Kevin Whitehead

Kevin Whitehead is the jazz critic for NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross.

Whitehead's articles on jazz and improvised music have appeared in such publications as Point of Departure, the Chicago Sun-Times, Village Voice, Down Beat, and the Dutch daily de Volkskrant.

He is the author of Why Jazz: A Concise Guide (2010), New Dutch Swing (1998), and (with photographer Ton Mijs) Instant Composers Pool Orchestra: You Have to See It (2011).

His essays have appeared in numerous anthologies including Da Capo Best Music Writing 2006, Discover Jazz and Traveling the Spaceways: Sun Ra, the Astro-Black and Other Solar Myths.

Whitehead has taught at Towson University, the University of Kansas and Goucher College. He lives near Baltimore.

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Music
11:20 am
Mon July 7, 2014

The Westerlies Come On Home With Horvitz

The Westerlies is a quartet of young New York brass players who know each other from school days in Seattle. Their debut album is a set of pieces by Seattle-based composer and improviser Wayne Horvitz. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Horvitz and the Westerlies are a perfect fit.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

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Music
1:00 pm
Fri June 20, 2014

Remembering Horace Silver, Hard Bop Pioneer

Jazz pianist, bandleader and composer Horace Silver died Wednesday at age 85. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says that Silver had been off the scene awhile, but his influence is as strong as ever. Hear an appreciation.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Music
1:06 pm
Wed June 18, 2014

A Double Dose Of Ronald Shannon Jackson's Free-Funk

Two fine albums by drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and the Decoding Society, Man Dance and its sequel Barbeque Dog, are now available again as downloads, after being out of print for ages. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says they're prime examples of the 1980s' so-called "free-funk" movement.

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Music Reviews
9:47 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Jazz Pianist Ted Rosenthal Has A Feel For Gershwin

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 9:45 am

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR. Ted Rosenthal an early winter of the Thelonious Monk Piano Competition has played George Gershwin's "Rhapsody In Blue" solo and with symphonic and jazz orchestras. Now he's recorded a version for jazz trio as part of the problem. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Rosenthal has a real feel for the material.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "RHAPSODY IN BLUE")

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Music Reviews
10:05 am
Fri May 16, 2014

In 1970, Miles Davis Played Four Sets For A New Audience

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 11:36 am

Transcript

DAVE DAVIES, HOST:

In June 1970, Miles Davis played four nights at New York's rock palace Fillmore East, following earlier appearances there and at San Francisco's Fillmore West. A complete recording of all four of those June sets are now available for the first time.

Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says the jazz trumpeter had gone to the Fillmore in search of a new audience.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good evening. With great pleasure, Mr. Miles Davis.

(APPLAUSE)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MILES DAVIS: (Instrumental)

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Music Reviews
12:14 pm
Mon March 24, 2014

After A Painful Year, Bud Powell's Triumpant 1953 Return

Bud Powell pioneered bebop-style improvisation on the piano.
Metronome Getty Images

The great bebop pianist Bud Powell played several engagements at the New York jazz club Birdland in 1953. Parts of his shows were broadcast on the radio, and one listener recorded some onto acetate discs. A new collection of those recordings is out now: Birdland 1953 on three CDs from ESP-Disk'. The sound quality isn't much, but the music is terrific.

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Music Reviews
10:56 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Box Set Illustrates Clifford Jordan's Impeccable Taste In Musicians

Originally published on Wed March 12, 2014 12:05 pm

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. Starting in the late 1960s, jazz saxophonist Clifford Jordan produced a series of recordings mostly by other leaders that came out on the musician's own Strata-East label. Those seven albums are now collected in a box set. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says Jordan the producer had impeccable taste in musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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Music Reviews
1:02 pm
Tue February 25, 2014

Still 'Out To Lunch' 50 Years Later

Eric Dolphy in Copenhagen, 1961.
JP Jazz Archive Redferns

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 3:15 pm

1964 was a great year for cutting-edge jazz records like Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme and Andrew Hill's Point of Departure. But none sounds as far ahead of its time as Eric Dolphy's masterpiece Out to Lunch, recorded for Blue Note on Feb. 25, 1964.

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Music Reviews
1:43 pm
Tue February 11, 2014

In Session: Frank Wess' 'Magic 201' Offers One Last Lesson

Frank Wess.
Hiroyuki Ito Getty Images

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 10:35 am

Frank Wess' new album, Magic 201, is a sequel to last year's similar helping of ballads and midtempo strollers, Magic 101. The new album is very nearly every bit as good, and made a little more poignant by Wess' death just before Halloween. On his last session as a leader in 2011, he was still sounding strong at 89.

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Music Reviews
2:08 pm
Fri January 31, 2014

Too Much Of A Good Thing? Jane Ira Bloom's Beautiful Ballads

Jane Ira Bloom.
Johnny Moreno Courtesy of the artist

When soprano saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom plays Kurt Weill's "My Ship" on her new album Sixteen Sunsets, a pale glow around her notes comes from a simple special effect: pointing her horn under the hood of a piano whose strings are free to resonate. Bloom has always been preoccupied with sound, and has one of the prettiest, clearest tones around on soprano.

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Music Reviews
10:02 am
Mon January 20, 2014

Lafayette Gilchrist: An Old Soul, At Ease In A Modern World

Lafayette Gilchrist.
Leo H. Lubow

Originally published on Mon January 20, 2014 11:57 am

For someone who came to piano rather late, at 17, Lafayette Gilchrist has dug deep into its history. He loves the old piano professors who'd pack the punch of a dance band into two hands at the keyboard. Players like Eubie Blake, James P. Johnson and Willie "The Lion" Smith could keep going for hours without exhausting their folkloric materials.

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Music
9:00 am
Thu January 9, 2014

Kenny Clarke, Inventor Of Modern Jazz Drumming, At 100

Kenny Clarke in 1971.
Wikimedia Commons

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 3:50 pm

Jan. 9 marks the 100th birthday of drummer Kenny Clarke. One of the founders of bebop, Clarke is less well-known than allies like Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk, but his influence is just as deep.

That thing that jazz drummers do — that ching-chinga-ching beat on the ride cymbal, like sleigh bells? It gives the music a light, airy, driving pulse. Clarke came up with that, and that springy shimmer came to epitomize swinging itself.

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Music Reviews
1:20 pm
Wed December 18, 2013

Michele Rosewoman Goes Back To Afro-Cuban Jazz's Future

Michele Rosewoman (bottom right) is joined by batá percussionists in performance with her New Yor-Uba Ensemble in 2013.
Tom Ehrlich Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 1:57 pm

When Michele Rosewoman was growing up in the Bay Area, she played piano from childhood and congas from her teens. After moving to New York in the late 1970s, she began making music in two areas: modern jazz and traditional Cuban music. Before long, she started combining the two in her New Yor-Uba band.

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Music
11:40 am
Mon December 16, 2013

Holiday Music To Bring Folks Together

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. With so much contention in air around holiday get-togethers, jazz critic Ken Whitehead wonders if music might help bring together folks with opposing views. He has some listening and viewing recommendations for seasonal dinners.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TEEN TOWN")

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Music Reviews
11:19 am
Wed December 11, 2013

Ella Fitzgerald's Early Years Collected In A Chick Webb Box Set

Ella Fitzgerald sings with bandleader Chick Webb in Asbury Park, N.J., in 1938.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 7:44 am

Drummer Chick Webb's 1930s orchestra terrorized competitors in band battles and sent dancers into orbit at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. They could be similarly explosive on record, but only rarely. Early on, they did have some hot Edgar Sampson arrangements that Benny Goodman would soon turn into hits, like "Blue Lou" and "Don't Be That Way." But the Webb band also had an old-school crooner, Charles Linton, with pre-jazz-age enunciation.

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Music Reviews
10:59 am
Thu December 5, 2013

William Parker's Abstract Grooves Collected In Box Set

William Parker.
Roberto Serra - Iguana Press Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 12:55 pm

Steve Lacy used to say that the right partner can help you make music you couldn't get to by yourself. Take the quartet William Parker founded in 2000, for example. Parker's bass tone was always sturdy as a tree trunk, but power drummer Hamid Drake gives him lift. The upshot is that free jazz can swing, too. The quartet's front line is another firm partnership: quicksilver alto saxophonist Rob Brown and flinty trumpeter Lewis Barnes.

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Music Reviews
9:08 am
Mon November 11, 2013

No Need To Cook The Books: Booker Ervin's Debut LP Reissued

Booker Ervin on the cover of The Book Cooks, his debut album.
Courtesy of Bethlehem Records

Originally published on Mon November 11, 2013 11:42 am

Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin came to New York in 1958. Pianist Horace Parlan heard him and invited Ervin to sit in one night with a band he worked in. That's how Ervin got hired by bassist Charles Mingus, who featured him on albums like Blues and Roots and Mingus Ah Um.

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Music Reviews
10:08 am
Mon November 4, 2013

Amir ElSaffar Navigates Uncharted Blue Notes On 'Alchemy'

Amir ElSaffar's new album is called Alchemy.
Nicole LeCorgne Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 1:01 pm

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar grew up near Chicago, playing jazz trumpet. In the early 2000s, while in his mid-20s, he began investigating the music of his Iraqi heritage, studying in Baghdad and with expatriate musicians in Europe. Then he began combining the two.

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Music Reviews
11:24 am
Wed October 9, 2013

Ahmad Jamal Weaves Old And New On 'Saturday Morning'

Ahmad Jamal.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed October 9, 2013 12:26 pm

Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal started playing when he was 3 years old in Pittsburgh, which means he's now been playing for 80 years. His new album, Saturday Morning, often recalls his elegant trios of yesteryear, with its tightly synchronized arrangements, plenty of open space and deceptively simple charm.

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Music Reviews
8:54 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Dave Holland's 'Prism' Goes To 11, Elegantly

Left to right: Craig Taborn (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Kevin Eubanks (electric guitar), Eric Harland (drums).
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 11:26 am

The quartet on jazz bassist Dave Holland's new album Prism is more electrified, and usually louder, than bands he's led before. Some reviewers see its music coming out of his early work with the electrified Miles Davis, but the parallel doesn't go far. Holland played bass guitar with Davis, not his usual bass violin. Plus, early electric Davis was gloriously unruly, while Holland loves the elegance of interlocking rhythm cycles, wheels within wheels.

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Music Reviews
9:41 am
Mon September 16, 2013

The Masters At His Fingertips, Art Hodes Pays Tribute To Bessie Smith

Art Hodes performs at the Ole South in New York City circa 1946.
William Gottlieb Library of Congress via Flickr

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 11:38 am

Jazz pianist Art Hodes, born in Russia in 1904, grew up near Chicago. His recording career really took off in the 1940s in New York, where he also hosted a radio show and wrote for the magazine The Jazz Record. Later, he moved back to Chicago and the atmosphere that nurtured him.

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Music Reviews
10:20 am
Mon September 9, 2013

When Duke Flirted With The Queen

Duke Ellington, looking dapper in 1958.
Evening Standard Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 7:35 am

In 1958, at an arts festival in Yorkshire, Duke Ellington was presented to Queen Elizabeth II. They tied up the reception line for a few minutes, exchanging royal pleasantries; our Duke politely flirted with Her Majesty. Soon afterward, maybe that very night, Ellington outlined the movements of The Queen's Suite. He recorded it with his orchestra the following year, sent it to Her Majesty, and declined to release it to the public in his lifetime. It's not clear whether Queen Elizabeth has listened to it.

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Music Reviews
9:19 am
Wed August 21, 2013

'Beauty' On Orrin Evans' Block

Orrin Evans.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 10:10 am

On Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans' trio version of Ornette Coleman's "Blues Connotation," drummer Donald Edwards and bassist Eric Revis set a New Orleans second-line groove tinged with vintage hip-hop. A beat like that is catnip to Evans, who gets right down and rolls in it.

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Music Reviews
12:12 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

'Looking For The Next One' Reveals An Underappreciated Sax Trio

John Surman, Mike Osborne and Alan Skidmore were all saxophonists and teamed up in 1973 to form the short-lived trio S.O.S.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 6:46 pm

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Music Reviews
10:48 am
Tue July 30, 2013

'The Edenfred Files': Darryl Harper's Blues-Infused Jazz

Clarinetist Darryl Harper discovered jazz as a teenager in Philadelphia.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 1:41 pm

In jazz, the clarinet went into eclipse for awhile, drowned out by louder trumpets and saxes. The instrument has long since made a comeback, and the modern clarinet thrives in settings where it doesn't have to shout to be heard.

Take "Spindleshanks," a little out-of-sync boogie-woogie for Darryl Harper's clarinet and Kevin Harris' piano. It's from Harper's The Edenfred Files. In his long-running Onus Trio, the spare unit Darryl Harper features on most of his new album, he can sing softly as an owl in the night.

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Music Reviews
12:11 pm
Tue July 9, 2013

Two New Jazz Albums Recall The Wide Open Spaces of The West

Rich Halley and his quartet play with Bobby Bradford at the Penofin Jazz Festival.
Bob Pyle Rich Halley

Portland, Ore. tenor saxophonist Rich Halley's quartet album Crossing the Passes on his Pine Eagle label commemorates a week-long trek over the Wallowa mountain range in Northeast Oregon, where Halley's been climbing since he was a boy. We could talk about his dual obsessions with music and nature as cultivating a love of wide-open improvisational spaces; he's got one band that only plays outdoors. But all that climbing also has practical benefits: It builds lung-power.

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Music Reviews
2:50 pm
Wed June 26, 2013

'My Ellington': A Pianist Gives Duke Her Personal Touch

Duke Ellington (1899-1974) at the piano at the Fairfield Hall, Croydon, during a British tour on Feb. 10, 1963.
John Pratt Getty Images

At the keys, Duke Ellington abstracted from stride piano, which modernized ragtime. Ellington's own spare percussive style then refracted through Thelonious Monk and Cecil Taylor, as well as a generation of freewheeling pianists active in Europe, like Aki Takase. Her new solo piano album is My Ellington, on which she plays some stride bass herself, as in "In a Mellow Tone."

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Music Reviews
11:43 am
Tue June 18, 2013

Cécile McLorin Salvant: Making Old Songs New Again

Miami-born Cécile McLorin Salvant learned about improvisation and sang with her first band after moving to France in 2007.
J.R. Photography Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 1:46 pm

Singer Cécile McLorin Salvant was born in Miami to French and Haitian parents, and started singing jazz while living in Paris. Back in the U.S., she won the Thelonious Monk vocal competition in 2010. The 23-year-old's first album, WomanChild, is now out — and few jazz debuts by singers or instrumentalists make this big a splash.

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NPR Story
11:01 am
Mon May 20, 2013

Sarah Vaughan: A New Box Set Revels In Glorious Imperfections

Sarah Vaughan performs during the International Jazz Festival of Nice in southeast France in July 1984.
Raph Gatti AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 3:43 pm

Singer Sarah Vaughan came up in the 1940s alongside bebop lions Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, starting out in Earl Hines' big band. Hines had hired her as his singer and deputy pianist, while Gillespie praised her fine ear for chords as she grasped the arcane refinements of bebop harmony.

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Music Reviews
10:48 am
Thu May 16, 2013

100 Years Of Woody Herman: The Early Bloomer Who Kept Blooming

American jazz musician Woody Herman rehearses in London during a tour of England.
Keystone Getty Images

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 12:04 pm

Woody Herman, who would have turned 100 on Thursday, bloomed early and late — and then later still. He turned pro by age 9, singing and dancing in movie theaters on summer vacation. He'd perform one song deemed too risqué for radio when he recorded it decades later: "My Gee Gee From the Fiji Isles."

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