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William Knowles

William Knowles


William Knowles is originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He received a BA from Howard University (emphasis Jazz Studies) and an MFA from the University of Massachusetts. During the past twenty-five years Mr. Knowles has amassed credits as a Composer, Arranger, Musical Director and Pianist for many shows at regional theaters around the country, including Dallas Theater Center, Philadelphia Theatre Company, Arena Stage, Northlight (Chicago), CenterStage (Baltimore), Indiana Repertory Theater, Pioneer Theatre (Salt Lake City), Idaho Shakespeare Festival, Broadway Rose Theatre (Tigard, OR) Great Lakes Theatre (Cleveland) and Milwaukee Rep, where he has performed in eight different productions. Other notable productions include Tambourines to Glory, directed by Kenny Leon at the True Colors Theatre Company and the 2001 regional theater tour of Dinah Was.  In the Washington, DC area, Mr. Knowles has worked as Music Director for productions at the Kennedy Center, Howard University, Anacostia Playhouse, MetroStage (Alexandria), in addition to playing gigs at many jazz clubs and perfomance venues.

Mr. Knowles is also part of an ongoing production of Anne and Emmett written by Janet Langhart Cohen, which has been performed in multiple cities around the country and at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. Mr. Knowles has collaborated with playwright, lyricist, and director Thomas W. Jones II on a number of projects. Their original works include: Slam, Pearl Bailey…By Request, Cool Papa’s Party, Fool In Love, Ladies Swing The Blues, Billie’s Song, and Shake Loose.

The Knowles/Jones collaboration has yielded a Helen Hayes Award for musical direction 2010 for Knowles (MetroStage), and Helen Hayes musical direction nominations for Gee’s Bend (MetroStage, 2014) and for Slam (Studio Theatre, 2000).  They have also written an adaptation of Ruth Watson’s novel Blackberry Daze which was performed at MetroStage and Horizon Theatre (Atlanta).  Ongoing projects include For Peace I Rise, a new musical telling the story of C.T. Vivian, one of the key architects of the civil rights movement.

In addition to his theater projects, Mr. Knowles has recorded and released eight original jazz cds with musical partner and bassist Mark Saltman. Originally known as Soulservice, they now record as SaltmanKnowles. Together they have spent time as Artists in Residence for the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, received two grants from the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities, and won the Best International Jazz Song Award in 2007 from Toronto Exclusive Magazine. Their most recent release, Native Speaker, peaked at #9 on JazzWeek.

Mr. Knowles and Mr. Saltman met while attending the composition program at the University of Massachusetts, and their similar affection for the music of Billy Strayhorn, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and Charles Mingus led to their musical relationship. When not traveling the country, Mr. Knowles can be seen at one of the many jazz clubs in Washington, DC, where he is a sought-after musician and has played hundreds, if not thousands, of one-nighters. Russ Bickerstaff of Milwaukee’s Shepherd Express described him as “that quiet, charismatic guy at the piano….there’s a subtle flourish to Knowles’ technique that’s a lot of fun to watch.”

Professional Experience

  • Regional
  • Concerts/Cabaret


  • D.C./Baltimore Area

Interested in touring?

  • Yes

Hireable as

  • Theatrical Composer (Music only)
  • Music Director/Conductor (Pianist)
  • Music Assistant
  • Orchestrator
  • Vocal Arranger
  • Incidental Music Composer/Arranger
  • Music Transcriber
  • Pit Musician (Keyboards)

My Primary Instrument

  • Piano

My Instruments

  • Piano
  • Synth - keyboards


  • Logic
  • Sibelius




  • He/Him