Willis Pride, BFA (jazz studies) 14, who made it to the quarter finals of La Voix 5, loves songwriting as well as singing and music. “The thing I like most about music is composing and writing my own songs,” says Pride. “I write a lot. I’ve been writing songs since high school.”
His bio describes Pride as a singer, piano player, composer and arranger. He counts Stevie Wonder, Oscar Peterson and Earth Wind and Fire among his musical inspirations.
In early 2018, Pride independently released his second EP, Wake Up, and a full-length album is planned for next winter. The six songs on Wake Up were recorded with 13 musicians — including fellow Concordia alumni Chris Lepp-Forest, BFA (jazz studies) 13, on drums, and Dalhi Gonthier, BFA (jazz studies) 12, on saxophone.
“I was going all-in with whatever I wanted to do as an arranger: strings, brass, backup singers, percussions, whatever,” says Pride about this ambitious project.
“My jazz side came out in my single ‘I’m Your Man.’ There’s a minute-long guitar solo. If you want to get played on the radio, you can’t have a minute-long guitar solo,” he admits. “You can if you’re playing live, but these are all things I’m going to adjust for the next one.”
Pride, originally from St. Paschal Baylon, Ont., moved to Montreal to attend Concordia’s Jazz Studies program in the Department of Music. He fondly cites music professor Charles Ellison and part-time instructor Wray Downes as positive influences.
Pride remembers really wanting to make a good impression when he arrived at Concordia in 2009. “I was scared to go to my private lessons because I had a lot of respect for Wray Downes,” he says. “I thought I was really good, and he made me realize I wasn’t as good as I thought!”
The following year, Pride started playing in bands and accompanying other musicians. “I was missing a lot of class,” he says. “I wasn’t a good student. I was pretty much fighting everybody.”
Pride, a piano player, didn’t realize his own vocal abilities until he accompanied his drummer Lepp-Forest at the latter’s scholarship concert — and sang a song. He, too, wanted to be nominated for the Concordia scholarship — the Montreal International Jazz Festival Award— which included a performance at the Montreal Jazz Festival. So Pride buckled down.
“I quit a bunch of the bands and focused on singing and doing well in school,” he says. His work paid off, and Ellison nominated him for the scholarship.
“I did the competition, I got first place and got to play at the jazz fest. It was fun!” Pride says. “I really want to play there again.”
He adds that he gets a kick from “the rush” of performing. “I can really open up and show a different side of myself,” Pride says. “There’s something about sharing your music with a lot of people. Nothing compares to that.”
In addition to helping him get out of his comfort zone, Pride is thankful that his La Voix experience taught him about some non-musical aspects of building a long-term career as a recording artist.
“Being on La Voix made me realize that as assertive as I am, there’s a lot I never thought about in the industry, like image, what I wear, social media,” he says. “So now, in my career, I think about what I want to look like, what I want to sound like, and I just go for that.”