The Solitaire Miles Chicago Jazztets
featuring Willie Pickens
Vocalist Solitaire Miles, better known as a Susie Blue from the Western Swing band Susie Blue and the Lonesome Fellas, is releasing a mini-album tribute to her long-time mentor and friend Chicago pianist Willie Pickens, who unexpectedly passed away over the winter. Before Miles became known as Susie Blue she performed and recorded standard Swing and Jazz with Pickens, who was not only her bandleader but her teacher for 25 years. Miles and Pickens recorded several sessions in Chicago between 2008 - 2010 and produced 3 jazz albums, but she only recently discovered that there were still a few unreleased songs left "in the can" that had not been published, so she had them produced and is releasing them as a mini-album as a tribute to Pickens.
"I met Willie in 1993 when I was working with Von Freeman." Miles says. "I recorded my first jazz album with them in ‘94 and had been working with Willie ever since. Not only was he my accompanist, but he was my teacher, my mentor and my friend. He and his wife Irma were like foster parents to me and to so many other young musicians and singers in Chicago and it was an honor and a blessing to know them. I am very happy to release these forgotten tunes with Willie so that his friends and fans can have something new. "
The four song release, titled "The Solitaire Miles Chicago Jazztets" includes two Billie Holiday favorites "You Let Me Down" and "Say it with a Kiss”, a Duke Ellington classic "Take Love Easy" and "The House of Blue Lights" by Freddie Slack. The sessions feature Chicago's best Jazz and Swing musicians, including reed Maestro Eric Schneider, trumpeter Art Davis, bassists Marlene Rosenberg and Larry Kohut, saxophonists Jim Gailloreto and Jim Massoth, and drummers Robert Shy and Phil Gratteau.
"Willie was very supportive when I wandered away from straight-ahead Jazz and moved into Western Swing.” Miles explains. “He even played on a few Western Swing gigs with the band, which helped me transition to the new genre. Both he and his wife Irma were very supportive of the Lonesome Fellas Project, when many of my Jazz friends and fans were not as encouraging. I wouldn't be the Western Swing singer that I am today without Willie’s kindness and support, and there would not be a Susie Blue without Willie Pickens."
Western Swing fans can be assured that Miles has no ambition to resume her straight-ahead Jazz persona, but only wants to remember her long-time friend and teacher by releasing the mini-album. She plans on returning to the studio this summer with her Lonesome Fellas to record their 2nd Western Swing release, which will be dedicated to his memory.
You can find the album "The Solitaire Miles Chicago Jazztetes" in digital form on CD Baby, itunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. All proceeds from the sale of the album will go to The People’s Music School, a non-profit music school in the heart of Chicago that provides kids in poverty with free musical instruments, training and vocation. Pickens spent most of his life educating students in the Chicago Public Schools, starting his teaching career in 1966, and he is most fondly remembered as a teacher and a mentor to thousands of students who mourn his passing.