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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11:19am

Wed August 21, 2013
Music Reviews

'Beauty' On Orrin Evans' Block

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 12:10 pm

Orrin Evans.
Courtesy of the artist

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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2:12pm

Tue August 20, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 8:46 pm

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

12:48pm

Tue July 30, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 3:41 pm

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

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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2:11pm

Tue July 9, 2013
Music Reviews

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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4:50pm

Wed June 26, 2013
Music Reviews

'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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1:43pm

Tue June 18, 2013
Music Reviews

Cécile McLorin Salvant: Making Old Songs New Again

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 3:46 pm

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

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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1:40pm

Mon May 20, 2013
NPR Story

Sarah Vaughan: A New Box Set Revels In Glorious Imperfections

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 5:43 pm

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

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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12:48pm

Thu May 16, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 2:04 pm

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

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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12:59pm

Mon May 13, 2013
Music Reviews

Bing Crosby: From The Vaults, Surprising Breadth

Originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 3:27 pm

A batch of reissues and archival releases from Bing Crosby's own vaults is getting a high-profile relaunch. Above, Crosby circa 1956.
Courtesy of Universal Music

Bing Crosby was the biggest thing in pop singing in the 1930s, a star on radio and in the movies. He remained a top star in the '40s, when Frank Sinatra began giving him competition.

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3:00pm

Thu April 11, 2013
Music Reviews

Earl Hines: Big Bands And Beyond On A New Box Set

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 3:28 pm

Earl "Fatha" Hines' band featured the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie.
Express Getty Images

By 1928, Earl Hines was jazz's most revolutionary pianist, for two good reasons. His right hand played lines in bright, clear octaves that could cut through a band. His left hand had a mind of its own. Hines could play fast stride and boogie bass patterns, but then his southpaw would go rogue — it'd seem to step out of the picture altogether, only to slide back just in time.

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12:01pm

Wed March 20, 2013
Music Reviews

Barry Altschul: The Jazz Drummer Makes A Comeback

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 1:36 pm

Drummer Barry Altschul writes tunes that play complex games with rhythm.
Dmitry Mandel Courtesy of TUM Records

The release last year of a 2007 reunion by the late Sam Rivers' trio confirmed what a creative drummer Altschul is. He has been one for decades. Altschul was a key player on the 1970s jazz scene, when the avant-garde got its groove on. Now, as then, he's great at mixing opposites: funky drive with a spray of dainty coloristic percussion, abstract melodic concepts with parade beats, open improvising and percolating swing. He's a busy player, but never too loud — he's also busy listening.

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12:41pm

Thu February 28, 2013
Music Reviews

Ben Goldberg's Variations: Two New Albums From A San Francisco Jazz Staple

Originally published on Thu February 28, 2013 1:00 pm

Jazz clarinetist Ben Goldberg has released two new albums for different quintets.
Courtesy of the artist

Ben Goldberg has been a staple of San Francisco's improvisational-music scene ever since he helped put together the New Klezmer Trio two decades ago. More recently, as a member of the quartet Tin Hat, he's set e.e. cummings poems to music. In between, he's recorded in a wide variety of settings, sometimes including other prominent Bay Area players — as on two new albums for different quintets.

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12:14pm

Wed February 13, 2013
Music Reviews

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bicultural Jazz, Ever Shifting

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 4:47 pm

Rudresh Mahanthappa.
Jimmy Katz Courtesy of the artist

Saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa's quartet can sound like it's cross-pollinating Indian classical music and vintage Captain Beefheart. That befits a bicultural saxophonist who grew up in Boulder, where his Hindu family had a Christmas tree. For a long time, Mahanthappa resisted combining jazz and Indian music — it was almost too obvious a trajectory. But then he got serious about it.

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11:19am

Thu January 31, 2013
Music Reviews

A 'Special Edition' Box Set Of Jack DeJohnette And Band

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 1:13 pm

Jack DeJohnette.
Chris Griffith Courtesy of the artist

On a new box set collecting the first four albums of Jack DeJohnette and his band Special Edition, two discs are gems and the other two have their moments. DeJohnette's quartet-slash-quintet was fronted by smoking saxophonists on the way up, set loose on catchy riffs and melodies. The springy rhythm section could tweak the tempos like no one this side of '60s goddess Laura Nyro.

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12:46pm

Fri January 11, 2013
Music Reviews

Grant Green: The 'Holy Barbarian' Of St. Louis Jazz

Originally published on Mon January 14, 2013 8:14 am

Grant Green.
Courtesy of the artist

Grant Green, The Holy Barbarian, St. Louis, 1959 could be the name of a fine stage play, perhaps based on the actual circumstances of the recording. One musician on the way up, another past his moment in the limelight and one more who had his chance but never quite made it all convene on Christmas night, part of their week-long stand at the Holy Barbarian, a beatnik hangout replete with chess players and a local artist painting portraits.

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12:14pm

Fri December 21, 2012
Remembrances

Remembering Von Freeman, Lol Coxhill And Sean Bergin

Originally published on Fri December 21, 2012 2:00 pm

Jazz lost many great saxophonists in 2012, including David S. Ware, John Tchicai, Byard Lancaster, Faruq Z. Bey, Hal McKusick and Red Holloway.

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12:47pm

Tue December 11, 2012
Music Reviews

Bass Note: Mingus And The Jazz Workshop Concerts

Originally published on Tue December 11, 2012 7:28 pm

Jazz great Charles Mingus performs at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 1964.
Ray Avery CTS Images

On a new box set from mail-order house Mosaic Records, Charles Mingus, The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65, the jazz legend's bands usually number between five and eight players. The bassist often made those bands sound bigger. He'd been using midsize ensembles since the '50s, but his new ones were more flexible than ever, light on their feet but able to fill in backgrounds like a large group.

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1:28pm

Fri December 7, 2012
Music Reviews

Forgotten Gems From The Dave Brubeck Quartet

The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

This review was originally broadcast on March 12, 2012. Brubeck died Wednesday at age 91.

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12:32pm

Mon November 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Jason Kao Hwang: From The Blues To China And Back

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 2:20 pm

Burning Bridge personnel, left to right: Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Wang Guowei (erhu), Sun Li (pipa), Ken Filiano (string bass), Andrew Drury (drum set), Joseph Daley (tuba), Steve Swell (trombone), Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet/flugelhorn).
Scott Friedlander Courtesy of the artist

Jazz reflects who we are as a people — democracy in action and all that. But a jazz tune or solo is also a portrait of the musician who makes it; the music reflects the particular background and training that influences how composers compose and improvisers improvise. Jason Kao Hwang makes that autobiographical component explicit throughout his extended composition for eight pieces, Burning Bridge. His parents made the move from China around the end of WWII, and he grew up attending Presbyterian services in suburban Chicago.

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1:26pm

Wed November 21, 2012
Music Reviews

The Mythic Power Of Bessie Smith

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 11:39 am

circa 1935: American singer Bessie Smith (circa 1894 - 1937), known as the Empress of the Blues. (Photo by Three Lions/Getty Images)
Three Lions Getty Images

Vocalist Bessie Smith's musical career, spanning 1923-33, has been collected in a new 10-CD box set, Bessie Smith: The Complete Columbia Recordings.

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4:35pm

Tue October 30, 2012
Music

After 26 Years, The Sam Rivers Trio Resurfaces

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 10:00 am

Sam Rivers' trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul (not pictured) recently released its 2007 reunion show on CD.
Ken Weiss Courtesy of the artist

This review was originally broadcast on Sept. 26, 2012.

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, who died at 88 in December 2011, recorded with many trios in the 1970s. But his most celebrated trio was barely recorded at all. In 2007, it played a reunion concert — its first in 26 years.

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1:59pm

Fri October 26, 2012
Music Reviews

George Cables: A Heartfelt Tribute To His 'Muse'

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 2:43 pm

Saxophonist Art Pepper called George Cables his favorite pianist.
Courtesy of the artist

In the 1970s and '80s, George Cables was the pianist of choice for saxophonists Dexter Gordon and Art Pepper; Pepper called him his favorite pianist.

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12:40pm

Thu October 11, 2012
Music Reviews

Ron Miles Finds Wide-Open Spaces On 'Quiver'

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 3:19 pm

For Ron Miles, the better he knows how a tune works, the less he has to play to put it across.
John Spiral

Teaching jazz history got trumpeter Ron Miles deep into the pleasures of early jazz, with its clarity of form and emphasis on melodic improvising that doesn't wander far from the tune.

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12:59pm

Wed September 26, 2012
Music Reviews

After 26 Years, The Sam Rivers Trio Resurfaces

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 2:12 pm

Sam Rivers' trio with Dave Holland and Barry Altschul (not pictured) recently released its 2007 reunion show on CD.
Ken Weiss Courtesy of the artist

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Sam Rivers, who died at 88 in December 2011, recorded with many trios in the 1970s. But his most celebrated trio was barely recorded at all. In 2007, it played a reunion concert — its first in 26 years.

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9:48am

Fri September 21, 2012
Music Reviews

Vince Guaraldi Didn't Just Play For 'Peanuts'

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 12:57 pm

Vince Guaraldi had range, as well as an instrumental hit right when jazz was vanishing from AM radio.
Courtesy of the artist

There must have been times in 1963, when Vince Guaraldi was riding high on his surprise hit "Cast Your Fate to the Wind," when he thought, "This is what I'll be remembered for." Not that he minded. He said taking requests for the tune was like signing the back of a check. The song's got a great hook tied to a poppy, uplifting chord sequence.

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1:00pm

Tue September 18, 2012
Music Reviews

Brad Mehldau: (Unlikely) Songs By Other People

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:23 pm

Brad Mehldau's latest covers project, Where Do You Start, came out Tuesday.
Michael Wilson Courtesy of the artist

At this point, there's nothing special about jazz musicians playing post-Beatles pop: It's just the new normal. But one of the trendsetters on that score was pianist Brad Mehldau and his versions of Radiohead and Nick Drake tunes. Now, Mehldau's trio has a new covers album out.

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12:03pm

Mon September 3, 2012
Music Reviews

Miguel Zenon And Laurent Coq Play 'Hopscotch'

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 2:57 pm

Miguel Zenon.
Courtesy of the artist

The new quartet album by alto saxophonist Miguel Zenón and pianist Laurent Coq is called Rayuela, which means "hopscotch." It's named for Julio Cortázar's novel, the fragmented tale of a wandering bohemian and his social circles in Parisian exile, as well as back home in Buenos Aires.

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3:51pm

Wed August 15, 2012
Music Reviews

How Jan Garbarek Came To Epitomize Nordic Jazz

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 3:22 pm

A new box set of early albums captures Jan Garbarek's forming saxophone sound — austere and astringent.
Roberto Massoti ECM Records

Saxophonist Jan Garbarek was a teenage protege of American composer George Russell in Norway in the 1960s and later played in Keith Jarrett's Scandinavian quartet. More recently, he has collaborated with the vocal quartet the Hilliard Ensemble, improvising as they sing medieval music.

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12:47pm

Thu August 2, 2012
Music Reviews

Digging Up The 'Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans'

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 9:47 pm

Ryan Truesdell has turned unheard Gil Evans scores into richly textured works on Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans.
Dina Regine

Gil Evans, born a century ago this year, was a leading jazz arranger and composer starting in the 1940s, when he wrote for big bands. He helped organize Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, then arranged Davis' celebrated orchestra albums like Sketches of Spain. Evans, who had his own big bands that went electric in the 1970s and '80s, died in 1991, but some of his rare music has been newly recorded.

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11:55am

Fri July 20, 2012
Music Reviews

Jesse Davis: Live From New York's Other Basement Club

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 4:26 pm

Saxophonist Jesse Davis performs at Smalls Jazz Club in New York.
Michelle Watt Courtesy of the artist

Many jazz musicians, the kind who wear jackets and ties on stage, are often carelessly referred to as playing bebop. In reality most of them are post-boppers, who build on that dynamic style that burst forth after World War II, without bringing it back in pure form. It's the rare modernist who gets an authentic bebop sound on alto saxophone, who catches some of the raw explosiveness and rapid-fire grace of jazz god Charlie Parker. And then there's Jesse Davis.

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