Willie Pickens

Willie Pickens was born in the Midwest. He received a teacher’s certification from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, Milwaukee. In 1958, he went on to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee to earn his B.S. Before he began his extraordinary career as a jazz pianist, Willie Pickens studied Music Education. His sterling academic credentials over the years have allowed him to share his talents with many young musicians, both as a performer or teacher. After graduating from high school, he moved to Chicago where he began his career with the hit record of Eddie Harris’ 1961 Exodus. Willie’s first live show was in 1990 after that huge hit. Willie was invited in 1990 to join the Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. Later that year, Willie’s first appearance with the legendary band was at the Bottom Line in New York. This performance also featured Wynton Marsalis. Willie’s dedication to the Jazz Machine over several years saw him retire from teaching full-time in public schools. However, he was able to continue to be a key figure for the group and perform in Japan, Europe, Canada, and many other U.S. cities. Willie, now 77, is still a highly sought-after pianist for visiting artists in Chicago. He has been featured pianist on Joe Segal’s Jazz Cruises and shared the stage with Louie Bellson and Red Holloway. He has performed in concert with Marian McPartland and her beloved NPR program, Piano Jazz. 2001 saw the release on Concord of their album of duets, Ain’t Missbehavin’. His performance is direct and solid, with dense chords and percussive attacks and flying solos, echoing McCoy Tyner’s talent. He’s become a better soloist than a bandleader and lets the notes speak for him. He’s not as charismatic as some of his younger colleagues, but he puts on an amazing show. From allaboutjazz

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