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
Thu December 5, 2013

William Parker's Abstract Grooves Collected In Box Set

William Parker.
Roberto Serra - Iguana Press Getty Images

Originally published on Thu December 5, 2013 2:55 pm

Steve Lacy used to say that the right partner can help you make music you couldn't get to by yourself. Take the quartet William Parker founded in 2000, for example. Parker's bass tone was always sturdy as a tree trunk, but power drummer Hamid Drake gives him lift. The upshot is that free jazz can swing, too. The quartet's front line is another firm partnership: quicksilver alto saxophonist Rob Brown and flinty trumpeter Lewis Barnes.

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Music Reviews
11:08 am
Mon November 11, 2013

No Need To Cook The Books: Booker Ervin's Debut LP Reissued

Booker Ervin on the cover of The Book Cooks, his debut album.
Courtesy of Bethlehem Records

Originally published on Mon November 11, 2013 1:42 pm

Tenor saxophonist Booker Ervin came to New York in 1958. Pianist Horace Parlan heard him and invited Ervin to sit in one night with a band he worked in. That's how Ervin got hired by bassist Charles Mingus, who featured him on albums like Blues and Roots and Mingus Ah Um.

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Music Reviews
12:08 pm
Mon November 4, 2013

Amir ElSaffar Navigates Uncharted Blue Notes On 'Alchemy'

Amir ElSaffar's new album is called Alchemy.
Nicole LeCorgne Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Mon November 4, 2013 3:01 pm

Trumpeter Amir ElSaffar grew up near Chicago, playing jazz trumpet. In the early 2000s, while in his mid-20s, he began investigating the music of his Iraqi heritage, studying in Baghdad and with expatriate musicians in Europe. Then he began combining the two.

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Music Reviews
2:26 pm
Wed October 9, 2013

Ahmad Jamal Weaves Old And New On 'Saturday Morning'

Ahmad Jamal.
Courtesy of the artist

Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal started playing when he was 3 years old in Pittsburgh, which means he's now been playing for 80 years. His new album, Saturday Morning, often recalls his elegant trios of yesteryear, with its tightly synchronized arrangements, plenty of open space and deceptively simple charm.

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Music Reviews
10:54 am
Tue October 1, 2013

Dave Holland's 'Prism' Goes To 11, Elegantly

Left to right: Craig Taborn (piano), Dave Holland (bass), Kevin Eubanks (electric guitar), Eric Harland (drums).
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue October 1, 2013 1:26 pm

The quartet on jazz bassist Dave Holland's new album Prism is more electrified, and usually louder, than bands he's led before. Some reviewers see its music coming out of his early work with the electrified Miles Davis, but the parallel doesn't go far. Holland played bass guitar with Davis, not his usual bass violin. Plus, early electric Davis was gloriously unruly, while Holland loves the elegance of interlocking rhythm cycles, wheels within wheels.

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Music Reviews
11:41 am
Mon September 16, 2013

The Masters At His Fingertips, Art Hodes Pays Tribute To Bessie Smith

Art Hodes performs at the Ole South in New York City circa 1946.
William Gottlieb Library of Congress via Flickr

Originally published on Mon September 16, 2013 1:38 pm

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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Music Reviews
12:20 pm
Mon September 9, 2013

When Duke Flirted With The Queen

Duke Ellington, looking dapper in 1958.
Evening Standard Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 10, 2013 9:35 am

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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Music Reviews
11:19 am
Wed August 21, 2013

'Beauty' On Orrin Evans' Block

Orrin Evans.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Wed August 21, 2013 12:10 pm

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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Music Reviews
1:56 pm
Tue August 20, 2013

'Looking For The Next One' Reveals An Underappreciated Sax Trio

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

Originally published on Tue August 20, 2013 8:46 pm

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Music Reviews
12:48 pm
Tue July 30, 2013

'The Edenfred Files': Darryl Harper's Blues-Infused Jazz

Clarinetist Darryl Harper discovered jazz as a teenager in Philadelphia.
Courtesy of the artist

Originally published on Tue July 30, 2013 3:41 pm

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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