Born: Mar 28, 1957 in Longview, TX
All Music Guide
After sixteen years of co-leading Tribal Tech with guitarist Scott Henderson, and their eight critically acclaimed CD's, (the ninth, Rocket Science, will be released this fall) 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 "chop fest", is instead treated to great musicians playing tastefully, musically and unselfishly.
The fans Willis has won through the years, playing with musicians like Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Simon Phillips, Hubert Laws, Joe Diorio, Robben Ford, and Wayne Johnson, not to mention Tribal Tech, will be amazed yet again by the bassist that Bass Player magazine referred to 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."
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 unconventional technical and fingerboard harmony concepts. In 1998 Hal Leonard Publications 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 Publications 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. 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." A new Willis book from Hal Leonard "101 Tips for Bass" is due for release this year.
One of the most exciting things on Willis' current agenda is the release of the Gary Willis Signature Bass (fretted and fretless), by Ibanez Guitars. 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". His website, garywillis.com features information on Willis, the books, the CD's, the bass, web lessons and even his dogs.
With his latest release, Willis proves once more that the depth and range of his musical abilities defy category and definition, yet for those who would want to try, it would be best if they would simply get Bent.