Born and raised north of Chicago in Mundelein, Illinois, Billy Wolfe began playing piano at the age of 5 and saxophone at the age of 10. Billy earned a bachelor of music degree from Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, where he began his professional career playing with bands such as Vaughn Wiester’s Famous Jazz Orchestra, the Dayton Jazz Orchestra, and the Brian Michael Smith-John Vermeulen Octet. He spent time arranging for and performing with the "Elvis Extravaganza" a group that performed around country backing up Elvis Tribute Artists as well as notable 60s/70s pop bands such as the Crystals and Sonny Geraci. In 2009 Billy returned to Chicago to pursue a master of music degree from DePaul University. It was during this period that he first began exploring the creative possibilities of contemporary large ensemble music, an interest inspired by his studies with Tom Matta and experiences performing with several Chicago area new music groups.
Billy is currently based out of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area where he leads the Billy Wolfe Octet, Composers’ Tetradectet, and the Tristano School Project. He co-leads the nine piece MW9 ensemble with Baltimore based trumpeter, Leo Maxey and is also is a member of the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra, the Brad Linde Expanded Ensemble, The District Brass, Third Rail, Ishmael Ali Zghoul's, "Zebec" and the avant-garde quartet/quintet, "Team Players".
Billy has had the pleasure of performing alongside many leading practitioners of his craft. Lee Konitz, Phil Woods, Oliver Lake, Jon Irabagon, Steve Wilson, Jeff Lederer, Richie Cole, Caroline Davis, Greg Ward, Oran Etkin, Seneca Black, Marquis Hill, Jim Powell, Ryan Keberle, Tony Zilincik, Warren Wolf, Florian Weber, Cory Christiansen, Michael Formanek, Luke Stewart, Matt Ulery, Joe Chambers, Matt Wilson, and Jeff Hamilton are all musicians he has had the pleasure of creating music with. Being attracted to large scale projects, Billy has had the good fortune of having worked with several esteemed large ensemble composers. Brian Krock, Miho Hazama, Elliott Hughes, Sheryl Bailey, Frank Karlberg, Jihye Lee, Ryan Erik Adamsons, Ken Schaphorst, Nathan Parker Smith, Anna Webber and Angela Morris are some of the talented creators he's previously performed under. Billy has also had the opportunity to learn from many outstanding teachers along the way, including (but not limited to) Darcy James Argue, Gary Smulyan, Dick Oatts, Tom Matta, Michael Cox, Jay Miglia, Stan Smith, Lance Van Lenten, Lindsey Goodman and the late Mark Flugge, Mark Colby and Alan Porth.
Billy is also an educator in his own right, providing instruction for students of the saxophone, clarinet, flute, and oboe. His pupils regularly earn area, district, and state recognition and have participated in the acclaimed Northern Virginia Youth Winds and Northern Virginia Wind Academy. Moreover, several of his students having gone on to pursue professional careers by studying at fine institutions such as: Capital University, The Eastman School, Florida State University, George Mason University, Old Dominion University, The Ohio State University, SUNY-Purchase, and Virginia Commonwealth University.
Billy has worked as a clinician with several middle and high school ensembles as well as serving as a guest lecturer of jazz history and improvisation at Utah State University and the University of Missouri. For the 2019-2020 academic calendar year, he will be directing the Fairfax High School (VA) Jazz Ensemble.