Ask Willis - January - 1999

Hey Willis,
What are the books you studied from at nts concerning composition or any books you suggest for studing modern composition? 'Currently working out the Hindemith method books. 'Would like something more with jazz. any suggestions would be so appreciated. There is no one in the local area that knows anything about this stuff....CS

Hey CS,
Hindemith? Yikes, I wouldn't have a clue. I didn't study comp at NT, just improv and some arranging. I did take a couple of comp classes back at East Texas State, but I didn't know enough about anything for it to do me any good (probably still the case now). I've learned the most about composition from transcribing-I mean transcribing everything about a tune or composition-drum parts, voicings, melodies, lines-everything. By transcribing stuff yourself, in a way, you internalize the decisions that composers make and that that adds to your ability to imagine what can happen when you're writing on your own. (instead of making your decisions based on a description or theory in a book) I can't say that learning from a book won't work, but it's a lot more of an indirect approach. Of course, you'll have to develop a really great "ear", but that's what you need to have a great imagination anyway.

Hey Mr. Willis (Doesn't seem as polite the other way)
What's up, how's it goin? I bet you're thrilled to be talking a bloody 15-year-old high school kid. Shows, <sniff> you really care! Alright, enough...I've got a few things to go over. I'm a fairly new TT listener, and I only have Face First. (which is awesome I might add) However, I was introduced to your band through a little old tune called "Ominous," which scared the crap out of me. Anyhow, I was looking for the CD it's on , Dr Hee, and I can't find it anywhere!!! What happened? Did the record company go under or something? Is there anywhere I can get it? Can you help me get a copy? The guys in my combo did it at school last year, using a cheep dub of the tune my dad found lying around in his studio somewhere. I was told by my Jazz teacher, who is pretty familiar with you guys, that you taught a bass player named Ernest Tibbs at GIT for a little while. Is this true? IF so, where is he now? I guess that's it, are you into the NBA? Should the Lakers keep Elden Campbell or dump him off along with Eddie Jones for Scottie Pippen or Tom Gugliotta?
Thanks, Sir Willis!....Greg

Hey Greg,
First of all, you can drop the "Mr." stuff. Just because your'e 15 doesn't mean you have to rub it in. Yeah, I can't get that CD myself anymore. This site: claims to have everything that can be found. They had a vinyl version for sale. (that's a big black plate-like disk that us old-folks used to make records on) Dr. Hee was recorded for Passport records, that's another thing we're good at, making record companies go under.
Earnest is still in LA, doing well in the indrusty, recording and touring and everything. He was already pretty good when he studied with me, so I can't take the credit for his sucess.
I'm probably more of a Chick Hearn fan than a Lakers fan. They should trade Elden, butonly trade Eddie if they can get Pippen, Gugs isn't worth it....'guess we'll know in a few days.
Let me know if you need charts to some of those tunes.

Hey Willis,
Okay, so I'm one of the "I can't take money,frustrated finding good players and finding paying gigs EX-bass player!!! Sold off 3/4 of my gear, kept the '68 jazz bass and bastard Ibanez 5-string and headed back to architectural school. Well, there are a lot of parallels between the "art" of improvisation in music and the "art" of design in architecture so with that in mind have you found any parallel careers and/or hobbies that inspire you or give you that "magical human experience known to me as the "'trane zone" where no note or rhythmic juxtapostion is out of place.
Go Jets!!!
Former New Yorker, ROTTING in WISCONSIN
Thanks for letting me vent!!
Former BassHack

Hey ex-BassHack,
I think the Jets will have their hands full with the Denver offense. If they get behind early, they'll be forced to abandon the running game, and they're at Mile High, oh well. What were Jets, 1-15 two years ago? Amazing.
Hey, hopefully you've put yourself in a situation were you can enjoy playing on your own terms without all the pressure of having a bass "career" put on it. More power to ya.
As far as that "trane zone", I gave up on that a long time ago. Sure things can go great sometimes, but more often than not, one's perception is always screwed up. I kind of learned to "let go" and let whatever happens happen and if it's good, great, awful, transcendental or whatever, I don't let myself get too excited or upset either way.
Parallels? As you know music can be very frustrating, so I've probably intentionally avoided looking for any "parallel" pursuits. I enjoy totally unrelated things like web design and mountain biking, but not for their similarities to music.
Hey, try not to spoil, the weather channel said the sun will be out in April in Wisconsin, maybe even late March. Come back and vent anytime. (or gloat over a Jets victory?)

Hey Willis,
do you think, that four-string basses will die?
There are so many bass-players who want more and more strings. But i feel very comfortable with my four-string, even when i play jazzy solos. I think the possibilities of these instruments are unlimited. So what's your opinion?
Bye, Christian

Hey Christian
Good question. Actually, 4-strings will never die because there's too many mediocre guitar players (me being one of them) that need to have a secure form of emplyment to fall back on.
Seriously, sort-of, there's plenty of music to be made on the 4. I always played roots on my 4 as low as I could find them, it made the band sound bigger, so the 5 was a natural choice.

Hey Willis,
so when will you be in the indiana or ohio area to play?
do you record while your just noodleing around so its down if you hit on something you like?

Hey Andris,
If we get to tour the staes, it will be this fall. I'll keep all that info on my site.
Noodling? sually that's the most fun stuff. On my last two CD's No Sweat and Bent, there's a few jams that we just launched into. Knothead II (No Sweat) started when I picked up a student's Steinberger and started goofing on it, ended up slapping and that version happened. You can hear Dennis stop momentarily cause he didn't even think we were recording. Do the Math (Bent) is one where Kinsey started this little sound loop that Dennis liked an we launched immediately. During the jam, I tried superimposing the theme from Hipmotize (originally in 6/4) over the 4/4, 16th note groove (hence the title).
The new Tribal Tech CD Thick is based entirely on the "jamming in the studio" concept.
We didn't prepare or compose a note before we went into the studio. It's ended up the most fun to record and listen to (for me) of any of the TT CD's.

Ciao Willis,
hope you're doing fine and happy 99!
I was wondering if you ever treated/used microtonal structures while
soloing, as I listened Scott K. playing some of that stuff during his

Even if I really l-o-v-e your bass sound, I want to ask you if you're
thinking to use additional effects to be added to your standard sound in
the future (next album)?

Hoping to get TTech playing in Milano during the European Tour!!

Take Care,

Ciao from Italy!

Ciao Claudio,
I'm doing well, hope your '99 is swell.
Microtonal? Of course. I've got this sysytem worked out that involves being aware of my pulse rate at the same time I'm aware of the musical pulse. Notes played in between heartbearts (when my blood pressure is lower and the amout of pressure on the fingerboard is less) are slightly flat, while notes played during my hearbeat are microtonaly sharp (higher blood pressure). Of course, in order to play exactly in tune, I have to stop my heart altogether. I'm still working on that.

Bass sound? Thanks. Actually, on the new Tribal Tech CD, I screwed with the bass sound extensively: volume sensitive pitch transposer (percussion-typesound), midi-bass a couple of places, dueling envelope followers (Meatballs, Lexicon); stereo pickups with distortion on one pickup panned opposite the other pickup with an octaver, lots of objects stuck (woven) into the strings, popsiclle sticks, springs, strings, toothpics, etc.

Hope we play in Milano as well.
Ciao, thanks.

Hey Willis,
What is the best way to practice and improve soloing.Thanks in advance...DJ

Hey DJ
It's really hard for me to answer that question without trying to sell you a couple of books of mine. OK, here goes:. Whenever I do a clinic, I usually ask if everybody there can sing or whistle a better solo than they can actually play. I always get an overwhelming Yes. There's your solution, practice connecting your imagination to the fingerboard. Practice only over 2 chords. (try Cmi7 and Fmi7, two bars each). Play a simple 2 note idea at the beginning of the first bar (Eb descending to Bb, both half notes) . Don't play anything else for the nex t three bars and just listen for what your ear wants to hear when it goes to Fmi7. Practice this way with up to 3 or 4-note ideas but keep the rhythims exactly the same for both 2 bar phrases and leave the 2nd bar empty. This allows your ear to hear and anticipate what should happen next. The main thing is to get your ear involved in the improvising process. I'm thinking I should probably turn this into a web-lesson. Stay tuned.

Hey Willis,
First off, I am kind of curious about the new signature bass of yours
which is coming out. Is it going to be available in the U.S.? How much will
both versions sell for (or at least list for)?......And lastly, is it well-
balanced? (i.e. does the neck "dip" when the left hand isn't on the neck in
playing position)....Steve

Hey Steve
It will definitely be available in the States. The list for both versions will be under $2,000. How much under, I don't know, but probably not a whole lot under. The new tuner design definitely makes the headstock lighter than with regular tuners, so it will be very well balanced.

Hey Willis,
I've got a real cliche for you!
Do you have a routine for your practice-time?
There are so many things I wanna learn I'm losing my mind trying to pick just one at a time !!
Please help me, you're the one who keeps me picking up my bass!
Say hello to Buster for my midget-dachshounds Eppu & Tiitus!...Anu

Thanks Anu
I've pretty much never been able to use a routine. I tried the 6-8 hours a day thing once, didn't work for me. The best advice I can offer (especially if your practice time is limited) is to make sure that you apply mental energy to your practicing. Make sure that you're very attentive to your own playing and that you're practicing is geared towards solving problems that you want to solve. I've always had the best results by being creative. To me that means more than just creating music, although that's what I'll use to get started. Let's say you start with a groove. Within that groove you need to develop a vocabulary for how to vary it, play fills, whatever. In the course of trying to play what I hear, I would always run across an idea I couldn't execute, boom,--there's an exercise. It could be a right hand exercise, left hand exercise or both. Most of the exercises I've ever come up with were the result of trying to execute a musical idea.
I know there's all these things you want to learn, but the thing to keep in mind is to learn how to teach yourself.

PS, send me some pics of Eppu and Tiitus. I'm going to put up a "dogs that own other people" page.

Hey Willis,
Love your website,I really enjoyed the PLAM mute technique.I had my right palm removed,and a brand new PLAM attached.Boy it works great!!Looking
forward to the new TT disc.Groove on...Rob

Thkans Bro

Hey Willis,
I am a big fan. TT's Face First CD is ALWAYS playing. I am a bass player with the Air Force Band in Ohio and "Boat Gig" could easliy be the Air Force Band's Anthem as well. 2 questions: 1) Ever do any master classes with any Military bands? If so I'd love to get some particulars to run by my bosses. 2) Do you play upright as well? if so, how do you feel about electric uprights? Maybe Ibanez can put out a Garry Willis electric upright! You'll be hearing from me I intend to get all your CD's/Books!...Vinnie

Thanks Vinnie
Actually, when I lived in Colorado Srpings, I did some lessons (lots of USAF red tape involved) for a couple of the Air Force musicians there. Let me know what the logistical/personnel/chain of command thinks.
Me and upright are this close.
I'm clueless when it comes to an upright, electric or dog house. The way a sound has to be muscled out of the acoustic is pretty much opposite of the finess way I've learned to play. Although, I'm told that upright is divided into the "high action/play hard" and the "low action/play soft and turn up" camps.

Hey Willis,
I'm really interested in your book "The Gary Willis Collection", but I live in Denmark, Europe, so I have great problems gettin' it!! But...I hear sending 20 dollars to the address on this site, is a way of getting this book! But what about shipping & handling when I live in Europe! Is that included??? I Hope you can help me!

Keep up that amazing groove talent you've got!
A young fellow bassist!

C J , Copenhagen, Denmark.

Thanks CJ
I can send you the book for $20. I think it's just a few extra bucks for shipping. If it turns out to be more, you can buy me a beer when we're at the Jazzhouse on April 15th.

Hey Willis,
I would like to ask 2 questions.1) Do you have any exercise patterns before the gig or recording ? If you have them, I would like to know your exercise patterns. if too many patterns, show us on your web site.
2) When you compose a song, what do you decide first ? rhythm patterns? chord progression? melody? I like "Dense Dance", "Got Tuh B" & "The Big Wave". How do you compose them ?...Thanks, Toru

Hey Toru,
Actually, I don't warm up. I've worked really hard at learning to relax when I play. Usually, a "warm up" is to get your tendons and muscles to relax and feel loose. Since I've kind of trained myself to do that all the time, I'm pretty much ready to play anytime.
As for composing, the first thing that will get me interested in staying with an idea is the groove. I'll work with drum & percussion sounds on my sequencer to get something going. Once I have a strong, interesting groove, then that usually defines what should happen over it-whether it should have a slow melody or lots of chords or no chords or whatever. The three that you mentioned all started with the groove first. They each had a slightly different approach to composing, but the groove was first.

Hey Willis,
merry axemas , and for all the bass players ,too.
question: do you recomend your signature bass (fretted) for slap??
or is it better for fingers technic?.
thanx and good luck...chaveto

Hey Chaveto,
Happy NY
First of all the ramp is removeable so physically you could acess the strings for slapping without any problem.
The main question would be the EQ. Since I don't have the fretted prototype, I can't honestly tell you exactly how to it would work. Most good slap sounds involve boostin the lows and highs and cutting the mids. Since there's no mid EQ on the instrumtent itself, you could either EQ it on the amp or I'm told that you could just boost the bass and treble on the bass and get it that way. I'll update you as soon as I get a fretted in my hands.

Hey Willis,
Any plans to be in the north or central Florida area in the future?

Hey Ed,
I was down there on a clinic short clinic tour last fall so that might could happen again in '99.
TT won't have an opportunity to tour the states 'til next fall. I'll keep either kind of info on the site. thanks

Hey Willis,
just wanna say happy new year! I hope I'll see you with Tribal Tech in Stockholm this spring!

Thanks Peter, see ya then.

Hey Willis,
This is a very good website! This is the best "personal" website I've seen so far. I'm extremely glad to hear that there is a new Tribal Tech album coming out soon because when I saw TT in Seattle on the reality check tour, you guys played a jam that Scott said showed the direction you guys would go in with the next album. I liked it so much that I couldn't wait to get the record! You guys know how to build the suspense, don't you?

My question is, do you ever plan to do a clinic in the Pacific Northwest? (You don't have to sell me on Ibanez basses though, I've been playing 'em ever since my first bass.)
I also second the motion for a TT live album!!!


Thanks Mark,
Yeah, I remember that nite, It was the first night that we said "screw it" (or something to that effect) and decided to have some fun jamming.
I was supposed to do a clinic tour this fall but it got postponed. I expect to be up there this year (99), but I can't exactly say when yet. I'll keep the info on my site.