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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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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10:59am

Mon May 13, 2013
Music Reviews

Bing Crosby: From The Vaults, Surprising Breadth

Originally published on Mon May 13, 2013 1:27 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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11:33am

Thu April 11, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu April 11, 2013 1:28 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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10:01am

Wed March 20, 2013
Music Reviews

Barry Altschul: The Jazz Drummer Makes A Comeback

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 11:36 am

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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11:00am

Thu February 28, 2013
Music Reviews

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

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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10:27am

Wed February 13, 2013
Music Reviews

Rudresh Mahanthappa: Bicultural Jazz, Ever Shifting

Originally published on Wed February 13, 2013 2:47 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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9:19am

Thu January 31, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Thu January 31, 2013 11:13 am

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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11:19am

Fri January 11, 2013
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Mon January 14, 2013 6:14 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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10:14am

Fri December 21, 2012
Remembrances

Remembering Von Freeman, Lol Coxhill And Sean Bergin

Originally published on Fri December 21, 2012 12:00 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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10:47am

Tue December 11, 2012
Music Reviews

Bass Note: Mingus And The Jazz Workshop Concerts

Originally published on Tue December 11, 2012 5:28 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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11:28am

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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