John Hicks Biography

12 December 1941, Atlanta, Georgia, USA, d. 10 May 2006. Hicks began playing and studying piano while still a very small child, taking piano lessons from his mother. The family lived in Los Angeles, then in St. Louis, and he later attended Lincoln University in Missouri and the Berklee College Of Music. In the early 60s he went to New York where he became a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, recording ’S Make It in the mid-60s. He followed this tough school of learning with another when he became accompanist to that most demanding of singers, Betty Carter. He probably found his next employer, Woody Herman, more easy-going although musically just as demanding. During the late 60s he also recorded with Hank Mobley.

Throughout the 70s and on into the 80s, Hicks continued to tour and make records, sometimes as leader, with artists as diverse as Oliver Lake, Charles Tolliver, Lester Bowie, whom he had known since schooldays, and David Murray, with brief return trips to both Blakey and Carter. He also established fruitful musical partnerships with Curtis Lundy, Arthur Blythe, his wife flautist Elise Wood, Vincent Herring, Bobby Watson, and made well-received duo recordings with Jay McShann and Peter Leitch. In the early 90s Hicks made a striking solo appearance at a jazz festival in Montreal, later released on CD. He also made several albums with the bands New York Unit and New York Rhythm Machine for PaddleWheel, Venus and Evidence Records, and recorded as the Keystone Trio with George Mraz and Idris Muhammad. In the new century, in addition to a full calendar of concerts and recording sessions, Hicks was finding time to pass on his expertise through teaching at the New School for Social Research and New York University.

Although his earlier playing was sometimes criticized for its eclecticism, as time passed Hicks silenced his critics by developing a personal style that harmoniously blended a melodious romanticism with a buoyantly inventive dramatic flair that was especially suited to his sensitive treatment of ballads.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.