Willy Schwarz’s vision has always been eclectic.
After decades spent absorbing music from around the globe, Willy
has alchemically transformed his experience into songs – songs
that reflect his love for the dozens of traditions he’s
studied, yet maintain the unity of conception and imagination
that is the prerogative of a master storyteller and a master.
As a child, Willy had learned the Italian and German folksongs
his parents sung together. At seven, he began making up melodies
at the piano – at first just to keep his mother happy while
she did the ironing. By his early teens, he’d taught himself
to play the lute (after pestering his dad for months to buy one),
then learned to play at least a dozen different instruments;
Young Willy was clearly destined for a life in music
Schwarz began traveling internationally at 13. As the leader
of a folk trio the ‘Young-uns’ he went on his first
American tour at 14. Schwarz has hardly stopped in the four decades
Though the world is full of musical nomads, few indeed have
gone so far and learned so much. Willy went on to sing, play,
learn and explore all over the world – traveling from Brooklyn
to Bombay on an Indian freighter, moving from Kathmandu to Kabul – wherever
Willy went, his restless musical mind absorbed the songs and
sounds he heard, transforming them in the crucible of imagination.
Willy playing the Vichitra Vina
To hear and see the Vichitra Vina click here
In the 1980’s he toured internationally with the critically-acclaimed
trio ‘Eclectricity’, whose enormous spectrum of music
defined ‘World Music’ a decade before it became a
recorgnized musical category.
Though this multi-instrumentalist is probably best known for
his stint as keyboardist and sideman to Tom Waits, Schwarz’ resume
commands other accolades such as his internationally-acclaimed
musical travelogue ‘Jewish Music Around the World’.He
has also created many musical compositions for theater, using
his exotic and conventional instruments to score dozens of plays
in Chicago, several of which have toured across America, Europe
and Broadway. Willy often served as onstage musician and music
Throughout the 1990’s Chicago’s commercial music
producers knew him as ‘the weird instrument guy’ – If
you needed an Indonesian flute, a Tibetan trumpet or a Ugandan
kettledrum, Willy Schwarz would not only bring them, he’d
play them brilliantly, idiomatically and with consummate musicianship.
A love for the genuine led Willy to research Chicago’s
immigrant musical traditions with the intent of presenting the
music to listeners across the USA over National Public Radio.
He took this idea further and assembled the 21-piece ‘All
American Immigrant Orchestra’, which featured solo and
ensemble playing and singing from Brazil, Puerto Rico, China,
India, Poland Hungary, Quebec and Armenia; topping the Chicago
Tribune’s list of Best Concerts of 1999. After the success
of the Chicago project, he followed suit in Europe, organizing
an analogous ensemble known as the ‘Bremen Immigranten
Orchester’, whose premiere performance was received with
equal enthusiasm as it’s Chicago predecessor.
Throughout all his travels, Schwarz kept adding to an ever-growing
file of original songs. Well over a decade of creating music
for other people’s visions, he decided it was time for
his own unique conception of ‘multi-ethnic singer-songwriting’.
Travelling to the Indian city of Pune, Willy laid down the basic
tracks of his first solo album with the help of over twenty Indian
instrumentalists. ‘Live for the Moment’ was finished
in Chicago with contributions from artists like Paul Wertico
and Howard Levy. It won highest critical praise after its release
in 1999. His follow-up CD, a song cycle titled ‘HOME; Songs
of Immigrants, Refugees and Exiles’ was released in 2001.
Most recently, Willy Schwarz has composed the music for Mary
Zimmerman’s Tony-Award winning Broadway hit, ‘Metamorphoses’,
for which he won the 2002 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Music
in a Play. The soundscore for ‘Metamorphoses’ and
other theatre music of Willy Schwarz was released by Knitting
Willy has toured and collaborated with such diverse artists
as Tom Waits, Theodore Bikel, Ravi Shankar, Alan Ginsberg, David
Amram, Shlomo Carlebach and Leon Russell.
Willy was awarded the Villa Ichon Peace and Culture Prize 2011 for
his work in bringing together music and musicians from many
cultures. This prestigious award has in previous years been
received by such illustrious personalities as philosopher Ivan Illich
and rock giant Udo Lindenberg.