William Ravel’s childhood started out on the fast track. During his first grade of elementary school, testing showed he was advanced for his age and he was skipped to the second grade and placed into a program for gifted students. When he matriculated into high school he was asked to participate in the pilot of a special program for gifted students, called the “Freshman House” program, which placed its freshman participants directly into accelerated sophomore level classes. Despite the advanced nature of the program, he quickly became bored with his academics and these classes were overshadowed by something that would soon become a great passion for him: Music.
Even though his high school did not have the highest rated music program in Arizona, its director, Debbie Robinson, was very talented and charismatic, and a huge inspiration to her students. Ravel initially met Robinson as a student in her piano class. This class was quickly the highlight of Ravel’s school day, and he did quite well in this class, in part because he had already studied piano for several years, and also due to Robinson’s engaging instruction. It was during this time that Robinson asked Ravel to participate in the high school’s band program, an invitation that he gladly accepted. He participated in marching band and concert band as a percussionist and French horn player, sang in the school’s top choir as a tenor, accompanied the school’s other choir, and played piano in the school’s big band. Ravel also continued his private music instruction, studied classical piano with Flora Mogerman, voice with Mike Belnap, and attended Jamey Aebersold’s summer jazz workshops.
At sixteen years of age, he decided to leave high school to get his GED in order to enroll at Glendale Community College (GCC). While at GCC he met talented musician, saxophonist and teacher, Dave Schmidt. Schmidt is GCC’s Director of Jazz Studies and he offered a scholarship to Ravel to be a part of the school’s jazz program. Ravel quickly became the top pianist in the jazz program at GCC, playing in the program’s big band and combos and he eventually enrolled full time in GCC’s music program.
During his tenure at GCC, Ravel studied jazz and recording science with Dave Schmidt, classical piano with Dr. Christina Eide, and composition with Dr. Robert Albury. He also studied woodwind and brass educational methods, played percussion in the Concert Band, and played bass drum during his first year and center snare during his second year in the school’s pep band. He also continued playing in the jazz ensembles. During this time, he had the pleasure of performing with Ernie Watts, Eric Marienthal, Brandon Fields, and Peter Erskine.
The program also performed and competed frequently at competitions such as Fullerton College’s Jazz Festival and Northern Arizona University’s Jazz Festival, where he won the Northern Arizona University Outstanding Performer Award. During one of these competitions, a gentleman by the name of Chuck Marohnic heard Ravel play. Marohnic was the Director of Jazz Studies at Arizona State University (ASU) and felt that Ravel would be a good addition to the program there, so he offered him a full tuition (Jazzbird) scholarship as a performance major at ASU’s Herberger School of Music.
While at ASU, Ravel studied jazz piano, improvisation, arranging and jazz composition with Chuck Marohnic, classical piano with Walter Cosand, and arranging with Mike Crotty. He also had the opportunity to study with renowned composer Daniel Lentz. During this time he had studied privately with Philip Strange, Art Landy, and Bob Ravenscroft, and had performed in masterclass with Fred Hersch and Clare Fischer. While at ASU he received 3 special citations for outstanding musicianship from the International Association for Jazz Education
Ravel has completed significant coursework in music education, including brass and string music education methods, and coursework in general music education. Academics were also of interest and lead to a minor concentration in communication and also significant coursework in the field of business.
After graduating from ASU in 2005 (Bachelor of Music — Performance, 3.18 GPA), Ravel spent about a year working as a freelance musician and kept a full schedule of steady and casual dates performing in the greater Phoenix metropolitan area. He spent this time honing his skills, performing professionally with his own trio and quartet and also with Big Jim Henry (Joey DeFrancesco), Dwight Kilian’s Bass Pursuit (with Mackie Snee and Adam Clark), Monte Procopio (including multiple television appearances), Mike Crotty (Airmen of Note), Dennis Rowland and The Extreme Decibel Big Band, the Spherical Jazz Quartet (with Ted Beledin, Kyle Nix, and Ebbert Gepner), the Sunday night house trio at the Velvet Room Supper Club, The Symphony of the West Valley, and The Dallas Brass. He also served as the music director for the contemporary service at Tempe First United Methodist Church, and as pianist for New Hope Covenant Church.
In 2006, he secured a full time position as an instructor of music at a charter high school. Previous to his appointment to the faculty there, the music instruction was focused on popular music, learning by rote, and guitar tablature. Ravel quickly changed this by developing the curriculum for a music theory course, a jazz ensemble including instruction in basic jazz theory, transcription, and improvisation, and a piano course that included a focus in technical work and historically significant piano literature. During his second year and final year, he instituted a second jazz ensemble. His advanced jazz ensemble won 1st place in the advanced combo division and his beginning jazz ensemble won 3rd place in the intermediate combo division at the 2008 Fullerton Jazz Festival. His ensembles received ratings of superior at major jazz festivals, and included students that were recognized as outstanding performers. Many of these students went on to major university music programs; some receiving talent based full tuition scholarships. In 2007 he had the pleasure of being recognized by Pearson School Systems for outstanding work in teaching.
Graduate school was next on the horizon. In 2008, Ravel began his studies at the University of Oregon (UO), where he was the recipient of a Graduate Teaching Fellowship, which included full tuition, a stipend, and full benefits. As a Graduate Teaching Fellow at UO, he taught two jazz ensembles, the jazz theory lab, the jazz repertoire labs (I-III), the advanced jazz repertoire labs (I-III), the jazz improvisation lab (I-III), and was the coordinator for the Jazz Café concert series. He studied composition, arranging, pedagogy, ensembles, and improvisation with Steve Owen, studied jazz piano, and repertoire with Toby Koenigsberg, and audio recording science with Lance Miller. While at UO, he also had the opportunity to study privately with Danilo Perez, and perform with Don Braden and Danilo Perez. During this time he earned 2 awards for outstanding musicianship from the Reno Jazz Festival. While in Oregon, he performed professionally in both Eugene and Portland as a solo artist, with his trio and quartet, and with Carl Woideck (including performing on live radio) and Jesse Marquez (including performing on live radio).
Ravel had completed the coursework required for a Master of Music in Jazz Studies (3.98 GPA), but was unable to complete his recitals (which are required for his degree) due to being confined to bed under doctor’s orders. During his time in Oregon, he had been struggling with health issues and the serious nature of his condition had caught up with him. He moved back to Arizona to live with his in-laws and convalesce.
His return to Arizona eventually offered a short lived upswing in health and a position teaching jazz piano at Phoenix College. During this time he coordinated the jazz concert series at Winfield’s Café and Venue 104, performed regularly with his own quartet (with Fred Forney, Tim Downs, and Warren Jones), and played with artists such as Fred Forney and Obadiah Parker (including the CD release performance for his album The Siren and the Saint). Unfortunately, these activities were short lived as his illness progressed and made it unable for him to continue with these projects.