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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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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9:04am

Mon March 12, 2012
Music Reviews

Forgotten Gems From The Dave Brubeck Quartet

The Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Hulton Archive Getty Images

After Dave Brubeck signed with Columbia Records in the mid-1950s, his quartet made a few albums a year, and now that material has been collected in a 19-disc box set called The Dave Brubeck Quartet: The Complete Columbia Studio Albums Collection.

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9:01am

Tue February 7, 2012
Music Reviews

Matt Wilson: Trios, Quartets And 'Don Knotts'

Originally published on Wed February 8, 2012 8:35 am

Like a comedian, drummer Matt Wilson knows about offhand dexterity and split-second timing.
Courtesy of the artist

Brooklyn drummer Matt Wilson keeps busy with many bands and projects — other people's and his own. Two new Wilson albums find him as part of a co-op all-star trio, and at the helm of one of his own quartets. Part of Wilson's appeal is that he keeps things light, in a good way.

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9:46am

Thu January 26, 2012
Music Reviews

Jimmy Owens Navigates Monk's 'Brilliant Corners'

Originally published on Thu January 26, 2012 1:27 pm

Jimmy Owens mostly dresses Monk's tunes for uptown wear — Monk the Harlem jam session swinger.
Stephanie Myers

In 1974, trumpeter Jimmy Owens helped prepare and played on a Carnegie Hall concert of Thelonious Monk's music. On the night in question, the orchestra featured a surprise soloist: Monk himself. It was one of the pianist's last public performances.

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10:00am

Wed January 11, 2012
Music Reviews

François Houle And Benoît Delbecq's Dream State

Originally published on Wed January 11, 2012 10:02 am

Pianist Benoît Delbecq.
Roderick Packe

It's been more than a decade since clarinetist François Houle and pianist Benoît Delbecq's previous recording, but Because She Hoped proves that they can a strike a mood together quickly. That quiet, misterioso air is one specialty, conjuring a dream state: a slow-motion sleepwalk.

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7:57am

Wed December 14, 2011
Music Reviews

'Three Views' Of Trumpeter Dave Douglas

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 12:18 pm

Dave Douglas' Three Views box set collects three very different quintet albums, featuring So Percussion, his Brass Esctasy band and a group featuring Ravi Coltrane and Vijay Iyer.
Zoran Orlic

There's a nice contrast among the three quintets heard on Dave Douglas' Three Views, sketching out some of his interests. There's no overlapping repertoire or personnel. The Orange Afternoons session features the elastic rhythm trio of pianist Vijay Iyer, Linda Oh on bass and drummer Marcus Gilmore.

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9:09am

Tue December 6, 2011
Music Reviews

Thelonious Monk And More: 'Jazz Icons' In Kinescopes

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 12:18 pm

On the sixth Jazz Icons DVD series, Thelonious Monk plays a rare solo piano gig in 1969.
Erich Auerbach Getty Images

Jazz has long been a staple of European television programming. American musicians on tour frequently turn up on the tube, caught live or in a studio. That's partly because such shows are relatively cheap to produce, and because jazz makes for good cultural programming.

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8:51am

Thu November 17, 2011
Music Reviews

Miles Davis' Great, Often Bizarre 1967 Quintet

Miles Davis performs at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival.
New York Daily News Archive Getty Images

Most of the material from Live in Europe 1967 has surfaced before — the set is subtitled The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1 — but the Belgian concert that performance comes from makes its debut here. This Miles Davis quintet was consistently amazing, not least on its last big tour, when Davis' trumpet chops were in good shape.

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8:02am

Mon November 14, 2011
Music Reviews

Two South-American Jazz Fusions (No, Not That Kind)

Sao Paulo Underground.
Paulo Borgia

Jazz has always drawn on the syncopated rhythms of Cuban music, and occasionally draws on other new world strains, like Brazilian bossa nova in the 1960s. But that interaction between North and South is ongoing.

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9:36am

Fri November 4, 2011
Music Reviews

Julius Hemphill's 'Dogon A.D.' Still A Revelation 40 Years On

Originally published on Fri November 4, 2011 1:03 pm

Julius Hemphill's Dogon A.D.
Courtesy of the artist

Julius Hemphill's "Dogon A.D." — the 15-minute piece, and the album that's named for it — was one of the startling jazz recordings of the 1970s, a rethinking of possibilities open to the avant-garde. In the 1960s, free jazz was mostly loud and bashing, until some Chicagoans began playing a more open, quieter improvised music. That inspired St. Louis players like Hemphill, who also had ties to heartland rhythm-and-blues scenes. Hemphill's genius was to combine the Chicagoans' dramatically spare sound with a heavy backbeat. His new urban music smacked of old country blues.

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8:04am

Tue October 11, 2011
Music Reviews

Tyshawn Sorey: Making 'Oblique' Patterns Move

Originally published on Sat November 8, 2014 10:48 am

Under Oblique — I's zigzag lines, Tyshawn Sorey's drums barrel along like a runaway tractor trailer.
Lucy Wood Flickr

It bugs Tyshawn Sorey that drummers don't get enough credit as composers, as if rhythm was the only thing they understood about music. That helps explain why Sorey's first two albums cut against expectations. They're studies in the slowly changing colors of long tones and sustained harmonies, a music of quietude and sudden disruptions. But his new album, Oblique — I, is mostly the kind of rollicking band album you'd expect from a powerhouse drummer.

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