When Bill Winiker and his little brother Bo were growing up in Millis, there was music constantly spinning throughout the house. It could have come from the jazz records their pianist dad, Ed, was putting on the turntable, or from the jam sessions he had there with musician friends. Bill and Bo would also be listening to WBZ-AM, back when it was a Top-40 station, to catch the hits of the day.
It was Ed’s dream to have his whole family playing music, so Bill and Bo were given piano lessons, which were roundly rejected by the young boys. But one day during an instrument demonstration at Clyde F. Brown Elementary School, Bo became intrigued with the sound of the trumpet. He was 8 or 9. Around that time, George Shearing’s drummer, Marquis Foster, one of Ed’s musician pals, gave Bill a pair of drumsticks during a visit. He was 11 or 12. Lessons soon followed, and their lives were changed.
In short order, Ed gave notice to members of Eddie Winiker and His Orchestra, surprised his wife Annette on Mother’s Day by giving her, not the new washing machine she expected, but a stand-up bass – and some lessons – and asked her, along with Bill and Bo, to join him in what he called Ed Winiker and His Family Band. Bo was 10, and Bill was 13.
And soon, a ritual began. Every night after supper, Ed would take Annette, Bill, and Bo to the music room, and would introduce a jazz tune – maybe “All the Things You Are,” maybe “Stella by Starlight.” They would learn the introduction, play the melody, and then he would teach them how to improvise on it. Then they would move on to a pop tune, so they were putting together set lists that would include standards and current hits, along with some waltzes and foxtrots.
Before long, they were a working band, regularly playing out at weddings, parties, Elks halls, Lions clubs and, for one five-year stretch, on the Provincetown Ferry. Bill got his music degree at Boston Conservatory; Bo got his at New England Conservatory. The Family Band kept playing, they each started freelancing in other bands, there were different versions of the Winiker Orchestra – some led by Ed, others by Bill or Bo. Often, they would all be playing together. They opened Faneuil Market and closed the Boston Garden. They played at the 125th anniversary of the Museum of Fine Arts, and the 150th anniversary of the Boston Public Library, and they had a 21-piece band performance at Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993.
Ed died in 1997, Annette is retired from playing, but the Winiker brothers have never stopped. Among other longstanding gigs, they had a 14-year run at the Parker House Hotel and a 26-year stint at Skipjack’s. Brookline residents since 1975, they currently play as the Winiker Jazz Trio at Brothers Restaurant in Brookline every Saturday and Sunday. Bo is on trumpet and flugelhorn, Bill has a snare, two cymbals, and a low boy high hat, and their cousin Neil Greene, plays piano.
Bo still practices every day, Bill carries a pair of drumsticks when he’s on his exercise bike, and practices on the handlebars, and they know how to play thousands of songs. As Bo recently recalled, “At one time we figured there were about 15,000 songs in our repertoire. But we’re not sure of that. It could be more by now.”