Willie Pickens with Donald Harrison, Ron Perrillo | Pritzker Pavilion, Millennium Park | Jazz | Chicago Reader

Willie Pickens with Donald Harrison, Ron Perrillo Recommended Free All Ages Soundboard

When: Thu., Aug. 27, 6:30 p.m. 2009

Though jazz is often regarded as a soloist’s music, even the most talented front man needs a good band, and Chicago is loaded with great players who seem content to fill supporting roles. Pianist Willie Pickens has made a handful of superb recordings as a leader over the years—most recently the two volumes of Jazz Spirit (Southport) in 2006, where he interpreted gospel tunes and spirituals—but he’s spent most of his career helping other people sound good. He’s been a sideman to everyone from Eddie Harris to Bunky Green to Elvin Jones, and he’s practically the house pianist at the Jazz Showcase. Pickens’s consummately tasteful playing is rooted in bop fundamentals, but he’s also profoundly flexible, a requirement in his line of work. Tonight he gets the spotlight he deserves, leading a group with two locals—drummer Robert Shy and bassist Stewart Miller—and one out-of-town guest, the great New Orleans saxophonist Donald Harrison. Opening the show is Ron Perrillo, another pianist who works mostly as a sideman; in fact he has yet to make a record under his own name, though he’s been a crucial presence on the local scene for nearly two decades. His excellent band features trumpeter Pharez Whitted, drummer Kobie Watkins, bassist Dennis Carroll, saxophonists Eddie Bayard and Pat Mallinger, and trombonist Tom Garling. —Peter Margasak

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