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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10:02am

Mon January 20, 2014
Music Reviews

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

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

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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9:00am

Thu January 9, 2014
Music

Kenny Clarke, Inventor Of Modern Jazz Drumming, At 100

Originally published on Thu January 9, 2014 3:50 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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1:09pm

Wed December 18, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Wed December 18, 2013 1:57 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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11:40am

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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11:19am

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 7:44 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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10:59am

Thu December 5, 2013
Music Reviews

William Parker's Abstract Grooves Collected In Box Set

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 12:55 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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9:08am

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 11:42 am

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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10:08am

Mon November 4, 2013
Music Reviews

Amir ElSaffar Navigates Uncharted Blue Notes On 'Alchemy'

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

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

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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12:26pm

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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8:54am

Tue October 1, 2013
Music Reviews

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

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

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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9:41am

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 11:38 am

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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10:20am

Mon September 9, 2013
Music Reviews

When Duke Flirted With The Queen

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

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

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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9:19am

Wed August 21, 2013
Music Reviews

'Beauty' On Orrin Evans' Block

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

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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11:56am

Tue August 20, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 6:46 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

10:48am

Tue July 30, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 1:41 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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12:11pm

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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2:50pm

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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11:43am

Tue June 18, 2013
Music Reviews

Cécile McLorin Salvant: Making Old Songs New Again

Originally published on Tue June 18, 2013 1:46 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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11:17am

Mon May 20, 2013
NPR Story

Sarah Vaughan: A New Box Set Revels In Glorious Imperfections

Originally published on Mon May 20, 2013 3:43 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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10:48am

Thu May 16, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu May 16, 2013 12:04 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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