1335 South Michigan Ave
Jazz Pianist Willie Pickens and guitarist Peter Lerner return to PianoForte to perform as the Willie Pickens & Peter Lerner Duo on Friday , May 5th at 8pm. At the height of their improvisatory powers Pickens and Lerner perform in the grand tradition of Oscar Peterson and Joe Pass , Bill Evans and Jim Hall , a great jazz piano and guitar duet in their own right they will play powerful straight ahead jazz from the great composers of our time.
Upon graduating from school, Willie Pickens moved to Chicago and began his career on a national hit record — Eddie Harris’ 1961 Exodus. After that big hit, Willie’s live appearances were almost all limited to the midwest for the next two decades while his career as an educator flourished. From 1966 to 1986, he appeared on recordings headlined by Bunky Green, E. Parker McDougal, Vernel Fournier, and also performed with Sammy Davis Jr. at Orchestra Hall, and with Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, and Minnie Ripperton at the Mill Run Theatre. In 1990, Willie was invited to join the mighty Elvin Jones Jazz Machine. His first appearance with this legendary band took place later that year at the Bottom Line in New York and also featured Wynton Marsalis. Willie’s commitment to the Jazz Machine over the next several years meant retirement from full-time teaching in the public schools, but enabled him to serve as a linchpin for the group, appearing in Japan, Europe, and Canada, as well as in many U.S. cities.
At 86, Willie continues to be one of Chicago’s most in-demand pianists for visiting artists.He has performed several times at the famed Chicago Jazz Festival, to rave reviews, and has been the featured pianist on impresario Joe Segal’s Jazz Cruises, where he has shared the stage with Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, and Red Holloway, among others. He has also performed with fellow pianist Marian McPartland, both in concert and on her well-loved NPR show, Piano Jazz. 2001 saw the release of their album of duets, Ain’t Misbehavin’, on the Concord label. His performance is straight-ahead, and utterly stable — with dense chords, percussive attack, and flying solos — echoing the artistry of McCoy Tyner.
Peter Lerner was born and raised in the multi-cultural, diverse Hyde Park area of Chicago. This is an area rich in musical history: Ahmad Jamal lived across the street and the AACM were only a few blocks away.
His earliest musical influence was his mother, Ruth, who played and sang folk songs for the civil rights movement. By the age of eight, he had composed his first song and his musical journey began. Lerner credits Jimi Hendrix and Carlos Santana for inspiring him early on. In high school Lerner fell in love with jazz after hearing Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” on which guitarist George Benson played. Since then, Lerner began listening heavily to and learning from the great jazz masters and has continued to study jazz, composition and improvisation. He earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Music from Chicago’s American Conservatory of Music, where he studied with Willie Pickens and has been working as a professional musician, composer and recording artist ever since.
It’s Lerner’s multi-faceted talent that makes him in demand: he’s known as “a musical chameleon (METROMIX),” masterful rhythm guitarist, capable of finding and laying down some serious grooves, as well as an expressively virtuosic soloist. Peter possesses a rare blend of technique and heartfelt emotion creating a style all his own. He has recorded for numerous television shows and commercials, including the Oprah Winfrey Show. As a versatile guitarist, he performed with Gladys Knight, Funk icon Bootsy Collins, Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band, The Fifth Dimension, and blues harpist Sugar Blue among others. Peter has played on tracks featuring B.B. King, Patti LaBelle, and BB & Cee Cee Wynan. His theater credits include Joseph & the Amezing Technicolor Dreamcoat (starring Donny Osmond, Randy Newman’s Faust, and Jesus Christ Superstar. As a composer, Peter scored a national top 10 hit on adult contemporary radio with his composition “Midway Gardens.” He is also a faculty member at Columbia College of Chicago, where he has taught jazz guitar and improvisation since 1995, raising the next generation of musicians.
As a jazz guitarist, he has performed with such jazz luminaries as Ramsey Lewis and Lee Konitz among many other notable artists, performed at the South Shore Jazz Festival, Sarasota Jazz Festival, Downbeat Jazz Museum, featured at the Iridium, the Jazz Showcase, the Green Mill, and Andy’s Jazz Club, just to name a few.
”With his large & complex chords, his great splashes of color and dissonance in the right hand and his barrelhouse octaves in the left, Pickens never lets the dramatic intensity flag.” Howard Reich – Chicago Tribune
“Pickens’ most exuberant solos all but take flight from the keyboard’s runway.” Neil Tesser – Chicago Reader
”Peter has a real presence on the guitar. My brother George has it and so does Peter. I hear lots of guitar players come through and most sound the same. Peter has his own sound. He gets better every time I hear him.” – Von Freeman