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
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
1:41 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
1:11 pm
Tue May 29, 2012

Anti-Virtuoso Piano, Delicate And Despoiled

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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