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  • Born

    20 December 1940

  • Born In

    New York, New York, United States

  • Died

    29 September 2019 (aged 78)

Larry Willis (Lawrence Elliott Willis, New York City, NY, USA, December 20, 1940 - September 29, 2019) was an American jazz pianist and composer. He has performed in a wide range of styles, including jazz fusion, Afro Cuban Jazz, bebop and avant-garde.

Willis was born in New York City. After his first year studying music theory at the Manhattan School of Music he began performing regularly with Jackie McLean. After he graduated he made his first jazz recording, McLean's Right Now! in January 1965, which featured two of Willis' compositions. His first recording of any type, however, was as a singer with the Music and Arts Chorale Ensemble, performing an opera by Aaron Copland under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. He decided to concentrate on jazz because of the difficulties African American musicians had in finding work in concert music.

Throughout his career he has performed with a wide range of musicians, including several years as keyboardist for Blood, Sweat & Tears (beginning in 1972). He spent several years as pianist for Nat Adderley, as well as long and productive tenures with Roy Hargrove and with Jerry Gonzalez & The Fort Apache Band. His latest recording with Paul Murphy, Exposé, demonstrated the fusion principles of bebop and avant-garde jazz. His composition "Sanctuary" began exploring works employing strings. After a successful performance in Frank Lloyd Wright's Annie Pfieffer Chapel at Florida Southern College's Child of the Sun Jazz Festival he was commissioned to write a full scale orchestral work for jazz trio and orchestra. He received the Don Redman award in 2011, and the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award at Howard University in 2012.


As leader/co-leader

A New Kind of Soul (LLP, 1970)
Inner Crisis (Groove Merchant, 1973)
My Funny Valentine (Jazz City, 1988)
Just in Time (SteepleChase, 1989)
Heavy Blue (SteepleChase, 1990)
Let's Play (SteepleChase, 1991)
Steal Away (AudioQuest, 1991 1992)
Solo Spirit (Mapleshade, 1992, )
How Do You Keep the Music Playing? (SteepleChase, 1992)
Unforgettable: Piano Solos, (SteepleChase, 1992)
A Tribute to Someone (AudioQuest, 1993 )
Serenade (Sound Hills, 1995)
If Trees Could Talk (Mapleshade, 1999) with Hamiet Bluiett
Sunshower (Mapleshade, 2001) with Kash Killion, Steve Novosel, Paul Murphy, Steve Berrios
Sanctuary (Mapleshade, 2003) with Joe Ford, Ray Codrington, Steve Novosel, Steve Berrios, Artie Sherman and the Rick Schmidt Strings
The Powers of Two (Mapleshade, 2004) with Paul Murphy
The Powers of Two, Volume 2 (Mapleshade, 2004 ) with Paul Murphy
Alter Ego (Mapleshade, 2006) with Tony Pancella
The Big Push (HighNote, 2006)
Blue Fable (HighNote, 2007)
The Offering (HighNote, 2008)
This Time the Dream's on Me (HighNote, 2012)

As sideman

With Nat Adderley

On the Move (Theresa, 1983)
Blue Autumn (Theresa, 1983)

With Gary Bartz

Episode One: Children of Harlem (Challenge, 1994)

With Cindy Blackman

Arcane (Muse, 1987)

With Carla Bley

Night-Glo (Watt/ECM, 1985)
Sextet (Watt/ECM, 1987)

With Blood, Sweat, and Tears

New Blood (Columbia, 1972)

With Louis Hayes

Nightfall (SteepleChase, 1991)

With Jimmy Heath

Peer Pleasure (Landmark, 1987)

With Joe Henderson

Multiple (Milestone, 1973)

With Groove Holmes

American Pie (Groove Merchant, 1972)

With Clifford Jordan

The Mellow Side of Clifford Jordan (Mapleshade, 1989-91 )

With Robin Kenyatta

Gypsy Man (Atlantic, 1973)

With Hugh Masekela

Grrr (uncredited) (1966)
Reconstruction (1970)
Home Is Where the Music Is (1978)
Main Event Live (1978)
Almost Like Being in Jazz (2005)
Friends (2012)

With Jackie McLean

Right Now! (Blue Note, 1965)
Jacknife (Blue Note, 1965)

With Carmen McRae

Carmen Sings Monk (1988)

With Lee Morgan

Infinity (Blue Note, 1965)

With Alphonse Mouzon

The Essence of Mystery (Blue Note, 1972)

With David "Fathead" Newman

Still Hard Times (Muse, 1982)

With Valery Ponomarev

Trip to Moscow (Reservoir, 1987)

With Woody Shaw

For Sure! (Columbia, 1979)

With Steve Swallow

Carla (Xtra Watt, 1987)

With Buddy Terry

Lean on Him (Mainstream, 1973)

With Norris Turney

Big, Sweet 'n Blue – with Turney, Walter Booker, and Jimmy Cobb (Mapleshade, 1993)

With Fred Lipsius

Dreaming of Your Love (mja Records,1995)

With C. I. Williams

When Alto Was King (Mapleshade, 1997)

As co-leader
With Heads of State

Search for Peace – with Buster Williams, Al Foster, and Gary Bartz (Smoke Sessions, 2015)

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