Larry Willis, Pianist
Once identified with on-the-edge free music, keyboardist Larry Willis had a profitable flirtation with fusion in the '70s, then moved to hard bop in the '80s and '90s. Willis' playing has been frenetic, ambitious and interesting, but during his jazz-rock and fusion days was funky but greatly restrained and simple. A devotee of Herbie Hancock, Willis has found a good balance, with expertly constructed modal solos and also lyrical, relaxed statements.
Willis graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in the early '60s, then played with Jackie McLean and Hugh Masekela. He recorded with Lee Morgan and McLean in the mid-'60s, and worked with Kai Winding and Stan Getz, as well as recording with Robin Kenyatta in 1969. Willis turned to synthesizer and electric piano in the '70s, doing sessions with Cannonball Adderley, Earl May, Joe Henderson, Groove Holmes and Masekela again. He joined Blood, Sweat And Tears in 1972, recorded with Alphonze Mouzon in both 1972 and 1973, and did dates as a leader and freelance session musician. Willis also recorded with Ryo Kawasaki and Sonny Fortune in the late '70s, and with David "Fathead" Newman and Carla Bley in the '80s. Willis toured and recorded with Nat Adderley in the '80s, and joined Woody Shaw's quintet in 1986. He's done sessions as a leader for Groove Merchant, Steeplechase, Audioquest, Brunswick and Mapleshade, among others.