Primary Instrument: Piano
Joan has been teaching and performing in the Chicago area since the 1980's. She went to school at the University of Illinois in Champaign, and discovered jazz her senior year. Many outstanding musicians that had graduated were still there postponing a move to a big city. The result of this was a jazz scene rich with camaraderie and free from economic pressure.
I had no teachers or books, just the recordings. I learned the most by listening to others. People would have parties and I picked up a lot from their comments when we would sit around and listen to recordings. I was drawn to all the unique and sometimes outrageous personalities of the musicians. You could hear it in their playing. They shared a philosophy and aesthetic that taught a deep understanding of the essence of the music. Our aim was to honor the past masters, know what was to really swing, and to explore one’s own personality.
Joan immediately began working as a jazz musician when she moved back to Chicago. She played a number of solo and big band gigs, led a Blakey style sextet, and a group with vocalist Suzanne Palmer ( a singer with an enormous voice who's style was a cross between Nancy Wilson and Aretha Franklin) She played one of the Chicago Jazz Festivals with Cab Calloway, Milt Hinton, J.C. Heard, and Jonah Jones.
There have always been trio gigs, and after many years, she settled into a group with Dennis Carroll, bass and George Fludas, drums. After George came Dana Hall. She continues her work to this day with vocalists. I love the challenge of accompanying a vocalist, and it gives me a chance to be around some female energy!
She has been awarded 2 National Endowment for the Arts grants and an Illinois Arts Council grant in music composition. Her quintet was a finalist in the Hennessy Jazz Competition. The C.D., Soulmates was nominated for Best jazz C.D. at the Chicago Music Awards. She performed at the Kennedy Center in May 2006 during the Women in Jazz Festival.
Joan has played with Nat Adderly, Von Freeman, Frank Morgan, Lou Tabakin, Jon Faddis, Clark Terry and Buster Williams. Tours include Italy, Sweden, and Denmark with the Jazz Members Big Band featuring Joe Williams, vocalist.
Her CD Between The Lines, released in 2006, includes Tito Carrillo trumpet, John Wojciechowski saxophone, Dennis Carroll bass, and Dana Hall drums.
The repertoire includes originals and her own arrangements on Bridge Over Troubled Water, Black Magic Woman, The Man I Love, and My Funny Valentine.
Teaching has been an important part of Joan's work for many years. She has taught at Univ. of Illinois, her Alma Mater, since 1994, and Northwestern University with her husband (drummer) Joel Spencer, since 2004. She still keeps a small studio of talented high school jazz students, and has seen them go on to USC, New School, UIUC, and Eastman in jazz studies.
Hickey remains one of the most appealing and distinctive pianists in the city...(she) produces gorgeously singing lines and unexpected harmonies...The gentility of her touch is matched by the intellectual accomplishment of her improvisation. Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
Pianist Joan Hickey's Soulmates, featuring renowned bassist Buster Williams, is as notable for her songwriting and arranging skills as her keyboard chops. A vibrant harmonic glow informs her jazz and pop classics and originals Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Sun Times
At first one hears a floating, rhythmic grace and a rare sense of melodic neatness-a way of shaping the improvised line so it always falls right into place...the beat is powerful and omnipresent, generating the shape of each phrase Larry Kart, Chicago Tribune