Thursday, May 11, 2006

John Hicks 1941-2006

John Hicks

Jazz pianist John Hicks, a former St. Louis resident, has died at age 64. Although the story has yet to hit the New York papers as of this writing, it has been reported by Jazz Times, Playbill and the blog of Boston jazz radio station WGBH that Hicks passed away Wednesday in New York after being hospitalized on Monday with internal bleeding.

Born in Atlanta, Hicks studied music at Lincoln University in Jefferson City, and lived in St. Louis in the late 1950s and early 1960s, playing blues gigs with Albert King and Little Milton as well as jazz. He moved to New York in 1963 and over the next four decades, became a mainstay of the jazz scene there and around the world, performing with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Betty Carter, the Woody Herman Orchestra and many, many others. Hicks also had an active solo career as a leader and composer, and taught music at NYC's New School and, for a year in the early 1970s, Southern Illinois University. In recent years, he recorded a series of tribute CDs dedicated to various jazz figures including Mary Lou Williams, Billy Strayhorn, Sonny Clark, and Earl Hines, and co-led a band with his wife, flute player Elise Wood.

Hicks' last St. Louis appearance was a couple of years ago, when he headlined a week at Jazz at The Bistro. During that visit, I had the privilege of interviewing him for a prospective magazine story that, alas, was never published to due a combination of editorial intransigence and a malfunctioning tape recorder. But while nothing came of the article, it was still a real pleasure just to spend some time with Hicks, hearing some of his stories and talking about music. From that meeting, I came away feeling that John Hicks was a great guy as well as a wonderful musician. My sincere condolences go out to Elise Wood and the rest of Hicks' family and friends.

UPDATE, 12:05 a.m., 5/13/06: StLJN reader Ron Williams writes:
"Just wanted to make a correction. You stated that John Hicks last appearance in St. Louis was about 2 yrs ago at the Bistro. I believe his last appearance was actually in late 2004 or early 2005 between October and January at the Engineers Club on Lindell Blvd. He was brought to town by Richard Henderson's organization Crusaders for Jazz. I wasn't able to attend but I do know that the group also included drummer Ronnie Burrage."
My thanks to Ron Williams for that information, and I'm sure I'm not the only one now wishing he'd been there that night, taking advantage of another chance to enjoy John Hicks' generous spirit, good humor and superlative musicianship.

(Edited after posting to correct Hicks' age. Edited again to correct a spelling error.)


Tiff/Stephen said...


Nice post regarding John Hicks. If you get a chance you can catch a four-hour tribute tonight beginning at 8:00PM Eastern Time.
Be well

Dean Minderman said...

Thanks for stopping by, Stephen.

I've added information about WGBH's tribute to a follow-up post on the funeral arrangements and reaction to John's death.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for all of the wonderful words regarding my brother, John. I am his youngest sister whom he affectionately called "Lou" (Emma Lou). With all of the wonderful tributes to John, it makes our burden of his loss a great deal lighter. He will be buried in Atlanta, Ga. at South View cemetery on Monday, May 22, 2006. His body will be on view at Goolsby Mortuary in Atlanta at 1375 Jonesboro Road, SE. The hours of viewing will be from 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. Sunday, May 21, 2006.

Dean Minderman said...

Thank you, Ms. Kirk, for stopping by and for your kind comments.

I did not know your brother well, but I thought he was a fantastic musician. And when I did get the chance to spend a little time talking with him, I was very impressed with him as a person, too. He will be missed by many, many fans and friends in St. Louis and around the world.

Eric said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric said...

When I first moved to NYC in the late 1980s, I was told that the late night spot I needed to frequent was Bradley's. I didn't need to be told twice; I walked in and there was John Hicks doing a real job on the "pyana," with that super serious look on his face that he always had when gracing us with his musical intensity poured out from strikingly sculptured hands.

"Hello, Mr. Hicks, my name is Eric Reed and I have you on 'The Audience with Betty Carter,'" were my first words to him. John replied, "Oh, yes you're the one from LA, right? Well, you must be sh**tin' in high cotton!" (Until that night, I hadn't heard that phrase used above the Mason-Dixon line.)

Every time we saw each other, John would say to me, "How's that cotton?" And I would go, "Up to my ears..."

These "close encounters" freak me out: when my father died four years ago, it was on a Sunday and I had just spoken to him less than 24 hours before and had no reason to believe he was gonna check out the next day. On Sunday, May 7, my bestest buddy Sheila Anderson and I had just left a memorial for percussionist/engineer Andre Strobert at St. Peter's Church to attend a surprise birthday party for Wendy Cunningham (former proprietor of Bradley's) down at Walkers. (The surprise was on us - Wendy never showed.) On the way out, we bumped into John Hicks who was all smiles and looking like I'd seen him look for the past few years -- gaunt, but stable. The irony: the Bradley's connection was there at the beginning and end of my time knowing John Hicks.

Dean Minderman said...

Great story about your first meeting with John Hicks, Eric. Thanks for sharing it, and for stopping by this humble little corner of the Web.

"The Audience With Betty Carter" is a favorite of mine, too. Come to think of it, that may have been the first record I owned with Hicks playing piano, though certainly not the last.

Eric said...

Sunday night (June 4th) at 9, in recognition of the recent death of pianist John Hicks, the lights will be dimmed in all of New York's major jazz rooms. For a minute, the lights will go down in the Cornelia Street Cafe, the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note, the Jazz Standard, Birdland, Iridium, Smoke, and rooms outside of New York such as Cecil's in New Jersey, Blues Alley in Washington, and Yoshi's in San Francisco. On Friday and Saturday nights, there will be a benefit for the John Hicks family at Sweet Rhythm, where many of New York's finest pianists - Cedar Walton, Kenny Barron, Mulgrew Miller and Junior Mance - will be playing the music of John Hicks.

More at