The Bronx-born Bauer worked with such jazz luminaries as Lennie Tristano, Benny Goodman, and Charlie Parker. He joined Tristano's band in 1946, and made some recordings with it, as well as with band members Lee Konitz and Warne Marshe, both saxophonists.
He recorded one album, Plectrist, as a band leader.
In 1970 Bauer opened the Billy Bauer Guitar School on Long Island, where he continued to teach until quite recently. He also wrote his autobiography, called Sideman.