During the Great Depression of 1929, young Bill Fowler taught himself to play blues harmonica, dirt-band mandolin, Dixieland tenor banjo, and finally jazz guitar, ending up at age 17 in a Salt Lake City speakeasy trio. Still unable to read music at 21, Bill headed a Continental combo at Sun Valley, Idaho, Union Pacific's plush ski resort. In 1944, Bill married Beatrice Cottam, the daughter of University Botany Professor Dr. Walter P. Cottam. At 25, after induction into the U.S. Army during WWII, he put together a non-official battalion marching band, which upon landing in Marseilles, became a dance band/show group servicing ETO GI's. An exhausting attempt to write a parade arrangement of the French National Anthem soon convinced Bill of the wisdom of learning how to read music.
At war's end, Bill enrolled as a Music Major at the University of Utah. He studied there for seven years, broken only by intensive periods at the American Conservatory in Chicago, and at the Eastman School of Music. He studied composition with Leo Sowerby in Chicago and informally from Leroy Robertson in Salt Lake City. As Bill was pursuing his MFA and PhD degrees, Beatrice was caring for their growing musical aggregation, the five Fowler Brothers – Bruce, Steve, Tom, Walt, and Ed.
While beginning his twenty-year stint at the University of Utah, teaching subjects like 16th Century Counterpoint and Bach Chorale Harmony, Bill stayed active in classical composing – receiving a Rockefeller Foundation commission; winning the Siena International Choral Composition contest; and co-winning the American Division of the Prix Italia. He designed the first college Guitar Degree Program in the United States, which led to an invitation from Andres Segovia to study the Segovia techniques and teaching methods at the Accademia Musicale Chigiana in Siena, Italy.
While at the U. of Utah Bill headed combos around town; wrote and narrated a popular multi-media History of Jazz lecture; directed the Western Division of the National Stage Band Camps; and produced the Intermountain Jazz Festival and the clinics at the Mobile Festival. Along with C. Richard Evans, he co-invented the first Piezo-electric guitar pickup for Star Valley Electronics.
Unsatisfied with strictly traditional music theory and wanting to prepare students for the real world, Bill initiated the Jazz Major at the U of U. He designed a visiting faculty feature, inviting many great professional musicians from LA, NYC and elsewhere to come to the campus and teach week-long seminars. This approach proved highly productive for the students, and many went on to successful careers. The program was transferred in part to Westminster College in the mid 1970's.
Building on the diversity of his musical background, Bill opened a new career – writing –when he joined the staff of Down Beat magazine as Education Editor and regular columnist, a position he held some 13 years. He then joined the staff of Keyboard magazine as Theory Columnist for seven years. In 1974, Bill moved to the University of Colorado at Denver. The same year he formed his own publishing company, Fowler Music Enterprises, which produced more than 22 of his books. After retiring from the University of Colorado in 1994, Bill moved to Los Angeles, where he continued to compose in a variety of styles, from symphonic works to popular songs.
The Fowler Brothers are the sons of music educator William Fowler.
They are extremely versatile musicians who have collectively appeared
on a huge number of albums for a very wide array of artists. Brothers
Bruce (trombone), Tom (bass) and Walt (trumpet) may be the best known
of the family, having played with Frank Zappa on a number of albums
and tours. The other brothers are Steve (sax, flute) and Ed (bass,
keyboards). While they only recorded one official album as The Fowler
Brothers, the same essential group has released an album under the
name Air Pocket, and under the individual names of the
Other frequent members of the band are Albert Wing and Kurt McGettrick (Zappa), Mike Miller (Chick Corea Elektrik Band) and Chester Thompson (Genesis, Zappa).