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!