With a career spanning more than 40 years, Gary Willis has released 5 solo CD’s, 10 as co-leader of Tribal Tech and has been a part of a multitude of other projects including playing alongside Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Hubert Laws and many others. His own works include legends Dennis Chambers, Steve Tavaglione, Bob Berg, Gergo Borlai, Kirk Covington and Scott Kinsey.
January 1, 2019 Ibanez announced the release of the 20th Anniversary Gary Willis signature model fretless bass. Details are currently under wraps but this special edition promises to deliver some unique features while maintaining the classic Willis sound and playability. The bass has evolved over the years with subtle improvements and has expanded to offer three different models, the GWB35, GWB205 and the GWB1005. The GWB20th limited edition release will be celebrated at the annual Bass Bash event (Jan. 25th, bassbash.com) during NAMM week in Anaheim, California.
2017 saw the year-long release of “Groove A Day” – the iOS & Android play-along app that has Willis and the incredible Gergo Borlai performing a different groove for every day of the year. The interactive app allows you to select camera angles, customize the audio mix, loop specific sections and adjust the tempo. In total, over 12 hours of grooves and decades of experience come distilled into one app.
His latest CD, “Larger Than Life”, morphed into a half-decade project that spanned 3 continents and 9 time zones. Celebrated as a “delicious collection of fusion-funk for the twenty-first century”. “Larger Than Life’s” 12 tracks feature Gergo Borlai on drums, long-time Tribal Tech band mate Scott Kinsey on keyboards, Steve Tavaglione on saxes and EWI, Claudia Bardagí on voice and Llibert Fortuny on tenor sax and voice.
With “Retro” (2013) Willis returns to his jazz roots with a trio featuring the incredible Gergo Borlai on drums and the acclaimed Catalan pianist Albert Bover on keyboards. A mix of vintage Jazz with the energetic twist that Willis always brings as well as a melodic side that has been seen in smaller doses throughout his career.
2012 saw the release of “X” by the supergroup Tribal Tech that came to light after a 12 year hiatus. “X”documents the final trip of this prolific musical jazz fusion group, known for its spirited arrangements and interactive improvisation. Getting the kind of synergies that materialize in a masterpiece like “X” is only possible when one has a rich musical history forged by virtuoso musicians.
His Triphasic collaboration with Llibert Fortuny released “Shaman” in 2009. The eclectic-electric trio features Fortuny on tenor sax, electronics & vocal effects and David Gomez on drums and electronic percussion. Their explorations have been focused on bringing a synchronized visual experience to the trio’s live performances. This new development finds Willis occupying the VJ controls at the same time navigating the electronic sequences that the band improvises to.
In 2007, Willis released “Actual Fiction”. Reviews describe that it’s “everything you’ve ever liked about his work with Tribal Tech and leaps forward a few light years.” while being “wide open from the very first note and will test your neck vertebrae with the powerful rhythms all through this recording.”
Also in 2007 Willis released the avant-jam-trio “Slaughterhouse 3”. Allaboutjazz.com describes “Slaughterhouse 3” as “Undoubtedly funky and at times lyrical, the music on “Slaughterhouse 3” is also nicely edgy, exploring some dark and heavy musical avenues. Willis, Covington and Fortuny all excel on a fascinating album which will hopefully be only the first of further collaborations together.”
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.
Since moving to Barcelona in 2004, Willis has taught at Barcelona’s Escola Superior de Musica de Catalunya conservatory. In 2014 Willis joined the faculty of Berklee Valencia teaching masters in Contemporary Performance as well as students in the Study Abroad and First Year Abroad programs. The Texas native studied arranging and improvisation as part of the legendary jazz program at North Texas State University. After moving to Los Angeles in ’82 he became a course leader at Musicians Institute in Hollywood and also taught at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, California.
In demand as an educator, Willis has conducted clinics and master classes in over 21 different countries. As an author he’s published 4 books with Hal Leonard, “101 Tips for Bass” provides valuable how-to insight that bassists of all styles and levels can benefit from. “Fingerboard Harmony for Bass” takes the mystery out of the fingerboard by exploiting the natural geometry and symmetry of the instrument. Bass Player magazine calls “Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass” an “excellent method to help you develop your ears and connect them-through your hands-to your instrument. “The Gary Willis Collection” 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.