About Hugh Masekela and Larry Willis
Trumpet great Hugh Masekela and piano master Larry Willis unite for a celebration of the Great American Songbook! Once classmates at the Manhattan School of Music, the two took slightly different paths: Willis has had an admirable career based in New York, spanning the free jazz, fusion, and post-bop movements of the past 50 years; Masekela scored some hit singles before turning his attention to the political climate in his native South Africa. Now they reunite with a new recording, the 4-disc Friends, and a string of intimate dates that showcase both artists’ virtuosity and immense emotional capacity.
One of the important figures in South African music, Hugh Masekela is also one of its biggest personalities. He has been performing, recording, and fighting apartheid for over 50 years, and has worked with a who’s who list of South African and international musicians.
Masekela started on trumpet at an early age, and with some friends he started the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa’s first youth orchestra. Hugh worked regularly in South African bands until 1960, when the increased brutality of the Apartheid state forced him to move. With the help of friends like violinist Yehudi Menuhin and conductor John Dankworth, Masekela earned a scholarship to London’s Guildhall School of Music, and South African singer Miriam Makeba helped him get to the Manhattan School of Music in New York. Once in the U.S., his recording schedule became very full: his contributions to Makeba’s records make them the best in her catalog, and his solo records from this period are an amazing conflation of 1960s pop and African influences. His 1968 hit “Grazing In the Grass” is a staple of this period.
The 1970s and 80s saw a number of high-profile events: a meeting with Fela Kuti spurred Masekela to explore his Afrobeat roots; his 1980 reunion concert with Miriam Makeba in Lesotho was attended by 75,000 people. His two records with Herb Alpert are revered, and his contributions to Paul Simon’s Graceland make the record the landmark it is.
Today very little has changed for Masekela, as he continues to spread his musical message of peace, harmony and unity throughout the world.
Upon graduating from the Manhattan School of Music in the mid 1960s, pianist Larry Willis immediately became a force on the New York avant-garde jazz scene. His playing, bold, frenetic and ambitious, found a home in the free jazz scene and also landed Willis recording dates with Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean and Stan Getz. A longtime devotee of Herbie Hancock, Willis moved into jazz-rock and fusion, eventually joining Blood Sweat and Tears for a time. Willis has also worked with Sonny Fortune, David “Fathead” Newman, Carla Bley, Nat Adderley and Woody Shaw.
What Other People Have Been Saying...
“…a musician of phenomenal grace and power: intricate and fiery on flugelhorn and still blessed with a voice that can strip the leaves from the trees.” The Independent
“Masekela …was both joyous and reflective.” -Washington Post