b. 28 March 1957, Longview, Texas, USA.
Willis took up the bass when he was 13 years old, playing initially in church. Two years later, he also began playing guitar and studying harmony. After a while using both instruments, he abandoned the guitar to concentrate on bass. Although he studied music, for some time at North Texas State University, on the instrument he was entirely self-taught. Mostly, he played in casual settings, sitting in with other musical students and just playing for kicks. Eventually, however, he realized that he could combine doing what he loved to do with making money. In the early 80s he moved to Los Angeles where he developed parallel careers as a performer and as an educationalist. In the former capacity, he became co-leader with guitarist Scott Henderson of Tribal Tech. As a teacher, Willis became a course leader at Musicians Institute in Hollywood and also taught at the California Institute of the Arts. He also produced an educational video, Progressive Bassics, and books, Fingerboard Harmony For Bass, The Gary Willis Collection, containing transcriptions of some of his original tunes, and 101 Tips For Bass. He has also helped create the Gary Willis Signature Bass, in both fretted and fretless form, which is manufactured by Ibanez Guitars.
Despite his activities as an educator and the ongoing collaboration with Henderson on Tribal Tech, which continued until 1996, Willis found time to play and sometimes record with other artists, among whom are Wayne Shorter (1987’s Phantom Navigator) and Hubert Laws (1992’s My Time Will Come). Willis’ solo albums in 1996 and 1998 showed him to be effortlessly at home in a powerful jazz, blues and jazz rock setting with musicians such as Bob Berg and Dennis Chambers. An astonishingly gifted technician, Willis’ playing skills are always applied with taste, subtlety and an awareness of the demands of the music. Internationally admired as one of the master bass players of the jazz rock era, Willis continues to offer, by example and didactically, an assured guide to quality in contemporary music.