Gary Willis: A small step back, a giant leap forward

Gary Willis

It was the enigmatic Willy Wonka who once declared, "You can’t go back – you have to go forward to go back".

The concept of going backwards to move forward is easily applied to a musician as their career arc often comes full circle to the sound they originated in earlier years.The bonus for the listener is that instead of self-plagiary, the artist returns to their "classic" sound with the added depth and knowledge that only time and experience can add.

In what is sure to be one of the top modern Jazz albums of the year, Gary Willis is beginning 2013 by going backwards - with his latest album as a bandleader, Retro. Moving away from the electronic textures of some of his more recent work, Retro mixes Willis originals with surprising covers (Norwegian Wood).

While the grooves are immense throughout, Willis brings his adept melodic sense to the foreground here – check out that singing bass tone on his cover of Bill Evans’ We Will Meet Again. As both an accompanist and a soloist, Willis gracefully weaves throughout these tunes with authority and sensitivity. A rare feat for some musicians but for Willis – we’ve come to expect no less.


In keeping in line with its title, this album has a more traditional vibe to it - certainly a big shift from the more electronic-based sound of your most recent albums.
The music becomes really personal when you strip it down to the basics - bass, Rhodes and drums. There's an intensity of expression that I'm always looking for whether it's a level of energy that we're trying to achieve or whether it's a level of emotion that the music requires and this particular trio makes it possible to explore that.

Gary's Rig
Gary Willis Gear

Gary's rig includes: DB 751, (2) GS 112, Filter Twin, and Octamizer

"It sounds warm from the minute you plug it in while staying clear enough you can hear the definition in the back of the hall.

From quiet melodies to huge earth-moving bottom-feeder grooves, It allows me to pursue whatever range of expression the music calls for without worrying whether my rig is up to the task."

How did you write the tunes for this album?
About half the tunes are mine, so I guess you'd call it more of a collection. For example, I wrote Disconnectivity something like 25 years ago. Move - maybe 15 years ago, while the others were written closer to the time of recording so it's a mix. This is the first time I've recorded other people's music and these were songs that I've always had an affinity for in how I could interpret them.

What was the recording process like?
It was just a couple of days in the studio for the basic tracks, the three of us playing together - then minimal production to complete.

Who are the other musicians on the album?
Gergo Borlai on drums
Albert Bover on keyboards

What bass did you use? It sounds great – your tone really "sings"!
Thanks, that’s my new GWB1005. Ibanez updated the neck to a rosewood fingerboard with a finish so it's kind of come full circle, since the bass that we started the signature series with almost 15 years ago had the same fingerboard with a finish.

Do you have any upcoming touring plans for Retro?
No specifics yet, but I definitely want to get out and play with this group - we'll put it out there and see where it takes us.

Can we get a quick rundown of your current touring rig?
That would be the DB751 with two GS112's. I also have the Filter Twin and Octamizer pedals.

You recently played at Bass Day Spain – it is satisfying for you as both a player and educator to see so many bass-centric events available to the community?
Yeah, I think it's cool the way it puts fans and peers together and it's an opportunity to show the human side of artists as well as the companies that support them.

Thanks for talking with us Gary! Best of Luck with Retro!

To order your copy of Retro, click here.

  • 599 Broadway 7th Floor New York, NY 10012
  • • Tel: +1 212 431 9109
  • •
  • © 2011 Aguilar Amplification LLC. All rights reserved.