After Bill Cunliffe won several Down Beat Awards as an Eastman student, he taught at Central State University, in Wilberforce, Ohio. His first major gig was pianist and arranger with Buddy Rich, touring Europe with Frank Sinatra. He later performed with Ray Brown, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Art Farmer, Woody Shaw, and James Moody.
Bill was the 1989 winner of the $10,000 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award and has received stipends from the National Endowment for the Arts. He won a jazz composition competition sponsored by the American Composers Form in Philadelphia. His books Max Blues Keyboard, Jazz Inventions for Keyboard, and Jazz Keyboard Toolbox are published by Alfred Music Publishing; his big and small band compositions are published by Kendor Music, Otter Publishing, Three/Two Music, and the University of Northern Colorado Jazz Press; and his choral music is published by Santa Barbara Music Publishers. Bill was Marian McPartland's guest on her famed Piano Jazz radio show in June 1998.
Cunliffe has released a dozen jazz CDs as a leader. Imaginacion, which spent a month in the No. 2 position in the JazzWeek radio polls, is an album featuring his Latin Jazz Nonet, on Torii Records. The arrangement "Do It Again" on the CD was nominated for a Grammy in 2006. As a composer/arranger, Bill has been nominated both for an Emmy and two Grammys, and has composed extensively for big band, chamber groups, choir, and orchestra. His compositions and arrangements have been played by the Illinois Philharmonic, the San Diego Symphony, the Pasadena Pops Orchestra, the Reading (PA) Symphony, The Henry Mancini Institute Orchestra, the Manhattan School of Music Jazz Philharmonic, the New Zealand School of Music Symphony Orchestra, and the Ahn Sisters.
According to the Wellington (NZ) Times, Bill's concert at the Wellington Jazz Festival was the "Best jazz piano since Oscar Peterson." The BBC Review recently said that "Bill Cunliffe is one of the great players of the day." The Atlanta Jazz Journal gave his album A Rare Connection five stars.
On the classical side, he performs his own distinctive arrangement of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue," with orchestras, and performs with chamber music groups. His group Trimotif, blends classical woodwinds with jazz in original works and arrangements. He teaches at the Vail Jazz Institute, and the Skidmore Jazz Institute and is Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at California State University, Fullerton.