John Hicks, a bop-based pianist who was a member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, the Woody Herman Big Band and the Betty Carter Trio during the 1960s, in addition to performing with Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, Etta Jones and innumerable others, died yesterday morning in New York City after being hospitalized with internal bleeding on May 9. He was 64.
Born December 21, 1941 in Atlanta, GA, Hicks studied music at Missouri’s Lincoln University, the Berklee College of Music and, surprisingly, on the road as a blues sideman. The pianist, who would later perform in post-bop and avant-garde settings during the 1970s, cut his teeth playing 12-bar accompaniment behind blues legends Albert King and the late “Little” Milton Campbell in 1959. After moving to New York from St. Louis in 1963, Hicks became immersed in the jazz scene, appearing and recording with Sonny Red, Grant Green, Johnny Griffin, Lou Donaldson and Joe Henderson, among many others.
Hicks began recording as a soloist and leader during the late 1970s, directing small combos through sets spanning from melodic, accessible hard-bop to challenging, fringish post-bop. A composer as well as a performer, Hicks’ finest and most cited composition is arguably “Naima’s Love Song” off Some Other Time (Evidence, 1981), a trio album featuring bassist Walter Booker and drummer Idris Muhammed.
Hicks was indeed a triple threat, composing, performing and educating, and he taught in varying capacities throughout his career. In addition to more recent stints at the New School for Social Research and New York University, Hicks taught jazz history and improvisation at Southern Illinois University from 1972-1973.
The pianist maintained a consistently active career, and over the last 12 years released several collaborations with his wife Elise Wood to mixed reviews (Single Petal of a Rose, Trio & Strings, Beautiful Friendship), faring better with a quintet of trio records paying tribute to Ellington and Strayhorn (Something to Live For: A Billy Strayhorn Songbook), Erroll Garner (Nightwind: An Erroll Garner Songbook), Mary Lou Williams (Impressions of Mary Lou), Sonny Clark (Music in the Key of Clark) and Earl Hines (Fatha’s Day: An Earl Hines Songbook), respectively.
His last performance took place at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Manhattan, where his father, the late John Hicks Sr., had served as senior minister. The show featured the John Hicks Trio and Lori Hartman with Ms. Wood and Aaron James. According to an e-mail distributed by www.jazzcorner.com, a jazz Web space
that houses Hicks’ official site, St. Mark’s was coincidentally the first venue the pianist played after moving to New York in 1963.
Mr. Hicks is survived by Ms. Wood, whom he married in June 2001, a son and daughter from his previous marriage, a granddaughter, a brother and two sisters.
Check back here for updates on this story, including funeral information. Visit www.johnhicksmusic.com for a memorial photo.