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Gary Willis: Something to Say

By Published: October 23, 2007
AAJ: Your top three rhythm sections?

GW: I would say Rocco with Garibaldi, Tony Williams and Ron Carter and Jaco [Pastorius] and Alex [Acuna], no, Jaco and Peter [Erskine].

AAJ: The influence of Weather Report in your music over the years is clear; Joe Zawinul once said he reckoned Miles had learned more from him than the other way round, what's your take on Zawinul's influence in the last fifty years?

GW: I think maybe that was one of the reasons they split Weather Report up and decided to put their names in front of what they were doing instead of as an afterthought. Personally I think Zawinul's contribution to Weather Report was way underrated, he was involved in every aspect, obviously the compositions but also in the mixing, he was like the bandleader and I think that part is missing from a lot of people's understanding of what Weather Report was.

AAJ: You've also played with Wayne Shorter, which was about twenty years ago; what was that experience like?

GW: I had the best seat in the house. It was amazing. It was after that gig that I really started seriously composing. It definitely inspired me to start doing it myself.

AAJ: You contributed to the Mysterious Voyage—A Tribute to Weather Report (ESC, 2005) album....

GW: Send me one of those.

AAJ: You didn't get a copy, what? You're kidding?

GW: I emailed the company and he said, "Yeah, I'll send you one, and he never did. Imagine that.

AAJ: I can hardly believe that. Anyway, it was an amazing line-up of musicians and I thought it would make for a tremendous annual tribute festival, something along the lines of Gregg Bendian's Mahavishnu Project tribute, only with a cast of dozens—would a Weather Report fest appeal to you at all?

GW: The concept of it would probably be great for the audience but logistically, and I'm not against celebrating Weather Report as history, but if you look at the reality of it, the travel, the rehearsing and getting to play one or two tunes...[laughs]

AAJ: OK, I guess it would be something for the audience. Thanks for pouring a bucket of cold water on that. Let's talk about the Gary Willis bass produced by Ibanez. It was two years in the making and you have described it as "perfection. What specifically do you love about it?

Gary WillisGW: I love what it has become. When we first put it out there were little things that I took care of that were kind of impossible for a production, factory-made bass to have, and so there are touches I chalked up to my own pickiness, because I require really specific action, and the way that I play puts a lot of demands on how the bass is set up, so I thought these were setup elements and not necessarily manufacturing elements.

But since last year they started making the bass hand-made from beginning to end and prepared all those details. So like I said, the bass is perfect and I'm really honored and absolutely amazed that the bass is off the shelf exactly like I want it.

AAJ: For most people who consider you to be a modern bass icon, it's hard to imagine you developing even more vocabulary as a bassist. Do you think yourself that you've reached a certain limit in your own vocabulary on the bass?

GW: I think different environments inspire a search for your vocabulary and I feel like I've got something to say as a musician. And so for Abstract Fiction—I'm using your new title now—for Actual Fiction, what I spent a lot of time doing was trying to create an environment that would challenge my vocabulary, require different ways of expressing myself and fire me to play differently, challenge me with what I have to say.

As long as I'm interested in exploring those environments and situations that that require a different take on how to play or say something as a musician then I'll always explore. And the way the technology is changing I think it should continue to allow everyone to do that.

This interview is dedicated to Joe Zawinul, who passed away a week after it was conducted. Zawinul, the greatest Austrian composer since Mozart.

Selected Discography

Gary Willis, Actual Fiction (Abstract Logix, 2007)
Gary Willis/Llibert Fortuny/Kirk Covington, Slaughterhouse 3 (Abstract Logix, 2007)
Scott Kinsey, Kinesthetics (Abstract logix, 2006)
Various Artists, Mysterious Voyages—A Tribute to Weather Report (ESC, 2005)
Dennis Chambers, Outbreak (Tone Center, 2002)
Brett Garsed/TJ Hemerich/Gary Willis/Dennis Chambers/Scott Kinsey, Uncle Moe's Space Ranch (Tone Center, 2001)
Tribal Tech, Rocket Science (Zebra Records, 2000)
Tribal Tech, Thick (Bluemoon, 1999)
Gary Willis, Bent (Alchemy Records, 1998)
Allan Holdsworth, None Too Soon (Restless, 1996)
Gary Willis, No Sweat (Alchemy Records, 1996)
Tribal Tech, Reality Check (Bluemoon, 1995)
Brett Garsed/TJ Helmerich, Exempt (Legato, 1994)
Various Artists, Guitar Tribute to the Beatles: Come Together (NYC, 1993)
Tribal Tech, Face First (Bluemoon, 1993)
Tribal Tech, Illicit (Bluemoon, 1992)
Tribal Tech, Nomad (Relativity, 1990)
Joe Diorio/Robben Ford, Minor Elegance( MGI, 1990)
Jeff Richman, People like Us (MGI, 1989)
Tribal Tech, Dr. Hee (Passport, 1987)
Wayne Shorter, Phantom Navigator (Columbia, 1987)
Tribal Tech, Spears (Passport, 1985)
Allan Holdsworth, Metal Fatigue (Enigma, 1985)
Brett Garsed/TJ Helmerich, Quid Pro Quo (Legato, 1992)
Jeff Richman, Himalaya (Passport, 1985)

Photo Credits
Top and Bottom Photos: Courtesy of Gary Willis

Center Photo: Carles Roches, courtesy of Gary Willis

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