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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1:20pm

Thu August 2, 2012
Music Reviews

Digging Up The 'Newly Discovered Works Of Gil Evans'

Originally published on Thu August 2, 2012 9:47 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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11:55am

Fri July 20, 2012
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Fri July 20, 2012 4:26 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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12:49pm

Tue July 17, 2012
Music Reviews

Ravi Coltrane: A Noble Sound, Witness To Its Heritage

Originally published on Wed July 18, 2012 10:54 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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12:50pm

Thu July 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Linda Oh: Connecting Points On A Musical Map

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

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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11:01am

Tue June 19, 2012
Music Reviews

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

Originally published on Tue June 19, 2012 3:47 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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1:00pm

Tue June 12, 2012
Music Reviews

Edmar Castaneda's 'Double Portion' Of Harp

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

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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12:40pm

Tue June 5, 2012
Music Reviews

Tracing The Evolution Of Lost Chicago Jazz

Originally published on Tue June 5, 2012 3:29 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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1:11pm

Tue May 29, 2012
Music Reviews

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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10:46am

Wed April 18, 2012
Music Reviews

Jenny Scheinman's 'Mayhem' Hard To Pin Down

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

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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11:11am

Wed March 21, 2012
Music Reviews

Clark Terry: Not Just A Jazz Jester

Originally published on Wed March 21, 2012 4:15 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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11:04am

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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11:01am

Tue February 7, 2012
Music Reviews

Matt Wilson: Trios, Quartets And 'Don Knotts'

Originally published on Wed February 8, 2012 10:35 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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