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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10:32am

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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9:01am

Tue June 19, 2012
Music Reviews

Ray Anderson: A Pocket-Size Suite Makes A Huge Racket

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 1:47 pm

It's tricky making a little band sound big on Sweet Chicago Suite, but trombonist Ray Anderson knows his tricks.
Jeanne Moutoussamy Ashe

Ray Anderson's Pocket Brass Band is about watch-pocket size: With three horns and drums, it couldn't get much smaller. On its new Sweet Chicago Suite, Anderson makes what the group does sound easy. Just write some catchy, bluesy tunes and then have the band blast them out.

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10:45am

Tue June 12, 2012
Music Reviews

Edmar Castaneda's 'Double Portion' Of Harp

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 11:46 am

Edmar Castañeda's new album is titled Double Portion.
Courtesy of the artist

The Colombian harpist Edmar Castañeda was born in Bogotá, and began playing at 13. A few years later, in the mid-1990s, he moved to New York, where he studied jazz trumpet. Then he returned to the harp with a new perspective and set of skills.

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10:40am

Tue June 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Tracing The Evolution Of Lost Chicago Jazz

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 1:29 pm

Mike Reed's People, Places and Things.
Courtesy of the artist

Drummer Mike Reed put together his quartet People, Places and Things to play music by their 1950s forebears. But it makes sense that, after a few years together, they'd also play later pieces, tracking the evolution of Chicago jazz on a new album titled Clean on the Corner. One dividend of their repertory work is that it inspires Reed to write his own tunes in the same spirit, like "The Lady Has a Bomb."

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10:52am

Tue May 29, 2012
Music Reviews

Anti-Virtuoso Piano, Delicate And Despoiled

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 11:11 am

Left to right: Masabumi Kikuchi, Thomas Morgan, Paul Motian.
John Rogers

The death of a great musician ripples through the jazz community. It's a special loss to those improvisers we might call immediate survivors: working partners who'll miss that special interaction with a singular musician.

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8:46am

Wed April 18, 2012
Music Reviews

Jenny Scheinman's 'Mayhem' Hard To Pin Down

Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 10:24 am

Jenny Scheinman's (left) quartet represents players raised on and used to playing all kinds of music.
Michael Gross

Violinist Jenny Scheinman's band and new album are both called Mischief and Mayhem. The record was made just after her quartet played a week at the Village Vanguard, but despite the jazz cred of regular Vanguard appearances, their stylistically fluid music draws on a lot of traditions.

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9:11am

Wed March 21, 2012
Music Reviews

Clark Terry: Not Just A Jazz Jester

Originally published on Wed March 21, 2012 2:15 pm

Clark Terry.
Courtesy of the artist

Writing about Clark Terry in the past, I've grumbled that this great and distinctive trumpeter had long been stereotyped as a pixie-ish jazz jester. There's more range and deep blues feeling to his sound than that. It wasn't all sweetness when he was growing up poor in St. Louis, touring in the Deep South before WWII or breaking the color line with TV orchestras in 1960.

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