Ten – Competition

ARk Times Showcase flyer

The word sounds ominous, but in fact, I have entered the band and I into a local showcase being put on by the Arkansas Times. We have made it through the preliminary rounds and will perform in the second installation of semifinals this Thursday night at Stickyz in Little Rock. Click on the photo above to be directed to more information.

A word about the band: backing me up for this competition and thereafter are Jack Lloyd on bass and backup vocals, Mike Motley on drums, Sarah Stricklin on backup vocals and auxiliary percussion, and Sydney Hunsicker on backup vocals, accordion, and harmonica. They’re sounding wonderful, and the fact that we have all in a lot of ways come of age together makes for a really cohesive dynamic among the band and myself. I am proud to call them my band and honored to have them. Now if we could just come up with a name.

Here’s a beautiful photograph of all of us one cloudy Saturday last month, taken by the lovely and talented Lily Darragh:


Nine – “K” is for “King of the Cocktail Party”


Happy Holidays, Everybody!


Oh, what fun it is to open up Facebook and see your name tagged in a year-in-review list! I am so excited to share the glad tidings that the “King of the Cocktail Party” EP that was my first, official studio endeavor (and thanks to the immense talents of Jack Lloyd and Jason Weinheimer), that released in August of this year has made it to the Arkansas Times “Entertainment from A to Z” list!

Other notables of personal significance include “I,” Iron Tongue, whose guitarist, Jason Tedford, is a friend and a brilliant sound engineer. I got to work with him on Cody Belew‘s first album, Paradise, back in 2010 and on a couple of earlier demos for myself. Also, “A,” actress Ashlie Atkinson, who sure has done her native Little Rock proud in film and TV, played a pivotal role in my life when we worked together at the Mediterranean grocery the summer after my first year in college and in the aftermath of my first big heartbreak. Hilarious antics ensued, and I am pretty sure she deserves an award simply for enduring all the Joni Mitchell I undoubtedly forced upon her that summer.

Back to holidays 2013: thank you, thank you, thank you, friends, family, Little Rockers, AETN, and Arkansas Times for giving me so much to celebrate! I cannot wait to bring you more music in 2014.



p.s. You can gift downloads of the King of the Cocktail Party EP to all the people you care about: Click here for CD Baby, here for Amazon, and here for iTunes!

Eight — AETN Presents: On the Front Row with John Willis is ONLINE!

Folks, the show at AETN Studios back in October aired three times over last weekend (thanks, AETN)! The first night, Friday November 29, it aired at 6:30pm, just two and a half hours before Barbra: Back to Brooklyn. So, in a weird way, I opened for Barbra Streisand over Thanksgiving weekend.

My show’s up online now, and you can watch the entire half-hour program here:


Thanks for tuning in!



Here's the flier I made.

Here’s the flier I made.

Hey folks — I am so incredibly excited about next week’s live concert taping at AETN Studios! The band and I will be putting on a free, 1-hour show as part of the “AETN Presents: On the Front Row” series. Please come be part of the studio audience!

**First 30 through the door get a FREE, limited edition print by RollandTumble Press featuring lyrics from the King of the Cocktail Party EP!!!**

Here’s what AETN has to say: http://www.aetn.org/engage/blog/john_willis_performs_free_concert_at_aetn_oct._27

BTW, it IS Tuesday the 22nd. Not the 27th. The 27th is a Sunday. I won’t be there on Sunday. I’ll be eating Mexican food somewhere.

At Long Last: King of the Cocktail Party Release Show Today!

Dear Friends,

It is with great excitement and relief that I can finally say the album I’ve been working on this past 10 months is finally here! The CDs came in today from Discmakers, and it looks like in just a few, short days “King of the Cocktail Party” will be available on iTunes, Amazon mp3, and more!

There will be much more to come over the next few days, but for now, it is time to rest up and prepare for the release SHOW, which is tonight, Thursday 22 August 2013, at The Joint in Argenta. Please check my Facebook page for more information about this event. It starts at 8pm, and I would love to see you there.

You can pick up your copy of “King of the Cocktail Party” at the show, or check back here over the next few days for updates on where and how to get my EP!

Jack, we did it!

Love all,

p.s. The new photo header is a preview of some beautiful photographs that Lily Darragh took earlier this month. Please visit her site, lilydarragh.com to see her work. I will get the finished photos up (with real photo credits, Lily!) soon.


Dear Friends,

The big, New York Adventure has come to a close, in about the same amount of time as it took for it to open, somewhere around three and a half weeks. An amazing, too-good-to-be-true opportunity came my way, and I took it. And it was exactly that: too good to be true. Folks have always thrown around that phrase, “Bright lights, big city,” and I’ve always listened with rapt attention, as if “bright” and “big” meant better.

In reality, for me, bright was too bright and big was too big, so I’ve come back home. I got tears in my eyes and laughed out loud when I looked down and out the window of my airplane seat and saw green fields and ponds below. Like a friend of mine from here reassured me, “Well, I’m glad you know where home is now.”

I am looking forward to patio gigs, picnics, and finishing this EP I feared would never be completed because I had to put it on hold in search of greener pastures. Well, guess what, there are no green pastures in New York City. Know where there are pastures aplenty? I’ll let you figure that one out. I gotta find an apartment and a piano to put in it!

I’m glad I know where home is now.


About a year ago, I started seeing a very gifted physical therapist. At least, that is what it said on the door below her name. I would call her a seer, or a witchy woman, a psychic healer of sorts. She worked wonders on a neck-and-shoulder-combo problem that has plagued me since early adulthood, but her work extended further, reached deeper, than muscle and connective tissue.

During the few sessions I had with her, she would ask the (seemingly) oddest questions while working on me. Things like, “Were you a forceps baby?” (Mom says no.) or “Who do you play your music for?” It was this second question specifically that caught me. She went on to explain, “Some people play for whomever is in the room; their music is a gift, a service. They are grateful just to be sharing it. Other people play for themselves, for the sheer enjoyment of it. It is the experience of hearing and feeling the music that they are creating for themselves that is the reason that they do it.”

And then she directed the question at me again, “So, which are you? Who do you play your music for?”

I, stunned, had no idea and wished she would return to working on my neck and shoulder.

Nearly a year later, I still don’t really have an answer. I recalled this memory earlier today, when the idea of “meaningful work” popped in my head. What a funny question we concern ourselves with, whether or not our work is meaningful! I think the better question lies a little deeper, something like, “Am I doing the work I am doing because I feel that it has meaning for the life of the world, or am I doing the work I am because it is meaningful to me?” Both have merit, I think. It’s just a shame when people can’t enjoy what they do because they don’t quite know why they’re doing it. I would definitely say that the jobs I have right now are worthwhile because they are meaningful in a broad sense; I am helping people better their craft, better understand their bodies, and center their spirits, 6 or 7 days a week! Not all of this work has personal meaning for me. My own piano playing and singing, composing, cooking and yoga and otherwise caring for my body, and taking care of my spirit are the meaningful things in my life. Oh, and of course, all the wonderful people I love!

The jobs I have and the work I am doing right now are great because they have immediate import to the people I am serving, and they keep me active in the specific spheres where my real sense of a “meaningful life” has its orbit. I don’t always want to teach yoga, or manage the building for a non-profit, or teach suburban kids piano or how to sing in-tune, but for now, I am placed perfectly where I need to be, where I can find my own sense of meaning in the world and still have room to work out what means the most to me.

So, what makes your work meaningful? Who do you make your music for?

All the best,



Advent. To come toward. To come-to.

The letter I have posted below was written by Rainer Maria Rilke in 1903, plus or minus a day. I have read this and shared it with friends every year for 10 years or more, since I first read Letters to a Young Poet shortly out of college. It was written to me…not directly… but what he has to say about the importance of solitude in the life of an artist is something that I have never gotten from anyone before or since that first reading. The lives of aspiring singers/songwriters/composers can be pretty lonely at times. We are frequently forced to choose between our integrity as musicians and creators on the one hand, and the world of relationships and things on the other. Boyfriends and girlfriends go, and newer car purchases or better living accomodations are put off so we can buy gear or clear out our hearts and minds so we can write honestly and so we can sing truthfully.

Besides all that, this letter gets me through the December blahs, and it keeps Advent and Christmas vital for me even as I grow older and have to face the fact that I know less and less and hold as precious only a few, simple, beliefs about the world and what it’s coming to. Truth and beauty, gestation and birthing: that’s what I get out of this reading. That, and the bit of encouragement Rilke offers as the closing to his letter.

Enjoy, and be of good cheer!


p.s. I’m trying to figure out how to get tumlbr set up so you can hear these gorgeous choral pieces that are my favorites this time of year. Tavener and Pärt. More about them later!


Rome December 23, 1903

My dear Mr. Kappus,

I don’t want you to be without a greeting from me when Christmas comes and when you, in the midst of the holiday, are bearing your solitude more heavily than usual. But when you notice that it is vast, you should be happy; for what (you should ask yourself) would a solitude be that was not vast; there is only one solitude, and it is vast, heavy, difficult to bear, and almost everyone has hours when he would gladly exchange it for any kind of sociability, however trivial or cheap, for the tiniest outward agreement with the first person who comes along, the most unworthy. But perhaps these are the very hours during which solitude grows; for its growing is painful as the growing of boys and sad as the beginning of spring. But that must not confuse you. What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours – that is what you must be able to attain. To be solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involved with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing.

And when you realize that their activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own world, from the vastness of your own solitude, which is itself work and status and vocation? Why should you want to give up a child’s wise not-understanding in exchange for defensiveness and scorn, since not understanding is, after all, a way of being alone, whereas defensiveness and scorn are a participation in precisely what, by these means, you want to separate yourself from.

Think, dear Sir, of the world that you carry inside you, and call this thinking whatever you want to: a remembering of your own childhood or a yearning toward a future of your own – only be attentive to what is arising within you, and place that above everything you perceive around you. What is happening in your innermost self is worthy of your entire love; somehow you must find a way to work at it, and not lose too much time or too much courage in clarifying your attitude toward people. Who says that you have any attitude at all? l know, your profession is hard and full of things that contradict you, and I foresaw your lament and knew that it would come. Now that it has come, there is nothing I can say to reassure you, I can only suggest that perhaps all professions are like that, filled with demands, filled with hostility toward the individual, saturated as it were with the hatred of those who find themselves mute and sullen in an insipid duty. The situation you must live in now is not more heavily burdened with conventions, prejudices, and false ideas than all the other situations, and if there are some that pretend to offer a greater freedom, there is nevertheless none that is, in itself, vast and spacious and connected to the important Things that the truest kind of life consists of. Only the individual who is solitary is placed under the deepest laws like a Thing, and when he walks out into the rising dawn or looks out into the event-filled evening and when he feels what is happening there, all situations drop from him as if from a dead man, though he stands in the midst of pure life. What you, dear Mr. Kappus, now have to experience as an officer, you would have felt in just the same way in any of the established professions; yes, even if, outside any position, you had simply tried to find some easy and independent contact with society, this feeling of being hemmed in would not have been spared you. It is like this everywhere; but that is no cause for anxiety or sadness; if there is nothing you can share with other people, try to be close to Things; they will not abandon you; and the nights are still there, and the winds that move through the trees and across many lands; everything in the world of Things and animals is still filled with happening, which you can take part in; and children are still the way you were as a child, sad and happy in just the same way and if you think of your childhood, you once again live among them, among the solitary children, and the grownups are nothing, and their dignity has no value.

And if it frightens and torments you to think of childhood and of the simplicity and silence that accompanies it, because you can no longer believe in God, who appears in it everywhere, then ask yourself, dear Mr. Kappus, whether you have really lost God. Isn’t it much truer to say that you have never yet possessed him? For when could that have been? Do you think that a child can hold him, him whom grown men bear only with great effort and whose weight crushes the old? Do you suppose that someone who really has him could lose him like a little stone? Or don’t you think that someone who once had him could only be lost by him? But if you realize that he did not exist in your childhood, and did not exist previously, if you suspect that Christ was deluded by his yearning and Muhammad deceived by his pride – and if you are terrified to feel that even now he does not exist, even at this moment when we are talking about him – what justifies you then, if he never existed, in missing him like someone who has passed away and in searching for him as though he were lost?

Why don’t you think of him as the one who is coming, who has been approaching from all eternity, the one who will someday arrive, the ultimate fruit of a tree whose leaves we are? What keeps you from projecting his birth into the ages that are coming into existence, and living your life as a painful and lovely day in the history of a great pregnancy? Don’t you see how everything that happens is again and again a beginning, and couldn’t it be His beginning, since, in itself, starting is always so beautiful? If he is the most perfect one, must not what is less perfect precede him, so that he can choose himself out of fullness and superabundance? Must he not be the last one, so that he can include everything in himself, and what meaning would we have if he whom we are longing for has already existed?

As bees gather honey, so we collect what is sweetest out of all things and build Him. Even with the trivial, with the insignificant (as long as it is done out of love) we begin, with work and with the repose that comes afterward, with a silence or with a small solitary joy, with everything that we do alone, without anyone to join or help us, we start Him whom we will not live to see, just as our ancestors could not live to see us. And yet they, who passed away long ago, still exist in us, as predisposition, as burden upon our fate, as murmuring blood, and as gesture that rises up from the depths of time.

Is there anything that can deprive you of the hope that in this way you will someday exist in Him, who is the farthest, the outermost limit?

Dear Mr. Kappus, celebrate Christmas in this devout feeling, that perhaps He needs this very anguish of yours in order to begin; these very days of your transition are perhaps the time when everything in you is working at Him, as you once worked at Him in your childhood, breathlessly. Be patient and without bitterness, and realize that the least we can do is to make coming into existence no more difficult for Him than the earth does for spring when it wants to come.

And be glad and confident.


Rainer Maria Rilke