PianoForte Sessions Schedule Announced!

The Chicago Jazz Festival Announces Its 2015 PianoForte Sessions, Featuring Performances by Four of
Chicago’s Foremost Pianists: Paul Asaro With Special Guest Kim Cusack, Willie & Bethany Pickens and Rob Clearfield

For over twenty years, a staple of the Chicago Jazz Festival‘s programing has been a featured solo piano performance, usually by local talent, on the festival grounds. In the past 4 years, the solo piano performances have been presented in partnership with the PianoForte Foundation – another active presenter of music in the Chicago area.
For the 2015 series, The PianoForte Session have expanded the concept to include  a duo piano performance by Willie and Bethany Pickens and brilliant trad jazz clarinetist Kim Cusack in duet with pianist Paul Asaro.
Additionally, all of the PianoForte performances will be broadcast live on WDCB (90.9 FM).
All PianoForte events will take place at Pianoforte – 1335 S. Michigan Ave

Chicago, IL 60605; All concerts are free and begin at 5:30 PM

 August 31: Kim Cusack & Paul Asaro:

Clarinetist Kim Cusack has long been regarded as one of Chicago’s most venerated musicians. Cusack has performed with some notable elder statesmen of jazz such as trombonists Albert Wynn, Floyd O’Brien, and Georg Brunis, trumpet player Bob Schnoffer, cornetist Wild Bill Davison, and pianists Art Hodes, Art Gronwall, and Eurreal “Little Brother” Montgomery.  Kim has worked and recorded with a number of other bands such as various groups under the leadership of the late marvelous cornetist Ernie Carson; Gene Mayl’s Dixieland Rhythm Kings; the Ted Butterman / Bob Sundstrom Gold Coast Jazz Band, James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band. Currently he can be heard most often at various festivals around the country with Bob Schulz’ Frisco Jazz Band and Ray Skjelbred’s Cubs.

Paul Asaro is known as one of the finest of a select group of pianists who have mastered the demanding two-handed jazz and ragtime piano styles from the first half of the 20th century. In a career now spanning two decades, Paul has performed at theaters and clubs worldwide. He has performed onstage with such musical legends and luminaries as Leon Redbone, Steve Allen, Marian McPartland, Butch Thompson, Jeff Healy and Vince Giordano. He was the featured pianist in the Obie award winning Broadway production of “Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man”. Asaro also played for the national tour and numerous regional theater productions of “Jelly Roll!”. Currently Asaro tours the country as accompanist to Leon Redbone, playing concerts as a duo as well as appearing on NPR’s “A Prairie Home Companion” and “Mountain Stage” and recording for Leon’s latest studio album.

Tues September 1st – Bethany and Willie Pickens:




Willie Pickens is one of Chicago’s jazz legends. Willie Pickens earned a teacher’s certificate from the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee and  received his B.S. in Music Education in 1958, before beginning his remarkable career as a jazz pianist. From 1966 to 1986, he appeared on recordings headlined by Bunky Green, E. Parker McDougal, Vernel Fournier, He 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 commitment to the Jazz Machine over the next several years meant retirement from fulltime 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 80+, 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 shared the stage with Clark Terry, Louie Bellson, and Red Holloway,
among others.

Bethany Pickens began her keyboard training under the watchful tutelage of her Father, world class Jazz Pianist Willie Pickens, followed by more classical training at the American Conservatory of Music.  Since graduating from the American Conservatory of Music she has performed at various Jazz and Music Festivals including The Chicago Jazz Festival, Jacksonville Jazz Festival and Ibiza Jazz Festival in Spain. Bethany has performed duo concerts with her Father at Symphony Center, Ravinia,The Steinway Society and The International Association of Jazz Educators.Living in Chicago has given Bethany the opportunity to compose music for Theater, Commercials and Film as well as conduct clinics, perform and record with such artists as Ray Brown, Branford Marsalis, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Courtney Pine , Von Freeman, Clark Terry, Terence Blanchard,Oscar Brown Jr., Roy Hargrove, Darryl Jones, Jon Faddis, Louis Bellson and DeeDee Bridgewater,Pattie La Belle, Josh Groban , Aretha Franklin, Rascal Flats, and Usher.

Wed September 2nd – Rob Clearfield:

Pianist Rob Clearfield has come to be regarded as one of the first-call musicians in Chicago, A lifelong resident of the Chicago area, Rob has performed and recorded with John Wetton, Rakalam Bob Moses, Fareed Haque, Howard Levy, Grazyna Auguscik, Ernie Watts, Isaiah Sharkey, Greg Ward, Marquis Hill, and many more. He is a regular member of the bands District 97, Matt Ulery’s Loom, Outertown, and Hood Smoke, and currently leads his own group, creatively titled The Rob Clearfield Trio, featuring bassist Curt Bley (Hal Russell NRG Ensemble) and drummer Quin Kirchner (Wild Belle). To date, he has released five recordings of his original music.

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