JOHN HICKS: Biography
The international Jazz community mourns the loss of one of its most prolific jazz pianists, John Hicks. Mr. Hicks, born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1941, was the eldest of five children. His parents, Reverend Doctor John J. Hicks and the former Pollie Louise Bledsoe of Atlanta, both deceased, moved to Los Angeles when Mr. Hicks was an infant. That is where Hicks received his first piano lessons under the tutelage of his mother. When Hicks was fifteen, the family moved to Saint Louis, Missouri in order for the Reverend Hicks to take over the pulpit of Union Memorial Methodist Church.
After graduating high school and attending Lincoln University, the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, and Julliard School of Music in New York City, Hicks relocated to New York City from St. Louis by accepting his first road gig with Della Reese. That was over 40 years ago. John Hicks became so firmly established among the most in-demand, prolific jazz pianists and composers on the recording and live appearance scenes, critics permanently affixed the adjective "ubiquitous" to his name. As a leader or first-call sideman, playing inside or outside the chord changes, presenting sparkling ballads or burning up the keyboard at torrid tempos, Hicks was as versatile as he was omnipresent. He has graced the stages of Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall, Kennedy Center, Spivey Hall, and a host of international jazz festivals.
Mr. Hicks' varied influences include Fats Waller piano rolls, Methodist church music, George Gershwin, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Among his musical mentors were such immortals as Lucky Thompson, Miles Davis and Clark Terry. Hicks also played road gigs with blues legends Little Milton and Albert King as well as other jazz greats Al Grey, Johnny Griffin and Pharaoh Sanders before he arrived in New York in 1963. John then worked with, among numerous others, Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson and Joe Henderson before becoming a full-fledged member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers. After two years with the seminal Messengers band, John joined the Betty Carter Trio, another important incubator for world-class beboppers. His productive stints with the vocalist Carter propelled John's career as a recording artist into national and international notice. Mr. Hicks had the opportunity to perform in such places as Italy, Japan, Australia, Israel, France, England, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Poland, South Africa, and Taiwan
The intervening year also saw Hicks performing live and on record with a galaxy of jazz giants that included Sonny Rollins, Carmen McRae, Freddie Hubbard, Frank Foster, Roy Haynes, Sonny Stitt, Jon Hendricks and James Moody. He additionally recorded several albums for both the Theresa (Evidence) and Disk Union with such cutting edge saxophone masters as David Murray, Ricky Ford & Arthur Blythe. He collaborated with fellow pianist Kenny Barron on an album on Candid. In the decade of the 90s, Hicks had further expanded his visibility and acclaim. His recorded works have included reunion meetings with Betty Carter to a solo concert at Maybeck Recital Hall in Berkeley, California to a variety of settings that have included artists Joshua Redman, Al Grey, Clark Terry, Ron Carter, Grady Tate, Charles Tolliver, Oliver Lake, Roy Hargrove, Gary Bartz, and Bobby Watson among others.
Although his exhaustive discography is inclusive of nearly every modern-day jazz great, his most recent creative undertakings included memorial recordings with his own trio: "Music in the Key of Clark" (Sonny Clark) - High Note; "Impressions of Mary Lou" (Mary Lou Williams) - High Note; "Nightwind" (Erroll Garner) - High Note; "John Hicks Trio and Strings with Larry Willis and Elise Wood" - Mapleshade; "So In Love" with Richard Davis - King Records; "Live in Taiwan" and "Beautiful Friendship" with flutist Elise Wood - Hiwood. Of particular note as a leader is his recording "Something to Live For: A Billy Strayhorn Songbook", which features some of Hicks' most lyrical work.
The years of the past decade have seen an increasing focus of solo work, trio work and his Quintet and Sextet. Teaming up with a diverse array of musicians had become a Hicks trademark. It also infused his playing with a unique characteristic: a relaxed confidence so total that at times it belies the passion he brings to a song. In all these realms, he has brought together outstanding musicians all whom share with him excellence in the creation and delivery of the universal language. Among those with whom he worked are Curtis Lundy, David Murray, Elise Wood, David Newman, Hannibal Peterson, Cecil Brooks III, Walter Booker, Billy Bang, Sonny Fortune, Frank Wess, Louis Hayes, Buster Williams, George Mraz, Idris Muhammad, Mickey Bass, Lester Bowie, and a host of luminaries in the jazz genre.
Mr. Hicks is survived by his wife, flutist Elise Wood of New York City; his daughter and granddaughter, Naima Yemenejah and Chintamini Hicks of Atlanta; his son, Jamil Malik Hicks; his only surviving brother, Raiford Emerson Hicks; two sisters, Mrs. Paula Hicks Neely (Louis) and Ms. Emma Hicks Kirk (Ronald) of Stockbridge, Georgia; nieces Lotus Eldona Hicks, Amina Kirk Thornton, Akosua Biney, Oresala Hicks and Khaliyah Hicks; nephews Tyler Hicks, Jameel Hicks, Hakim Vines, Raiford Hicks, Jr., Kwesi Balewa Kirk; aunts; Dorothy Ransom, Eartha Cheeseborough of Jacksonville, Florida, Mrs. Thelma Lawrence of New York City; and uncle John Emmett Brown of Jacksonville; and his special cousin Mrs. Debra Lawrence Cowan of New York City. John was loved, admired, and respected by a host of other relatives and friends too numerous to name.