Dan Hicks didn't want to miss the party, especially since he was supposed to host it.
Yet, keeping the engagement would be no simple matter.
The 72-year-old Mill Valley resident, best known as the longtime leader of Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks, had been diagnosed with throat cancer in January and was scheduled for radiation and chemotherapy treatments.
He had to cancel a number of gigs, but he held tightly onto one: He just couldn't dream of pulling the plug on the upcoming Fats Waller Birthday celebration, which Hicks will indeed host Wednesday at the SFJazz Center in San Francisco.
"I always kept this Fats Waller gig," Hicks says during a recent phone interview. "I wanted that to be the goal -- to get through all this bad stuff and have this (Waller concert) still in the horizon."
Hicks is a natural candidate to lead a tribute to Waller, the Harlem stride piano master (1904-1943). Hicks is fluent in many pre-World War II musical styles, including Waller's brand of swing, and often showcases a very Fats-friendly sense of humor in his music. One can just imagine that Hicks' own "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" would work well in a set list with Waller's classic "Your Feet's Too Big."
Wednesday's tribute concert will feature a mix of Hot Licks cuts and Waller tunes, such as "Jitterbug Waltz," "Ain't Misbehavin'" and "Honeysuckle Rose." He will be joined on stage by the Hot Licks as well as stride piano great Mike Lipskin, who is said to be able to conjure up Waller's distinctive sound with amazing accuracy. Hicks is a longtime fan of Waller and often includes Fats favorites in his set lists. The appeal of Waller's music is timeless, he says.
"I've always said that good stuff is good stuff -- no matter how much time passes or what era it's from," says the Arkansas native, who was raised in Santa Rosa. "I'm still a fan of all that (swing) stuff. And it's not like I think I'm being Mr. Nostalgic when I'm listening to it -- I'm hearing good music."
Hicks certainly is no stranger to good music, having made plenty of his own over the years. His heyday came with the Hot Licks in the early 1970s, drawing critical and commercial success by blending blues, country, pop, swing, bluegrass, jazz and comedy into what's best described as a "Hicksian" sound. The group delivered a number of fine albums, including "Where's the Money?" from 1971, 1972's "Striking It Rich" and 1973's "Last Train to Hicksville," which helped land Hicks on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Hicks formed the Hot Licks after his time with The Charlatans, a pioneering rock band that combined with Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead and others to create the psychedelic "San Francisco sound" in the '60s.
Hicks' latest offering is "Live at Davies," which was recorded during his 70th birthday bash at San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall in 2012. That event featured such guest stars as Rickie Lee Jones, Maria Muldaur, Van Dyke Parks, Tuck and Patti, John Hammond and Ramblin' Jack Elliott. (For more information on the album, go to www.danhicks.net.)
Hopefully, many more birthday celebrations are in Hicks' future. The singer-songwriter-guitarist sounds quite positive as he talks about his health. Having gone through the cancer treatments, he is back to playing music and says he's close to having a "clean bill of health."
"I feel like I'm on the other side," he says. "I can sing. I can play. I can walk. I can talk. Right as we speak, (the cancer is) not a thing of the past. But each day it gets more that way."
Details: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; SFJazz Center, 201 Franklin St., San Francisco; $25-$45; www.sfjazz.org.