Tim Roberts

By Tim Roberts

The Harry Pickens Trio Closes Out This Year's Jazz Cabaret Series

Long on talent, style, and height, pianist Harry Pickens mixed in with Louisville's Tyrone Wheeler on upright bass and Dick Sisto on drums and vibes at Clark-Todd Hall in the Kentucky Center for the Arts on Sunday, April 13. The sold-out show closed this year's Bank One Jazz Cabaret Series with an evening of classy music and a touch of jazz education.

Pickens, a slender thirty-seven-year-old Brunswick, Georgia-native, is so tall that he needs to spread his knees under the keyboard so his legs will fit. He and his co-performers launched the show with "There is No Greater Love," with a piano introduction that was a stylistic tour de force, mimicking stride, flowing, tinkling, syncopated, and several dozen others that blended so perfectly that they were hard to classify.

Harry Pickens

Next came a completely improvised gospel-like blues number Pickens called "Glad to be Back in Louisville Blues," a tune, Pickens commented afterward, that said "play me" after the first number. The trio then moved into the gorgeous Bill Evans waltz "Very Early," with Dick Sisto and on vibes.

A jazz educator as well as performer, Pickens paused for a few minutes in the middle of the first set to give a brief, friendly lecture on how to listen to jazz. "You listen for the theme and the infinite variations of it," he explained. "The more you know what's going on inside jazz, the more you can enjoy it."

But like all teachers, he had to admonish a few disruptive members of the audience. As he began a gently sweeping intro for a solo version of "The Very Thought of You," a knot of patrons in one corner were talking over it. The acoustically-sound hall carried the yapping over the floor and up to the bandstand. Pickens stopped the intro cold, leaned into his microphone, and politely asked all conversations to complete themselves. After a moment of guilty silence from the audience, Pickens said he does not play in clubs anymore because of such disruptions. Music, he continued, "must happen in an instant, in the moment. The more present the audience is with the music, the deeper the music can take us all."

After a few moments that ensured quiet, Pickens once again began the intro. There was a collective rush of goose-bumps as he finished his solo. We had been taken deeply into the music. Willingly.

The trio was a little more boisterous in the second set, launching straight into "Bye-Bye, Blackbird" and moving gracefully into the Antonio Carlos Jobim standard "Wave." Then it was Ty Wheeler's turn for a duet with Pickens. Together they moved through "Burke's Works," followed by "Sweet Lorraine," with Pickens again on solo piano. The three wrapped up the show with a bouncy version of "Teach Me Tonight." The audience responded with a standing ovation.

Thanks go to Ken Clay, the series' producer, his assistant, Nicole Dean, and the various underwriters for bringing Harry Pickens to Louisville. Thanks also to Steve Crews, my table mate, for whispering color commentary during the show.


More Jazzin' – Ken Clay has already announced the acts for the 1997-98 series. Scheduled to appear are Everett Greene Quartet on November 16; For U, December 14; Standard Time, January 25, 1998; and Louisville's own Soundchaser, on February 22, 1998. All shows start at 6:00 PM. Call 584-7777 for more information.

Jazz in Central Park, another Ken Clay production, will be Saturday, August 23 and Sunday, August 24 .

Until then, your/our spring and summer does not have to be jazz-deficient. Check the listings here in the LMN for some local jazz acts. And for the price of the beverage of your choice, or sometimes a modest cover charge, you can see for yourself the growing, talented jazz community in Louisville.