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Jazz Spirit, Volumes 1 & 2 by Willie Pickens

Pianist Willie Pickens is a beloved jazz fixture in the Windy City. While he has recorded frequently over the last four decades, only one session was waxed in a city other than Chicago. If you’re curious, that session was with Elvin Jones in Germany fifteen years ago.

The Milwaukee born pianist moved to Chicago in the late 1950s and entered the city’s public school system where he spent thirty years as a music teacher. He presently teaches jazz piano at Northern Illinois University.

Pickens has worked with a number of jazz legends including Clark Terry, Elvin Jones, Dexter Gordon, Roy Eldridge, Joe Henderson, Benny Golson and Sonny Stitt. His earliest recordings were on the Vee Jay label with Eddie Harris and Bunky Green in 1961. He recorded several sessions under his own name and often works with Southport’s acclaimed vocalist, Joanie Pallatto.

Jazz Spirit evolved from a series of sacred music concerts at Hyde Park Union Church on Chicago’s famous South Side. Willie Pickens delivers his interpretation of ten Christian hymns and African American spirituals on each of the two volumes. He’s a highly competent and innovative jazz performer and treats the sacred music in a manner that jazz fans of any religious persuasion will appreciate. Assisted by some of Chicago’s finest jazz players, Pickens performs in quartet and trio formats as well as a couple of solo tracks. The pianist’s daughter, Bethany joins her father in an interesting pair of duet performances titled "Doxology" and "Wade In The Water." The latter is an especially joyful reading of a favorite old spiritual.

Folks who might be "frightened-off" by an album of sacred music should have no fear. I’ll call Jazz Spirit a top-notch set of perfect "straight ahead" classic jazz. It deserves five stars!

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Willie Pickens
  • CD Title: Jazz Spirit, Volumes 1 & 2
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2006
  • Record Label: Southport Records
  • Tracks: Volume One: Let Us Break Bread Together, Jesu Jesu Fill Us With Your Love, Forgive Us Our Sins As We Forgive, A Mighty Fortress, Piedad, Doxology, O My Soul Bless Your Redeemer, Here I Am Lord, Jesus Loves Me, My God Is So High. Volume Two: Fairest Lord Jesus, O Love How Deep, Down By The Riverside, O Lord You Are My God And King, We Are Marching In The Light Of God, Wade In The Water, God Of Grace And God Of Glory, When Peace Like A River, Lord Whose Love Through Humble Service, My God Is So High
  • Musicians: Willie Pickens (piano) featuring Tito Carrillo (trumpet, flugelhorn), Pat Mallinger (alto sax), Ari Brown (tenor sax), Bethany Pickens (piano on 2 tracks), Rob Amster (bass), Marlene Rosenberg (bass), Larry Gray (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums), Robert Shy (drums)
  • Rating: Five Stars
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