The musician profiled in this bio should not be confused with either a New York City-born post-bop/Latin jazz/hard bop pianist who is also named Bill O'Connell or the Billy O'Connell who is married to singer/songwriter Kristin Hersh (formerly of the alternative pop-rock group Throwing Muses). This Bill O'Connell is a veteran jazz drummer/bandleader from Chicago, where he has been leading the Chicago Skyliners Big Band since 1988. O'Connell's swing/bop outfit has a strong affection for the classic big bands of the ‘30s and ‘40s; their repertoire includes a lot of material associated with Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Buddy Rich (a major influence on O'Connell's playing), Benny Goodman, Stan Kenton and other heavyweights who were around during the Swing Era and/or bop's early years. But the Chicago Skyliners Big Band have also performed jazz arrangements of rock and R&B songs that were written in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s or ‘90s--songs by artists ranging from Blood, Sweat & Tears and the Ides of March to Al Jarreau, Tower of Power and James Ingram. So even though O'Connell has been greatly influenced by ‘30s and ‘40s jazz, his Chicago Skyliners Big Band is not an exact replica of the big bands of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Harry Truman years. In 1991--three years after the Chicago Skyliners' formation--O'Connell's outfit became the house band at Fitzgerald's, a nightclub in the Chicago suburb of Berwyn, IL (not far from Cicero). And in 2004, the Chicago Skyliners Big Band was still playing at Fitzgerald's on a regular basis.
In the ‘90s and 2000s, O'Connell's big band has recorded several albums for his Blue Birdland label, including Contemporary Classics: Big Band's Greatest Hits, That Toddlin' Town, Play It Again, Sammy (a tribute to Count Basie and Sammy Nestico), Unfinished Business and CDR. In addition to his work as a drummer/bandleader, O'Connell has also hosted a weekly jazz program on WDCB-FM (a public radio station in the Windy City).