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.



Thu January 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Jimmy Owens Navigates Monk's 'Brilliant Corners'

Originally published on Thu January 26, 2012 3:27 pm

Jimmy Owens mostly dresses Monk's tunes for uptown wear — Monk the Harlem jam session swinger.
Stephanie Myers

In 1974, trumpeter Jimmy Owens helped prepare and played on a Carnegie Hall concert of Thelonious Monk's music. On the night in question, the orchestra featured a surprise soloist: Monk himself. It was one of the pianist's last public performances.

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Wed January 11, 2012
Music Reviews

François Houle And Benoît Delbecq's Dream State

Originally published on Wed January 11, 2012 12:02 pm

Pianist Benoît Delbecq.
Roderick Packe

It's been more than a decade since clarinetist François Houle and pianist Benoît Delbecq's previous recording, but Because She Hoped proves that they can a strike a mood together quickly. That quiet, misterioso air is one specialty, conjuring a dream state: a slow-motion sleepwalk.

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Wed December 14, 2011
Music Reviews

'Three Views' Of Trumpeter Dave Douglas

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 2:18 pm

Dave Douglas' Three Views box set collects three very different quintet albums, featuring So Percussion, his Brass Esctasy band and a group featuring Ravi Coltrane and Vijay Iyer.
Zoran Orlic

There's a nice contrast among the three quintets heard on Dave Douglas' Three Views, sketching out some of his interests. There's no overlapping repertoire or personnel. The Orange Afternoons session features the elastic rhythm trio of pianist Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh on bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

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Tue December 6, 2011
Music Reviews

Thelonious Monk And More: 'Jazz Icons' In Kinescopes

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 2:18 pm

On the sixth Jazz Icons DVD series, Thelonious Monk plays a rare solo piano gig in 1969.
Erich Auerbach Getty Images

Jazz has long been a staple of European television programming. American musicians on tour frequently turn up on the tube, caught live or in a studio. That's partly because such shows are relatively cheap to produce, and because jazz makes for good cultural programming.

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Thu November 17, 2011
Music Reviews

Miles Davis' Great, Often Bizarre 1967 Quintet

Miles Davis performs at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival.
New York Daily News Archive Getty Images

Most of the material from Live in Europe 1967 has surfaced before — the set is subtitled The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 — but the Belgian concert that performance comes from makes its debut here. This Miles Davis quintet was consistently amazing, not least on its last big tour, when Davis' trumpet chops were in good shape.

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Mon November 14, 2011
Music Reviews

Two South-American Jazz Fusions (No, Not That Kind)

Sao Paulo Underground.
Paulo Borgia

Jazz has always drawn on the syncopated rhythms of Cuban music, and occasionally draws on other new world strains, like Brazilian bossa nova in the 1960s. But that interaction between North and South is ongoing.

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Fri November 4, 2011
Music Reviews

Julius Hemphill's 'Dogon A.D.' Still A Revelation 40 Years On

Originally published on Fri November 4, 2011 3:03 pm

Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D.
Courtesy of the artist

Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." — the 15-minute piece, and the album that's named for it — was one of the startling jazz recordings of the 1970s, a rethinking of possibilities open to the avant-garde. In the 1960s, free jazz was mostly loud and bashing, until some Chicagoans began playing a more open, quieter improvised music. That inspired St. Louis players like Hemphill, who also had ties to heartland rhythm-and-blues scenes. Hemphill's genius was to combine the Chicagoans' dramatically spare sound with a heavy backbeat. His new urban music smacked of old country blues.

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Thu June 2, 2011
Music Reviews

Craig Taborn: Seeping Into The Consciousness

Originally published on Fri June 3, 2011 12:34 pm

Craig Taborn's solo album, Avenging Angel, is full of wide-open spaces between notes, and very quiet dynamics.
John Rogers ECM Records

The piano is an inviting instrument. That's why drummers, bassists and blues guitarists all record as pianists, and even non-musicians will tickle a few keys when no one's around. The piano's easy to get a sound out of, and on the keyboard, you can see all the tonal patterns laid out in black and white. You can approach playing it as a visual puzzle, connecting the dots. You don't have to be a virtuoso to get a rhythm going, or to set the wooden box of wires humming. And every piano has its personality to discover, pliant or not so much.

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Fri May 27, 2011
Music Reviews

Ambrose Akinmusire: An Expressive Range Emerges

Ambrose Akinmusire would rather fit into a cohesive band and spread the solos around than put himself way out front.
Courtesy of the artist

Lately, the trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire been getting the kind of good press that doesn't always do musicians favors. It raises expectations awfully high. When the Heart Emerges Glistening, Akinmusire's second album and his Blue Note debut, doesn't try to blow you away with non-stop power trumpeting. Akinmusire has been praised for his pop influences, and he takes one good idea from pop: start with catchy tunes, like his ballad "Henya."

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Fri May 13, 2011
Music Reviews

Early Impulse: A 50-Year Legacy In Jazz


In 1961, ABC Records got into the jazz market when producer Creed Taylor set up the Impulse label, whose glossy fold-out album covers with orange and black spines were easy to spot on collectors' shelves. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says collectors usually had lots of them — more for the music than the packaging. The label turns 50 this year, and First Impulse: The Creed Taylor Collection, 50th Anniversary, a commemorative box of early Impulse releases, has just been released.

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Wed April 20, 2011
Music Reviews

Tim Berne: Slow-Cooked Jazz

Saxophonist Tim Berne came up on New York's so-called "downtown scene" 30 years ago. That scene is known for postmodern jump-cutters like John Zorn, who'd leap from one style to another in the space of a beat. But Berne went another way — he's fascinated by gradual transitions. In his music, improvisers take their time, wending their way from theme to theme over a long, continuous set.

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