Through the years Willis has played with musicians like Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Hubert Laws, Simon Phillips, Joe Diorio, Robben Ford, and Pil Upchurch, not to mention Tribal Tech. Bass Player magazine referred to him as “one of the most vital bass voices of the 90’s.” UK’s Bassist magazine called Willis “one of the finest on the planet.” In sixteen years of co-leading Tribal Tech with guitarist Scott Henderson, the band has produced nine critically acclaimed CD’s, (the latest, Rocket Science, was released in 2000) Willis launched his solo career with the September 1996 release of No Sweat, featuring incredible performances by Dennis Chambers on drums, Scott Kinsey on keyboards, and Steve Tavaglione on woodwinds and EWI.
For the 1998 follow up Bent, in addition to Chambers, Kinsey and Tavaglione, Willis added the fiery tenor of Bob Berg and long time Tribal Tech cohort/drummer Kirk Covington. Bent lives up to its title and takes the “rules” of jazz, through dynamic compositions and rhythm-defying improv, and bends reality to fit the talent of easily the most musically monstrous lineup on the scene today. Despite its all-star cast, any listener expecting the self-indulgent “chopfest”, is instead treated to great musicians playing tastefully, musically and unselfishly.
The Texas native, who currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, studied composition and improvisation as part of the legendary jazz program at North Texas State University. It was there that he switched to bass after years of guitar & bass study. After moving to Los Angeles in ’82 he became a course leader at Musicians Institute in Hollywood and taught at the prestigious California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California. In 1993, Warner publications released Bass Lessons with the Greats, which includes a chapter on Willis’ unique approach to improvisation. His hour-long educational video entitled Progressive Bassics features discussion of his technical and fingerboard harmony concepts. In 1998 Hal Leonard Publishing Co published his Fingerboard Harmony for Bass. In a review of Fingerboard Harmony, Bass Player called Willis a “modern master”. Adding to the Willis publishing catalog, Hal Leonard Publishing Co offers The Gary Willis Collection. The book features 11 transcriptions of original Willis tunes, including the contemporary classic The Necessary Blonde, which is one of two compositions also included in Sher Music’s The New Real Book-Volume Two.
Two other compositions from his solo recordings are also featured in the All Jazz Real Book, It’s Only Music and The Everlasting Night also from Sher Music.In Jan. ’99 Hal Leonard released Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass. Bass Player calls it an “excellent method to help you develop your ears and connect them-through your hands-to your instrument.” In demand as an educator, He’s conducted clinics and master classes in 21 different countries.
The latest Willis book from Hal Leonard 101 Tips for Bass was released early this year 2002 and provides valuable how-to insight that bassists of all styles and levels can benefit from In 1999, Ibanez Guitars introduced the Gary Willis Signature Bass. In development for almost 2 years, the Willis Bass offers bassists the chance to purchase the bass built to Willis’ exacting specifications, and an opportunity to get that “Willis sound”. Visit www.garywillis.com for more.