Wow – I’m tuckered out after a weekend of gigs. So great to be playing again with such great players. Returned to EIU for a clinic and concert with my trio (Toby Curtright & Tom Marko on Friday, then last night with Dave Hoffman, former Ray Charles trumpeter. We captured lots of video, so I’ll be posting some things throughout the week. Most importantly, as I mentioned in my previous posts on FaceBook and Twitter this weekend, I learned of the passing of a great saxophonist whom I worked with in St. Louis for 2 years, Willie Akins. While I can’t get over his passing (as it seemed he was destined to be around forever), remembering the time I had with him as his regular pianist, along with bassist, Ben Wheeler and Steve “Lil’ Dynamite” Tatum, I was reminded why I chose this path. We played all over St. Louis, but one place in particular where all the “kats” knew to check him out was our regular gig at Spruill’s in St. Louis City not far from downtown. The who’s who of jazz were often present there every weekend. Even the international acts who were booked at Jazz at the Bistro would come and catch our first set and sometimes sit in with us. Willie loved hiring young artists and shaping them. I was fortunate enough to be one of them, in my mid 20s at the time. Many friends and family came to see/hear us either at Spruill’s or Jazz at the Bistro as well. After recently being sick for a while, and at times physically/mentally unable to play the piano and taking a break from gigging, that somehow all changed this past weekend. I felt Willie’s presence last night during the gig and was grinning ear to ear. Seeing my old friends and the outpouring of support while spending the day at Eastern Illinois University was yet another reminder. I think Willie was up there the whole time looking down on us. Don’t mean to be dark folks!, but he really was that important of an icon and should and will be mentioned soon in the jazz history books. RIP Willie.