Gary Willis


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With a career spanning more than 45 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 (GWB20th). Featuring a “Tequila Sunrise”
sunburst finish, the bass is constructed with an ash top, basswood body, a
sunburst finished ramp and headstock as well as the unique Sure-grip tuners that
have graced the Willis signature line since the beginning. Also new to this limited
edition version of the GWB is the Aguilar DCB pickup and OBP-2 preamp. 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 was celebrated at the annual Bass Bash event
(Jan. 25th, during NAMM week in Anaheim, California.
2017 saw the year-long release of Groove A Day – the iOS 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 are delivered 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 returned 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 which 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 featured Fortuny on tenor sax, electronics & vocal effects and
David Gomez on drums and electronic percussion. Their explorations focused on
bringing a synchronized visual experience to the trio’s live performances. This new
development had 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“. 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
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 these monstrous
musicians. Despite its all-star cast, any listener expecting the self-indulgent
“chopfest” is instead treated to great musicians playing tastefully, musically, and
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 over
21 different countries. As an author, he’s published 4 books with Hal Leonard, “including 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.

Career Highlights
  • Larger than life, No Sweat, Bent, Actual Fiction, and Retro, released as solo artist
  • Cofounder and coleader of the jazz fusion band Tribal Tech
  • Worked with Wayne Shorter, Allan Holdsworth, Hubert Laws, Dennis Chambers, John Scofield, and Michael Brecker
  • Performed master classes in over 21 countries
  • Author of Fingerboard Harmony for Bass, 101 Tips for Bass, Ultimate Ear Training for Guitar and Bass, and The Gary Willis Collection
  • Creator of Groove A Day iOS education App. 
  • Codesigner with Ibanez for the GWB1005, GWB205, GWB35 signature basses
In Their Own Words

“Creativity was always central to how I learned music, and it’s central to how I teach. Creative problem-solving is the best way to describe it and it’s led me to investigate a variety of paths as part of becoming a musician—from creative instrument design by looking at the instrument as a user interface, to unique right hand solutions, to fingerboard harmony concepts that exploit the symmetry of the fingerboard, and a wide range of other directions that have all contributed to my experience."

“I basically want my students to learn how to teach themselves. Technology and a musician’s role in society is changing so rapidly that mastering a single set of skills is no longer enough to prepare for a constantly evolving future."

“My experience was that although I went to music schools, I never had an instrument teacher, so that forced me take a very direct approach to solving problems and learning that I believe I wouldn’t have adopted had I learned the instrument in a traditional setting.”