Southwestern Indiana pianist has played with Torme, Warwick, Lettermen, other greats

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PRINCETON, Indiana — People used to tell Philip "Red" Wick that he wouldn't be able to retire because he didn't have a "real" job.

Wick, 76, says, "I never got rich, but I've had a great time."

In the good old days, he played at the Executive Inn in Evansville.

"Back then, we had a different show every week," he told the Princeton Daily Clarion.

There was a 10 piece band and Wick was the pianist. "They brought the big stars in those days," he said.

He's played with and for Mel Torme ("The Christmas Song"), Fats Domino, Tony Martin, Cyd Charisse, Patti Page, Rosemary Clooney, The Ink Spots, Dionne Warwick, The Lettermen, Bob Hope, Red Skelton, Della Reese, Eddie Fisher, Ray Charles, Donna Fargon, Barbara Mandrell and Blood Sweat and Tears just to name a few. He even toured with the Glenn Miller Band for a while.

"That's what I do," he joked, "too lazy to find a job."

Wick, originally from Albion, Illinois, even met composer Aaron Copland ("Appalachin Spring," ''Fanfare for the Common Man") and played for his "Lincoln Portrait."

"Mr. Copland was walking through the hotel and we were rehearsing," Wick said. "I got invited to have dinner with him."

He remembers details about the different artists he played with.

"(Torme) was a tremendous talent," he said. "He would hide himself in the hotel and watch old movies."

Wick played at the Executive Inn for six and a half years.

"It was big in its time and now its time has passed," Wick said. Now the Ford Center stands in its place.

He played at the Petroleum Club in Evansville for 28 years as the house musician after leaving the Executive Inn, and he also was a part of traveling bands.

"I don't travel anymore," he said, "I don't play every night like I used to."

"I used to be red," he said, gesturing to his now white-haired head, "And I had a lot of it."

Now he has a son, a daughter, two stepsons, three grandchildren, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He maintains that Princeton's been a good place to live and raise his family.

"As you get older, your goals change, what you want to do or how you want to do it changes," Wick said.

But while many things have changed over the decades, Wick hasn't quit music. Through the years he tried to leave music and do other things.

"I always came back to this," he said.

"At 76, I look back at 23, 24, if I could change things I don't know if I would... all in all I can't complain," he said.

But he has played at United Presbyterian Church for the last 15 years.

"It's been a very satisfying thing not to have to fight drunks," he chuckled.

Currently he's part of the adjunct faculty at Wabash Valley College (WVC) after being a part-time teacher for 30 years.

He's happy that he's been able to teach international students from all over the world there, and in his home, too.

"If I don't learn something every day it's my own fault," he said.

In his living room, his grand piano is laden with music, pens, a violin, and CDs.

"The young people are not studying music like they used to," he said, "they get instant answers and gratification. Music is not like that...I feel certain if Bach and Beethoven lived today, they would take advantage of the technologies."

WVC Coordinator of Performing Arts Jerry Bayne says Wick teaches strings, guitar, violin_and he can even play the accordion. He plays for productions at WVC, including Christmas concerts. In fact, Wick's trio will perform with Gina Moore Dec. 7, Bayne said.

"He's an asset to the faculty at Wabash Valley College," he said, "Red's real personable."

Bayne says he's seen Wick take a student from not knowing one chord to learning many of them. His personalized lessons make him an effective instructor, he said.

Wick even helped the school acquire a 1932 Steinway grand piano, something they treasure.

Jim Cox, one of Wick's colleagues at WVC, says he's worked with Wick during theater performances. Once he saw part of a lesson Wick was giving a student. "He works so well with students...you could tell there was a wonderful connection."

Cox added, "Red is what I call the ultimate professional. A joy to be around."

Wick's love for music wasn't at first sight. He started out with piano as a third grader in the 1940s, taking lessons for $1 each. He practiced seven hours a week.

"I hated to practice," he said. "I didn't want to practice, but I didn't want to be a quitter."

He grew up on a farm and went to a one room school with one teacher for all eight grades. In high school, he took lessons from Tom May, the piano teacher at Decker.

"At 15 we started a group called the Key Notes," he said. There was one trumpet, two sax., a pianist (Wick) and drummer. But the trumpet player joined the Air Force, and that was the end of that, Wick said.

He would go on to play with Dink Richardson from Princeton in Stan Cardinal's band ("Back then they called it hillbilly music," he said, not country-western). And Wick attended what was at the time Indiana State Teachers College in 1956. "I crowded four years of college into 35 years," he said. He later finished at Trenton, New Jersey at Thomas Edison State College.

Wick says despite his love of music, he doesn't have a favorite song to play.

"I look at the crowd. You either play at the crowd or to the crowd. I prefer to play to the crowd. If you play at, it gets lonesome up there," he said.

What more is there to learn of music? Wick is curious about newer composers, like Yiruma. He suspects music will be done with "electronic gadgets" someday. Wick says he hopes he lives long enough to see where it's headed. Despite his decades of experience and skills at "dinner jazz," teaching and performing, Wick is adamant that he hasn't stopped learning.

"I don't think I've even scratched the surface."


Information from: Princeton Daily Clarion, http://www.tristate-media.com/pdclarion

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