(12.12.41 – 5.10.06)
Pianist John Hicks was clearly one of America’s national treasures and his extraordinary talents were prodigious and prolific. As I recall, my first encounter with John Hicks was during my sophomore year in high school in my hometown of Pittsburgh, Penn. I was performing with pianist Geri Allen and bassist Duane Dauphin as the opening act for a concert with Pharoah Sanders. John Hicks, drummer Idris Muhammad and bassist Ray Drummond were performing with Pharoah as sidemen on that gig. What made an indelible impression upon me that night was when Hicks took the first solo—it was powerful, majestic and mystical. I was spellbound by his propulsive, explosive lyricism, his fluency and his absolute command of the instrument. I mean this cat could flat-out swing. Hicks’ solo clearly defined for me the true artistry and genius of a musical giant. It was an experience that elevated my sensibilities and transformed me as an aspiring jazz drummer—because it was at that moment I knew I had come to the realization that I wanted to be a jazz artist and to pursue a career in music. Unbeknownst to me, several years later, I would have the opportunity to experience John Hicks up close and personal by playing in his band. Even more ironic and revealing for me was the fact that I would be blessed with the honor and privilege to produce seven of his recordings and to perform on several more recording dates with him as a sideman.
John Hicks was a goodwill ambassador and a wonderfully generous and kind person—for all of his musical achievements and majestic talent he always carried himself with great humility and dignity as a gentleman. He willingly shared his talent and experience and his wonderful sense of humor with musicians, fans and everyone he touched. Being in his presence when he played was a rare experience—an authentic musical voice and presence that truly will never be recaptured or duplicated in the world of jazz. Hicks’ influence was far-reaching. His innovative and inventive spirit as a performer and composer was cosmic—like a supernova of explosive particles of genius burst upon the vastness of the musical constellation—that will continue to shower upon us the light of creativity, integrity and musical fortitude. I hope that those who knew and played with the great John Hicks will be inspired to live up to his high standards and his extraordinary legacy of excellence—in performance, composition and “swing personified.”