to play the role you were born to play and do so over an entire long career.


Michael Lake