Chicago jazz pianist Bethany Pickens had a life-changing experience at a 1981 concert at Park West, a small concert venue in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood.
That was the night that Pickens — the daughter of the late jazz pianist Willie Pickens — met trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. She said the two have been friends ever since (and have forged quite the basketball rivalry).
Pickens will play at the Garfield Park Conservatory March 8, but first she answered five questions ranging from her favorite Chicago venue to her favorite basketball player.
What’s your favorite Chicago music venue?
Bethany Pickens: I like Symphony Center. There’s so much history there, and the room sounds great, and they always have a great instrument ready for you to play. But The Logan Center [in Hyde Park] is getting to be a favorite spot for me too.
Who’s your musical crush?
Pickens: Herbie Hancock. In 1981, my dad and I went to what we called our favorite concert ever. Herbie at the Park West. I got the tickets for Father’s Day, thinking that if I take him he’ll introduce me to Herbie Hancock.
It was Herbie, plus Ron Carter (bass), Tony Williams (drums) and a 19-year-old Wynton Marsalis (trumpet) — I thought his name was WINE-ton. And dad introduced me to Herbie, and Herbie introduced me to Wynton. And Wynton and I have been friends ever since. He and I have a little basketball rivalry, but he knows what time it is!
What was the last song you listened to?
Pickens: It was the jazz station on Sirius Radio … Cory Weeds doing the Earth, Wind & Fire tune “After The Love Has Gone.”
What song is most closely associated with your childhood?
Pickens: Anything by Barbra Streisand. It was the first concert I ever went to. It was at Soldier Field, I was 4 years old. I’ll never forget this. She was wearing a lavender dress, and she was pregnant with her son. And she sang “Silent Night” with a full orchestra, and it just knocked me out. My mom and I loved Streisand.
Who’s your favorite basketball player of all time?
Pickens: Magic Johnson. Easily. Hands down. His court vision. The way he was able to distribute the ball and get everyone involved.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
Press play above to hear Jenn White’s interview with Davis from WBEZ’s The Morning Shift.