Willy was born in Michigan (USA). He is the son of Italian and German refugees. At a time when the concept of global music was as yet unheard of, Schwarz traveled the world from Brooklyn to Bombay and Katmandu to Kabul, researching, studying and playing music in all the musical languages of the world. In doing so, Willy Schwarz gained inestimable knowledge and also became a highly impressive musical all-rounder. 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 recognized musical category. During this time, Schwarz became also known for his stint as keyboardist and sideman for Tom Waits. 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 has often served as onstage musician and music director. Throughout the 1990’s Chicago’s commercial music producers knew him as one of the most diverse instrumentalists: Indonesian flute, a Tibetan trumpet or a Ugandan kettledrum.
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 its Chicago predecessor.
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. Schwarz was awarded the Villa Ichon Peace and Culture Prize 2011 for his work in bringing together music and musicians from many cultures. Additionally, his excellent theater music won him the Drama Desk Award in New York.