Over the years bandleader Rich Willey has put together all kinds of groups. He formed a quartet in NYC in the late 80s and called it Boptism. Some of the stellar players he was fortunate to play with include Dennis Irwin, Chris Potter, Claudio Roditi, Andy Fusco, Adam Cruz, Alex Norris, Steve Berrios, Brad Mehldau, Eric Alexander, John Swana, Jim Rotondi, John Webber and many, many others.
Those early Boptism gigs were at places like The Angry Squire, Yardbird Suite, Birdland and the New York Brass Conference. Rich learned a lot about musicians and gig conditions by being “the guy in charge.” Booking all those great players also had a huge impact on his writing, so more writing led to more gigs and even more writing.
As a composer and arranger, Rich has assembled bands and booked gigs specifically to get his material played. While it is not easy getting a band paid well for playing music that nobody has ever heard before, these have been some of Rich’s most memorable and musically satisfying gigs.
Rich has put together groups ranging from two- or three-piece ensembles all the way up to a full 17-piece big band. He makes being in a band fun when he is the leader; nobody takes themselves too seriously and the music is outstanding as a result of using only the best musicians available.
Rich once showed up for a New Year’s gig booked by a contractor, and somebody said, “Who’s the leader?” to which Rich promptly replied, “I am!” The gig went great and nobody on the bandstand knew that Rich was no more contracted to be the leader than anybody else. 😅
Rich Willey with Zack Page.
Listen to Rich singing and playing Minnie The Moocher with his band Minnie and the Moochers that he assembled specifically for this New Year’s Eve party . . . you can tell the band is having a ball during the hilarious call and response sections of the tune:
This was recorded on a Sony MD (mini disc) Walkman from within the band, so it is not a studio quality recording.
“If you’ve been around the jazz scene here for any time at all, you’ve likely encountered Rich Willey. As a bandleader, he presents music with highly versatile groups ranging from quartet to sixteen-piece big band — performing Latin, swing, Dixieland or bebop styles, employing some of the premier musicians in Western North Carolina.” — Eddie LeShure, Rapid River Magazine
“Rich really sets the tone, so to speak, for any situation where he’s involved. He brings a level of musicianship and attitude to the bandstand that is inspiring for the audience and the other musicians in the band. We are truly fortunate that Rich calls Asheville home.” — MIKE HOLSTEIN, bassist, Rapid River Magazine
“Trumpeter, composer, arranger and bandleader Rich Willey has assembled a killer band made up of the area’s finest musicians to play his funky original instrumental compositions.” — Asheville Music Guide