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Benefit for Larry Willis

Jazz piano great and noted composer Larry Willis survived a fire just over a month ago that consumed his house and all of his belongings. On Monday, Feb. 26, Fazioli Salon will present “Pianists Play for Larry,” a concert of distinguished jazz pianists at St. Peter’s Church in New York City. The suggested $20 contribution will go to help Willis.

Born in 1942, Willis got his start as a classical musician. His first gig was as a singer in the Music and Arts Chorale Ensemble under the direction of Leonard Bernstein. After enrolling at the Manhattan School of Music, Willis switched his focus from vocals to music theory. As a black musician, he only had so much mobility in classical music, so he gravitated towards jazz piano. Drawing his avant-garde style from the likes of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis and many others, Willis has covered nearly every genre in his career, from jazz and fusion to rock, and even Latin and African music. By age 19, Willis played regularly with alto sax legend Jackie McLean. In 1965, post-graduation, Willis recorded Right Now! on the Blue Note label. Since his debut, Willis has proved his versatility, playing in various forms on over 300 albums.

In 1972, he joined Blood, Sweat and Tears on keyboards, and has toured in various groups in the decades following. With the group Fort Apache, he has received three Grammy nominees, playing keys on two of their New York Jazz Critics Award-winning albums. Starting with Fort Apache in the mid-’90s, Willis has also worked on symphonic arrangements, adding strings to three Mapleshade jazz albums. Quietly, Willis has become one of the great living innovators of jazz, claiming a body of work spanning over 40 years that few can match.

The charity concert will be held from 7 p.m to 10 p.m. at St. Peter’s, located at 619 Lexington Ave., New York. Randy Weston (pictured) and Geri Allen are among the many guests participating in the benefit.

Through extended stays in Africa and five years of living in Morocco, Weston has absorbed various ethnic styles of piano to create a varied sound born out of, but not limited to, the distinguished punch-and-jab of Thelonious Monk. Weston got his start in American R&B in the late ’40s, but has recorded projects injecting jazz, blues, and African and Moroccan roots music.

Allen made her mark in the Brooklyn scene of the mid-’80s, playing piano on several of alto saxophonist Steven Coleman’s albums. Her solo works display the full range of the modern jazz spectrum, sometimes more improvisational or avant-garde, other times smoother and calmer.

Originally Published