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
12:13 pm
Mon December 8, 2014

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/.

Music
12:28 pm
Wed December 3, 2014

Three Books For The Jazz Lover On Your List

Originally published on Thu December 4, 2014 3:33 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/.

Transcript

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Music
12:56 pm
Fri November 14, 2014

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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Music
3:50 pm
Tue November 11, 2014

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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Music Reviews
12:31 pm
Tue October 14, 2014

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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Music
2:35 pm
Tue October 7, 2014

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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Music Reviews
2:53 pm
Thu September 4, 2014

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

Mark Turner.
Paolo Soriani ECM Records

Originally published on Fri September 5, 2014 6:38 pm

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

Transcript

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

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Music
1:34 pm
Thu August 21, 2014

A Sleek And Busy Walk With Jean-Luc Ponty

Originally published on Fri August 22, 2014 6:56 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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Music
1:49 pm
Thu August 14, 2014

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.

Music Reviews
1:44 pm
Fri August 8, 2014

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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Music
12:20 pm
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/.

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Music
2:00 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
2:06 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
10:47 am
Fri May 30, 2014

Jazz Pianist Ted Rosenthal Has A Feel For Gershwin

Originally published on Mon June 2, 2014 10:45 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
11:05 am
Fri May 16, 2014

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

Originally published on Mon May 19, 2014 12:36 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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Music Reviews
1:14 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
11:56 am
Wed March 12, 2014

Box Set Illustrates Clifford Jordan's Impeccable Taste In Musicians

Originally published on Wed March 12, 2014 1:05 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
1:21 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 4:15 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
2:43 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 11:35 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
3:08 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
11:02 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 12:57 pm

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
10:00 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 4:50 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
2:09 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 2:57 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
12:40 pm
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
12:19 pm
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 8:44 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
11:59 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 1:55 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
10:08 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 12:42 pm

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
11:08 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 2:01 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
1:26 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

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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Music Reviews
9:54 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 12:26 pm

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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