This Friday, the final Willie Pickens jazz Christmas concert

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Willie Pickens
  • Willie Pickens
Every December since 1995, venerable Chicago jazz pianist Willie Pickens has given a holiday concert at the Hyde Park Union Church, where he's been a devoted member since the mid-70s. This year's event happens on Friday, December 14, with his longtime trio—bassist Larry Gray and drummer Robert Shy—and three top-notch guests: trumpeter Jon Faddis, saxophonist Gregory Tardy, and singer Milton Suggs. Pickens, now 81, has announced that this will be his last Christmas concert at the church.

Luckily, Pickens doesn't constrain his music with holiday treacle—he plays in his usual hard-driving, expansive style, using the tunes as loose thematic material for extended improvisation, whether he's tackling traditional hymns or popular warhorses like "The Christmas Waltz" and "Winter Wonderland." In 1998 Southport Records released A Jazz Christmas, which features the trumpeter Nicholas Payton joining the Pickens Trio on all eight tracks—it's a brisk hard-bop album that just happens to use holiday melodies as improvisational fodder, which means it's not one of those recordings you can only listen to a few weeks of the year. Pickens always gives the proceeds of the concerts to charity, and this year's beneficiary is Centers for New Horizons; tickets are available online or at the door. Below you can hear the version of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentleman" from the Southport album.

Today's playlist:

Jeff "Tain" Watts, Family (Dark Key Music)
Aram Bajakian's Kef, Aram Bajakian's Kef (Tzadik)
Hayden Powell, The Attic (Inner Ear)
Chris Brown, Iconicities (New World)
Giovanni Falzone Quintet, Around Ornette (Parco Della Musica)

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