Jazz fans have known Willie Pickens as an elegantly powerful pianist for almost 45 years. Generations of CPS students know him as a teacher, mentor and role model.
Willie moved to Chicago in 1958 after receiving degrees in music from the Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee and the University of Wisconsin. He has played with dozens of musicians from Carnegie Hall in New York to Japan including Sammy Davis Jr., Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, and Elvin Jones. He recorded and toured with Eddie Harris in the early ‘60s.
While continuing to perform, he began his teaching career in 1966 at Lindblom High School, serving as band director for Lindblom and Phillips high schools and as Chair of the Department of Music at Phillips. He started Kenwood Academy’s first jazz band and has directed the City of Chicago’s All-City High School Band and taught at the American Conservatory of Music. He serves as a mentor for Ravinia’s CPS Jazz Mentors Program.
Willie currently teaches at N.I.U. He and his wife, Irma, have 3 children. Bethany is a talented pianist, a fixture in the Chicago jazz scene and a music teacher at Ray and Canter Middle Schools. David works as deputy to Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan. Their youngest daughter, Kiron, has a degree in early childhood development.