NPR: 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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1:13pm

Mon December 8, 2014
Music

Steve Lacy's Monk Quartet, Solo Sax Albums Reissues

Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews two reissues featuring the late soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy — a live recording of a 1963 quartet that only played Thelonious Monk tunes, and later music for solo soprano. Monk was always Lacy's biggest influence.

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

1:28pm

Wed December 3, 2014
Music

Three Books For The Jazz Lover On Your List

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 4:33 pm

Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead reviews three jazz books out this holiday season—a singer's biography, a pianist's autobiography, and a fat coffee table book. Whitehead says they're all worth a look, though he has a couple of quibbles — and also a confession.

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

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1:56pm

Fri November 14, 2014
Music

Eric Hofbauer Takes On Stravinsky, Messiaen

Boston jazz guitarist Eric Hofbauer's quintet has two new CDs out, playing 20th-century classics. One is the year's second jazz version of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, following the Bad Plus' trio version. The other is Olivier Messiaen's very unjazzy Quartet for the End of Time. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead likes them a lot.

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4:50pm

Tue November 11, 2014
Music

Oliver Lake: New Music Grounded In Old Truths

Saxophonist Oliver Lake was one of the founders of the World Saxophone Quartet in the 1970s, and plays in the co-op Trio 3. Lake has led numerous bands of his own, including an occasional big band, and an organ quartet. Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says that organ group is one to watch in a review for What I Heard.

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1:31pm

Tue October 14, 2014
Music Reviews

An Unofficial Memorial For Jazz Greats Jim Hall And Charlie Haden

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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3:35pm

Tue October 7, 2014
Music

One Final Offering From John Coltrane

In November 1966, eight months before he died of cancer, John Coltrane played a concert at Temple University in Philadelphia. It was not a financial success --only 700 people showed up — and the band's high-energy music proved too much for some listeners. That concert recording is now officially out for the first time. It got Fresh Air jazz critic Kevin Whitehead thinking about what Coltrane was up to.

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3:53pm

Thu September 4, 2014
Music Reviews

In Tenor Saxophonist Mark Turner's New Album, The Music Unfolds Like A Narrative

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 7:38 pm

Mark Turner.
Paolo Soriani ECM Records
Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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2:02pm

Thu August 21, 2014
Music

A Sleek And Busy Walk With Jean-Luc Ponty

Originally published on Fri August 22, 2014 7:56 am

French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1967, which led to his getting an American record contract, and playing with George Duke, Frank Zappa, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Then he started his own jazz-rock fusion bands. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead says before Ponty came to the States, he already had his concept.

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2:49pm

Thu August 14, 2014
Music

Two Tenors Inspired By A Saxophone Colossus

Two new trio albums by tenor saxophonists who won the Thelonious Monk jazz competition share a conspicuous influence — vintage Sonny Rollins. Fresh Air critic Kevin Whitehead reviews Melissa Aldana & Crash Trio by last year's winner, 25-year old Chile-born New Yorker Melissa Aldana, and Trios Live by Joshua Redman, who took the prize in 1991.

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2:44pm

Fri August 8, 2014
Music Reviews

Jaki Byard, A Post-Bebop Pianist Who Was A Master Of Stride Piano

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

Transcript

DAVID BIANCULLI, BYLINE: This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF JAKI BYARD SONG)

JAKI BYARD: Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to the "Late Late Show." I'm going into my act. This is my last set. So we don't know is going to happen.

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1:20pm

Mon July 7, 2014
Music

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/.

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3:00pm

Fri June 20, 2014
Music

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/.

3:06pm

Wed June 18, 2014
Music

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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11:47am

Fri May 30, 2014
Music Reviews

Jazz Pianist Ted Rosenthal Has A Feel For Gershwin

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 11:45 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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12:05pm

Fri May 16, 2014
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 1:36 pm

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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2:12pm

Mon March 24, 2014
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon March 24, 2014 2:14 pm

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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12:56pm

Wed March 12, 2014
Music Reviews

Box Set Illustrates Clifford Jordan's Impeccable Taste In Musicians

Originally published on Wed March 12, 2014 2:05 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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2:21pm

Tue February 25, 2014
Music Reviews

Still 'Out To Lunch' 50 Years Later

Originally published on Tue February 25, 2014 5:15 pm

Eric Dolphy in Copenhagen, 1961.
JP Jazz Archive Redferns

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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3:43pm

Tue February 11, 2014
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Wed February 12, 2014 12:35 pm

Frank Wess.
Hiroyuki Ito Getty Images

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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4:08pm

Fri January 31, 2014
Music Reviews

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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12:02pm

Mon January 20, 2014
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon January 20, 2014 1:57 pm

Lafayette Gilchrist.
Leo H. Lubow

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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11:00am

Thu January 9, 2014
Music

Kenny Clarke, Inventor Of Modern Jazz Drumming, At 100

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 5:50 pm

Kenny Clarke in 1971.
Wikimedia Commons

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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3:20pm

Wed December 18, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 3:57 pm

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

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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1:40pm

Mon December 16, 2013
Music

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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1:19pm

Wed December 11, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu December 12, 2013 9:44 am

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

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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12:59pm

Thu December 5, 2013
Music Reviews

William Parker's Abstract Grooves Collected In Box Set

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 2:55 pm

William Parker.
Roberto Serra - Iguana Press Getty Images

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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11:08am

Mon November 11, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon November 11, 2013 1:42 pm

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

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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2:26pm

Wed October 9, 2013
Music Reviews

Ahmad Jamal Weaves Old And New On 'Saturday Morning'

Ahmad Jamal.
Courtesy of the artist

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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10:54am

Tue October 1, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 1:26 pm

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

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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11:41am

Mon September 16, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 1:38 pm

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

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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