Willie Ruff (born in Florence) is the hornist and bassist of the Mitchell-Ruff Duo with pianist Dwike Mitchell, and one of the founders of the W. C. Handy Music Festival in Florence. The duo regularly performs and lectures all over the United States, Asia, Africa and Europe. Ruff attended the Yale School of Music as an undergraduate and graduate student, and has been a faculty member there since 1971, teaching music history, ethnomusicology, and arranging.
Ruff is founding Director of the Duke Ellington Fellowship Program at Yale, a community based organization sponsoring world-class artists mentoring and performing with Yale students and young musicians from the New Haven Public School System.
In 1992, Ruff's memoir, A Call to Assembly, was awarded the Deems Taylor ASCAP award. He has written profusely about Paul Hindemith, one of his teachers at Yale, and on his professional experiences with the American jazz composers Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
The Mitchell-Ruff Duo was officially formed in 1955 when Mitchell and Ruff left Lionel Hampton's band to form their own group. Mitchell and Ruff first met in 1947, when they were servicemen stationed at Lockbourne Air Force Base, near Columbus, Ohio. Mitchell, a 17-year-old pianist with the unit band, needed a bass player for an Air Force radio show, and he saw what he thought was a likely candidate in Ruff.
- Strayhorn: A Mitchell-Ruff Interpretation - Kepler Label - CD MR-2421
- Dizzy Gillespie & The Mitchell-Ruff Duo, Vol. 1 - Kepler Label - CD 2412
- Breaking the Silence - The Mitchell-Ruff Duo - Kepler Label - CD 2380
- Virtuoso Elegance in Jazz - The Mitchell Ruff Duo - Kepler Label - M-R 1234
- Les McCann - The Mitchell Ruff Trio- 20 Special Fingers
- Miles Ahead - Willie Ruff is the horn player
- Miles Davis - Porgy and Bess Remaster - Willie Ruff is the horn player
- The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings - Miles Davis - Willie Ruff is the horn player
- Gil Evans & Ten - Willie Ruff, horn
- Willie Ruff website