Bill Horvitz, Forestville jazz guitarist, composer, dies at 69

A musician with roots in New York City, Bill Horvitz was a well-known figure in Bay Area jazz circles and scored music to plays at Santa Rosa Junior College.|

William Wayne Horvitz, an acclaimed Forestville jazz guitarist and composer who performed widely in Sonoma County and the Bay Area for the past 25 years, died Jan. 15 at his home of pancreatic cancer. He was 69.

In a career dating back to the late 1970s, Horvitz played in at least a dozen bands and groups and released nine instrumental recordings.

His work in recent years included performances in Sonoma County and other venues with his wife, Robin Eschner of Forestville, in the folk duo Tone Bent and with Eschner and seven others in the ensemble Take Jack, a name lifted from the group’s signature arrangement of “The Weight” by The Band.

Horvitz also composed and performed solo guitar and banjo accompaniments to four plays directed by John Shillington at Santa Rosa Junior College.

“He made this world a sweeter place,” said Eschner, his wife since 2005.

Gatherings at their Forestville home, decorated with Eschner’s artwork, inevitably included hours of music performed by friends from near and far.

Scott Walton of Guerneville, an acoustic bassist, joined with drummer Tom Hayashi in a former trio, The Skerries, that performed Horvitz’s compositions fusing jazz, blues and rock in Sonoma County.

Horvitz was a “thinking musician” who was “constantly working on the mechanics of his music and also providing space for his players’ musical personalities to shine in his compositions,” Walton said.

Asa Horvitz, a New York City composer, said his father never pushed him toward a career in music but infused “an incredible love of music of all kinds” into his childhood. “He had such open ears,” he said.

Born in New York City, Horvitz, who went by “Bill,” lived in the city and in Arizona and California before settling with his family in Washington, D.C.

His father, Wayne Horvitz, a government labor mediator, was an amateur pianist and composer who instilled music in his four sons.

Living in Manhattan for a decade up to 1988, Horvitz collaborated with seminal members of the alternative music scene, establishing himself as a jazz guitarist and composer. In 1992, he settled in Sonoma County with his first wife, Patti Trimble, staging music and poetry performances and helping start the Tuolumne Meadows Poetry Festival.

Throughout the 1990s, he worked with numerous Bay Area musicians, including Joseph Sabella and Steve Adams, and later Harris Eisenstadt, with whom he formed the Bill Horvitz Band, playing concerts throughout the United States and in Canada.

The sudden death of his youngest brother, Philip, a New York actor and choreographer, in 2005 prompted Horvitz to begin work on his magnum opus, “The Long Walk,” a suite of eight songs illuminating Philip’s life, composed and arranged for the 17-piece Bill Horvitz Expanded Band.

The piece has been performed on the East and West coasts since its premiere in 2006, was released on a compact disc in 2013 after numerous revisions. KQED jazz critic Andrew Gilbert wrote the music was “rife with incident and drama, playful, nakedly emotional, and layered with thick, fast-moving harmonies.”

In the same review, he described Horvitz as a “guitarist who loves to push boundaries, an improviser who artfully melds traditional and extended techniques to coax a vast array of sounds and textures out of his instrument.”

Horvitz, who offered guitar and music lessons for all ages and abilities in folk, blues, jazz and rock, felt that teaching was his “most meaningful contribution to this world” and believed in “music as religion, as something that could bring a person to a true place, to absolute joy,” Eschner said.

“More than just learning to play an instrument, I have learned from Bill what a precious experience music is,” Mike Magne of Forestville, a former student, said on Horvitz’s website.

Horvitz, a Giants baseball fan, also enjoyed hiking in the Sierra and body-boarding with his wife’s family in Cayucos.

Survivors, in addition to his wife and son, include a daughter, Heather Camp of Portland, Oregon; his brother, Wayne Horvitz of Seattle; and a granddaughter.

Memorial services will be held in Sonoma County in March.

UPDATED: Please read and follow our commenting policy:

  • This is a family newspaper, please use a kind and respectful tone.
  • No profanity, hate speech or personal attacks. No off-topic remarks.
  • No disinformation about current events.
  • We will remove any comments — or commenters — that do not follow this commenting policy.
Send a letter to the editor