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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Music Reviews
12:59 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

After 26 Years, The Sam Rivers Trio Resurfaces

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

Originally published on Wed September 26, 2012 2:12 pm

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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Music Reviews
9:48 am
Fri September 21, 2012

Vince Guaraldi Didn't Just Play For 'Peanuts'

Vince Guaraldi had range, as well as an instrumental hit right when jazz was vanishing from AM radio.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri September 21, 2012 12:57 pm

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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Music Reviews
1:00 pm
Tue September 18, 2012

Brad Mehldau: (Unlikely) Songs By Other People

Brad Mehldau's latest covers project, Where Do You Start, came out Tuesday.
Michael Wilson Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 7:23 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:03 pm
Mon September 3, 2012

Miguel Zenon And Laurent Coq Play 'Hopscotch'

Miguel Zenon.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon September 3, 2012 2:57 pm

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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Music Reviews
3:51 pm
Wed August 15, 2012

How Jan Garbarek Came To Epitomize Nordic Jazz

A new box set of early albums captures Jan Garbarek's forming saxophone sound — austere and astringent.
Roberto Massoti ECM Records

Originally published on Wed August 22, 2012 3:22 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:47 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

Digging Up The 'Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans'

Ryan Truesdell has turned unheard Gil Evans scores into richly textured works on Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans.
Dina Regine

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 9:47 pm

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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Music Reviews
11:55 am
Fri July 20, 2012

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

Saxophonist Jesse Davis performs at Smalls Jazz Club in New York.
Michelle Watt Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 4:26 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:49 pm
Tue July 17, 2012

Ravi Coltrane: A Noble Sound, Witness To Its Heritage

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

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 10:54 am

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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Music Reviews
12:50 pm
Thu July 5, 2012

Linda Oh: Connecting Points On A Musical Map

Linda Oh
Vincent Soyez courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon July 9, 2012 12:01 pm

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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Music Reviews
11:01 am
Tue June 19, 2012

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

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

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 3:47 pm

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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Music Reviews
1:00 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Edmar Castaneda's 'Double Portion' Of Harp

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

Originally published on Tue June 12, 2012 1:46 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:40 pm
Tue June 5, 2012

Tracing The Evolution Of Lost Chicago Jazz

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

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 3:29 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:52 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Anti-Virtuoso Piano, Delicate And Despoiled

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

Originally published on Tue May 29, 2012 1:11 pm

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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Music Reviews
10:46 am
Wed April 18, 2012

Jenny Scheinman's 'Mayhem' Hard To Pin Down

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

Originally published on Wed April 18, 2012 12:24 pm

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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Music Reviews
11:11 am
Wed March 21, 2012

Clark Terry: Not Just A Jazz Jester

Clark Terry.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed March 21, 2012 4:15 pm

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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Music Reviews
11:04 am
Mon March 12, 2012

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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Music Reviews
11:01 am
Tue February 7, 2012

Matt Wilson: Trios, Quartets And 'Don Knotts'

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

Originally published on Wed February 8, 2012 10:35 am

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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Music Reviews
11:46 am
Thu January 26, 2012

Jimmy Owens Navigates Monk's 'Brilliant Corners'

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

Originally published on Thu January 26, 2012 3:27 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:00 pm
Wed January 11, 2012

François Houle And Benoît Delbecq's Dream State

Pianist Benoît Delbecq.
Roderick Packe

Originally published on Wed January 11, 2012 12:02 pm

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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Music Reviews
9:57 am
Wed December 14, 2011

'Three Views' Of Trumpeter Dave Douglas

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

Originally published on Fri August 3, 2012 2:18 pm

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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