Willie Pickens's Birthday Celebrated by Jazz Legends and Fans


Article and photos by Jimmie Jones

 On Friday, February 17, 2006, a Jazz jam-session concert celebrating pianist and educator Willie Pickens's seventy-fifth birthday was held at the Museum of Science and Industry Rotunda in Chicago. An estimated 1,500 Jazz fans paid fifty dollars for admission to help Willie celebrate with four continuous hours of live music performed by Jazz giants.

 The concert began promptly at 7:00 P.M. with pianist Ken Chaney leading a trio consisting of Willie Pickens's regular rhythm section, Larry Gray on bass and Robert Shy on drums, both of whom played off and on with four different pianists during the concert. Chaney's half-hour set consisted of Jazz standards by or related to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and others.

Pastor Susan Johnson of Willie's church, the Hyde Park Union Church, spoke of Willie's accomplishments, especially at this church.

The presentation ceremonies began with members of Willie's family telling about what Willie was like as a family man followed by cake cutting with champagne toasts by every one in the audience.

After the ceremonies, alto saxophonist Gary Bartz and trumpeter Jon Faddis, backed by Willie Pickens on piano, Larry Gray on bass, and Robert Shy on drums, performed a set consisting, not surprisingly, of Faddis presenting of a lot of Dizzy Gillespie compositions.

Barry Harris

Richard Davis


 During the latter part of the set Willie Pickens was replaced by Barry Harris on piano, and Larry Gray was replaced by Richard Davis on bass. The group performed a couple of standards followed by the two Jazz legends being featured unaccompanied on one number. Barry Harris preformed a beautiful rendition of a Duke Ellington composition which I believe was "Solitude." Then Richard Davis displayed his remarkable bass-playing ability by bowing spontaneously on what could be called a tune composed on the spot!

Mrs. Irma Pickens


Clack Terry and Bunky Green


Bethany Pickens


Jazz Showcase's Joe Segal came on to introduce the artists for the remaining sets starting with Clark Terry on flugelhorn, Bunky Green on alto sax, Stu Katz on piano, Larry Gray on bass, and Robert Shy on drums. As with the Chaney Trio, this group played Jazz standards for a set that lasted about an hour. During the latter part of the set, Louis Bellson replaced Robert Shy on drums for several tunes, and of course Louis was featured on one number. For the set closer, Clark Terry performed his popular "mumbles" scat vocals to the delight of the audience.

Willie's daughter and talented pianist, Bethany Pickens (she also excels on drums), came on next to back up vocalist Muggie Brown on a couple of numbers. Bethany Pickens sat in on drums for one number when Shy was late returning to the bandstand.

Willie Pickens led the concert closing song "Take the A Train" with Bunky Green added to the horn section of Bartz and Faddis.


Photo below: Larry Gray, Bunky Green, Willis Pickens, Jon Faddis, Gary Bartz, Robert Shy, Blouis Bellson, and Bethany Pickens


 Article and photos by Jimmie Jones

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