Growing up in the midwest, Willie Pickens earned a teacher’s certificate from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee and went on to the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, in 1958, to receive his B.S. in Music Education, before beginning his remarkable career as a jazz pianist. Over the years, his sterling academic credentials have enabled him to share his gifts with many young players, both as a performer and teacher.
Upon graduating from school, he moved to Chicago and began his career on a national hitrecord -- Eddie Harris' 1961 Exodus. After that big hit, Willie’s live appearances were almost all limited to the midwest for the next two decades, while his career as an educator flourished. From 1966 to 1986, he appeared on recordings headlined by Bunky Green, E. Parker McDougal, Vernel Fournier, He also performed with Sammy Davis Jr., at Orchestra Hall, and with Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, and Minnie Ripperton at the Mill Run Theatre
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With his large & complex chords, his great splashes of color and
dissonance in the right hand and his barrelhouse octaves in the left,
Pickens never lets the dramatic intensity flag.
Howard Reich - Chicago Tribune
Pickens' most exuberant solos all but take flight from
the keyboard's runway.
Neil Tesser - Chicago Reader