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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10:27am

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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10:32am

Mon November 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Jason Kao Hwang: From The Blues To China And Back

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 12:20 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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11:26am

Wed November 21, 2012
Music Reviews

The Mythic Power Of Bessie Smith

Originally published on Mon November 26, 2012 9:39 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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2:43pm

Tue October 30, 2012
Music

After 26 Years, The Sam Rivers Trio Resurfaces

Originally published on Mon November 5, 2012 8:00 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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11:59am

Fri October 26, 2012
Music Reviews

George Cables: A Heartfelt Tribute To His 'Muse'

Originally published on Fri October 26, 2012 12:43 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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10:47am

Thu October 11, 2012
Music Reviews

Ron Miles Finds Wide-Open Spaces On 'Quiver'

Originally published on Thu October 11, 2012 1:19 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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10:59am

Wed September 26, 2012
Music Reviews

After 26 Years, The Sam Rivers Trio Resurfaces

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 12:12 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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7:48am

Fri September 21, 2012
Music Reviews

Vince Guaraldi Didn't Just Play For 'Peanuts'

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 10:57 am

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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11:00am

Tue September 18, 2012
Music Reviews

Brad Mehldau: (Unlikely) Songs By Other People

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 5:23 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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10:03am

Mon September 3, 2012
Music Reviews

Miguel Zenon And Laurent Coq Play 'Hopscotch'

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 12:57 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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1:23pm

Wed August 15, 2012
Music Reviews

How Jan Garbarek Came To Epitomize Nordic Jazz

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 1:22 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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11:20am

Thu August 2, 2012
Music Reviews

Digging Up The 'Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans'

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 7:47 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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9:55am

Fri July 20, 2012
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 2:26 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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10:49am

Tue July 17, 2012
Music Reviews

Ravi Coltrane: A Noble Sound, Witness To Its Heritage

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 8:54 am

Ravi Coltrane's new album is called Spirit Fiction.
Deborah Feingold Courtesy of the artist

The jazz musician Ravi Coltrane, 47, didn't make his burden any lighter by choosing to play tenor and soprano saxophones — the same instruments his father, John Coltrane, indelibly stamped with his influence.

Ravi knew early he needed his own voice. On tenor, he has his own ways of bending and inflecting a note, applying flexible vibrato. Even when his noble sound bears witness to his heritage, Ravi Coltrane can draw on his father's language and make it his own.

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10:50am

Thu July 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Linda Oh: Connecting Points On A Musical Map

Originally published on Mon July 9, 2012 10:01 am

Linda Oh
Vincent Soyez courtesy of the artist

In a good jazz rhythm section, the players function independently and as one. Their parts and accents crisscross and reinforce each other, interlocking like West African drummers. Beyond that, the bass is a band's ground floor. When it changes up, the earth shifts under all the players' feet. From moment to moment, Linda Oh's bass prowls or gallops, takes giant downward leaps, or stands its ground.

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