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Harry Pickens talks about career development

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Finding your niche in life, a passion that keeps you going day in and day out, can often seem like a Herculean task. Some discover a specific direction, while others take multiple paths that offer them a range of opportunities.

Harry Pickens undeniably belongs to this latter category.

Pickens is a world renowned jazz pianist, and has been called Louisvilles musical treasure. His last concert took place last February, with the Louisville Orchestras “Gospel to the Symphony.” He performed “New World A-Comin”, written by the legendary Duke Ellington.

Over the years, Pickens has collaborated with big names in music, including Dizzy Gillespie, Freddie Hubbard and James Moody. He recorded with his band Out of the Blue for Blue Note Records.

He composed and performed the moving piece The Awakening Heart” for the Dalai Lama during his visit to Louisville. Hes also featured in a documentary titled “Harry Pickens: In the Garden of Music,” produced by Kentucky Educational Television, and itwrote a book called “In Tune: Lessons in Life from A Life in Music”. He also spent nearly a decade caring for his mother as dementia slowly ravaged her mind and body.

Pickens is not only an award-winning artist, but heHe is also a teacher, a coach, a mentor and a leader. He has mentored thousands of people over the years as they navigate life, educational endeavors and careers.

Pickens was born in 1960 in Brunswick, Georgia. He started playing the piano around the age of 5 or 6.

When asked how he became interested in playing the piano, he laughs and comments that considering how long it was, heIt’s a bit like trying to remember ancient Greece.

My mother played the organ in church and my grandfather played the trumpet and led choirs, so there was always music in the house,” he says. There was a piano in the house. My grandfather taught me for a while, then I finally got a piano teacher.

As he got older, Pickens began to play brass instruments, including trumpet and baritone horn.

His early musical education continued through middle school and high school. He was the drum major of his school band, and he also arranged music and served as guest conductor for various concerts.

After high school, Pickens attended Davidson College in North Carolina, starting as a pre-med, but soon realized he was more interested in music than medicine.

After college, he moved up north to attend Rutgers University in New Jersey because he wanted to be closer to New York. It kind of connected me to a larger jazz community where I met a lot of people and eventually started playing professionally in the New York area in the early 1980s,” he explains. .

Pickens had the good fortune to study under composer and jazz pianist Kenny Barron. It was through his relationship with Barron and other professors at the university that Pickens formed other important musical relationships. By the age of 21, he was already performing actively in New York with many different acts.

Kenny would recommend that I audition for different people,” Pickens says. If he had a concert, he couldnot do itd ask me if I could do it. The way it works is like a network with anything. If youare you confident and youre a decent human being, older people, more experienced people, will walk you through things and introduce you to the right people.

Although Pickens has made the right connections, he admits he’s been through some tough times when it comes to performance.

I had paralyzing stage fright,” he says. Usually a week before the performance I stopped sleeping, and about four days before the performance Ito stop eating. II vomit what Id ate.

He began to realize that if he had stage fright at such a young age, it wast will do well as a performer. This understanding became what he calls a secondary push in his life.

I studied hypnosis, the science of learning and neuroscience, as well as sports psychology, to find a way to cure my own stage fright,” he explains. I eventually turned that into confidence to teach others how to deal with stage fright and cure it. This kind of led to parallel careers of coaching and teaching.

Pickens stayed on the East Coast for several years, but says he began to feel burnt out and wanted to do something other than music. His need to change his life took him 3,000 miles from San Diego.

PickensI realized that playing alone wasit’s really not enough to satisfy or sustain me,” he says. “I had another muse. I got to the point where I had performed so much and II’ve been so immersed in it, I haven’tI don’t like playing the piano anymore.

Pickens stopped playing professionally for a few years and began exploring other ways to earn a living as well as other ways to express himself.

Moving to San Diego was kind of the start of a pretty significant personal and spiritual transition and transformation for me,” he says. “I moved across the country and kind of started over.”

Pickens says he had side careers the whole time he played professionally.

While I was playing, I was also teaching 22:22 at a private K-12 school in New Jersey,” he says. “A few years after I started teaching, I noticed that many of my students were notI don’t know how to study or learn, so I started a company in 1983 called Student Success Seminars which was held evenings and weekends to help high school and college students study well.

While in San Diego, he continued this career path, in addition to doing organization and development with business leaders who wanted to create training programs.

Pickens followed his music and performed and taught in Southern California for a time, then moved south where he taught musical improvisation at the University of North Florida. He moved to Kentucky in the late 1990s to help care for his aging aunt as well as his mother. Theyve both forwarded.

Pickens does various performances these days and is very grateful to organizations that have asked him to perform, such as the Louisville Orchestra, but he explains that he is semi-retired from the professional stage.

My musical focus these days is to make music specifically for healing and transformation,” he says.

If youTo learn more about Pickens, who is the founder and director of Havening Louisville, visit

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