LAWRENCE ELLIOT WILLIS (LARRY WILLS)
December 20, 1942 -
When Pianist/Composer Larry Willis joined the Brew crew on WEAA’s Thursday morning Jam Session (Every Thursday from 6am-8am) he surprised us all by sharing that he started out as a classical vocalist! He performed under the direction of Leonard Bernstein while he was with the Music & Arts Choral Ensemble as a teenager in New York. Needless to say he realized then that there was little opportunity for young African Americans to perform concert music so he decided to concentrate on Jazz.
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 at age 18, McLean’s Right Now! which featured two of Willis’ compositions along with Jack Dejohnette ,trumpeter Charles Tolliver,and fellow Dewey Redmond Award recipient bassist Dr. Larry Ridley.
Larry has written for and performed with just about “everyone” from Blood Sweat & Tears, Nat Adderley, Roy Hargrove, Carmen McCrae, Lee Morgan, Joe Ford, Woody Shaw and even James brown alumni Pee Wee Ellis! He is heard on well over 250 albums including several with his lifelong friend trumpeter Hugh Masekela.
He is in touch regularly with basketball great Kareem Abdul Jabbar and many other sports hero’s as he puts it “to grow in my neighborhood in New York enabled me to meet all the greats” His young school mates included drummer Al Foster.
Larry Willis received the Dewey Redmond Award in 2011 and the distinguished Benny Golson Jazz Master Award from Howard University in 2012.
“Legendary” Larry Willis as he is affectionately called presently resides in Baltimore, Md. and can be heard Nationally, Internationally as well as at a venue near you!