Artist Biography

From such exotic locales as Singapore and Hawaii to major music festivals throughout North America, alto saxophonist Willie Sordillo’s music has taken him around the world. With the band, Flor de Caña,which he co-founded and co-led, he is a three-time Boston Music Award winner. He has seen an album he produced and which features his playing and compositions become a top 10 hit on the Billboard Magazine World Music listing and heard one of his co-arrangements played on the ever popular "ER" television program.


Photograph by Josh 
Billings
Photograph by Josh Billings
Willie began playing saxophone at the age of nine, studying first with Pop Bethel, a former member of the legendary John Philip Sousa Marching Band, and later with William Shadle, first clarinetist with the New Jersey Symphony. Years later, he pursued his love for jazz studying theory and technique with nationally acclaimed reed master Billy Novick. His early love of the playing of Paul Desmond, and later Stan Getz is evident in his warm, mellifluous tone and flowing lines, though his unique sound is inspired as well by the innovations of two other heroes, Charlie Parker and John Coltrane. While at home on up-beat Latin jazz and be-bop tunes, Willie has a love for ballads which invite him to express his soulful/spiritual nature. A musician with wide-ranging interests, Willie has been a mainstay in the Boston R&B/soul/funk circuit for many years.

Willie began playing jazz as a sophomore in high school when a couple of upper classmen from the school big band invited him to join them in forming a group modeled after the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Though the quartet was formed to perform in a school talent show, the success of that program led to Willie's first taste of performing in clubs and private parties, gigging both with this quartet and as a freelance player. For some of these gigs where alcohol was served he was required to borrow an older musician's ABC card and play under an assumed name. The experience proved invaluable under any name, and presaged his later decision to become a professional musician.


While in college, Willie became fascinated with the North American folksong tradition, which led to a career as a folk performer and singer/songwriter. A highly proficient acoustic guitarist and singer, Willie recorded two solo albums for the historic Folkways label and toured nationally as a solo artist for several years. In addition, he produced compilations for Folkways and Flying Fish, Walls to Roses: Songs of Changing Men and Feeding the Flame: Songs by Men to End AIDS, which contributed to the pro-feminist dialogue on gender issues and helped raise funds to support AIDS services for minorities. All of these recordings remain available through popular download sites like Amazon.com and itunes, as well as directly from their distributers, Rounder Records and the Smithsonian Institution.

In 1984, following an invitation to participate in a cultural exchange tour to Nicaragua, Willie helped found Flor de Caña, the Latin ensemble which would be his home for the next 10 years. The band recorded two CDs for Flying Fish and shared the stage with such notables as Tito Puente, Rubén Blades, Poncho Sanchez, Richie Havens and Pete Seeger. The band performed throughout North America and in Central America and the Caribbean.

Since 1994, Willie has focused his energies on the New England music scene. In addition to leading his own groups, Willie has been a featured performer with the Latin jazz ensemble La Luna Quintet, with the bossa nova group Sambossa, with vocalist/pianist Geoffrey Dana Hicks and with the Mystic Chorale, the Marlene Jazz Ensemble, the Mood Elevators, the Blue Suede Boppers, Chops Turner, The Manny Santos Quintet, James Brown impersonator “JC” and Enfusion, among others. He led a band featuring vocalist Wanetta Jackson in front of 8000 people at the Amistad to Boston Celebration Day at the Fleet Boston Pavilion in the fall of 2003. Willie has performed with jazz icons Avery Sharpe and Kurt Elling.

Currently, Willie is active in the funk/soul/R&B ensemble, RPS Band, led by his longtime colleague, bassist Doug Rich. For more information about this group, please follow the links on the home page of this website.

Willie has had a long-term musical partnership with the extraordinary pianist, Jacqueline Schwab. Jacqueline can be heard on the sound tracks to most of Ken Burns' documentary films and has played her personal interpretation of Americana, Celtic, Latin American and spiritual repertoire at venues as prestigious as the White House, the Smithsonian Institution, A Prairie Home Companion and The Late Show with David Letterman. Willie and Jacqueline meet somewhere in the middle of their varied musical passions, stretching each other in challenging and rewarding ways. For more information about Jacqueline, visit her website: Jacqueline Schwab.com

In addition, Willie has a new duo with vocalist Zoë Krohne, performing an eclectic mix of folk, R&B, contemporary and original material featuring Willie's guitar, saxophone and vocal work and Zoë's stunning voice and engaging presence. After more than three years of working together at the weekly Jazz Worship service at Old South Church, the duo is now bringing a new repertoire into secular and sacred settings alike. Look for information about their upcoming performances on the "Upcoming Performances" page of this website.

Willie's past performances include the Amazing Things Arts Center in Framingham; AIDS Walk Boston; Latin Jazz concerts at the Barbieri School (co-leading a band with world-renowned Latin Jazz stars Victor Mendoza and Eguie Castrillo), family concerts at the Connolly Library in Jamaica Plain; a house party in one of the storied mansions along Newport's famous Cliff Walk, the Charles River Creative Arts Program, Slades, Scullers, the Regattabar, the Midway Cafe, and Thunder Road. Since September of 2005, Willie has served as musical director of a weekly jazz worship service at Old South Church on Boston's Copley Square. He served for two years as muscial leader for OpenSpirit, a creative worship service in Framingham, MA and frequently brings Jazz Worship to churches in New England. Willie has been a featured in-studio guest on Worcester's WICN and WGBH's "Eric in the Evening."

A writer as well as a player, Willie's original compositions have been reproduced in a number of magazines, songbooks and textbooks and he has had the pleasure of hearing his songs recorded by other musicians. He has composed theme music for four movies, including the award winning documentary, Project Censored. Willie is often found in the recording studio as a session musician and producer. Recordings featuring his saxophone work include Muévete and Bailando en la muralla by Flor de Caña, Cartagena, with the Geoffrey Hicks Quartet, Besame Mucho, a duo session with Geoffrey Hicks, The Color of Grace and The Colors of Love by Judy Hanlon, and Ben Tousley's recordings Open the Gates and Take My Hand. His acoustic guitar playing is featured on all of banjoist Pat Scanlon's recordings, including his newly released double CD, Extremists for Peace. Willie's most recent CD as a leader, echoing, features some of the Boston area’s finest jazz musicians.

For information about booking Willie Sordillo's jazz groups, his duos with Zoë Krone and Jacqueline Schwab, or to receive e-mail announcements of upcoming performances, please e-mail Willie at wsax@rcn.com.


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