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Kirk Whalum

Kirk Whalum Kirk Whalum 7-Aug
For over 30 years, sax man Kirk Whalum has been in the forefront of the modern era of jazz. During that time, he has earned seven Grammy nominations, recorded numerous number one albums and had a number one smooth jazz hit last year with his version of Luther Vandross' "Give Me The Reason" from his The Babyface Songbook release. Whalum continues to bridge urban music styles with his new release Roundtrip.

Roundtrip looks at all areas of Whalum's career, yesterday, today and tomorrow. Whalum says, the title serves so many purposes. One of which being the fact that we recorded the CD in Memphis, which is my home, in LA and New York and London and Atlanta. It's definitely a moveable feast. The other thing is that the producers involved were from all different places, from France, from England, from LA, from New York.

Kirk Whalum says Roundtrip is a very important release for him. He says, more importantly, it's about a journey and not just going back and doing a retrospective, but doing a journey that includes the old, the new and also into the future and then going back at the very end and paying a little visit to where I started out. It's also really, really fun because we get to go back and reimagine some songs that sort of had one connotation and one meaning back then and now it's great that they hold up under a totally different light.

One of the songs that Whalum takes a totally different take on is The Wave, which was made for a pioneering radio station in Los Angeles. The song itself was written by his friend Nat Adderly, who later became the music director for Luther Vandross and wrote some of his biggest songs. Whalum says, that song was by accident. I definitely was aware and even celebrated the development of The Wave radio station and subsequently that format.

Being able to have his music heard to a larger audience, Kirk Whalum feels blessed. He says, for me, that meant as a jazz musician who really is inspired by and perhaps my heart beats to the rhythm and blues, being from Memphis, I celebrated the idea that improvisation and instrumental music would be on the same radio station as a Luther Vandross or a James Ingram. I thought that was a great thing because ultimately those two audiences are actually not so far apart. I thought that it was time for that era of very intellectual, sort of elitist expression of jazz maybe to be over. I thought that it was time to get back to the old days where people not only enjoyed listening to the improvisation, but they also danced to the music. They liked bopping to it. There was kind of an affinity to a beautiful kind of entertainment-enlightenment that was happening without forcing it and that was why I celebrated with that song 'The Wave.'

Three producers that Whalum has worked with before helped him out on Roundtrip. He says, I was able to connect and reconnect with a couple of the producers that I have worked with in the past and I truly respect. I lived in Paris and one of my very good friends Philippe Saisse, who is French, definitely helped to bring out a totally different twist on songs, including the first single 'The Wave.' And my buddy from England James McMillan, with who I toured with the band Everything But the Girl, we would set up in my flat in Paris and he would just come across the channel and stay for a week and we would produce records. It was good to reconnect and to have these other elements that I think really are a spice that is much needed in this smooth jazz area. And, as well, It was nice to be able to work again with Rex Rideout, who brought me a number one record over the past six months with the song 'Give Me the Reason.' To do all that and to come to Memphis with my buddy Gary Goen to actually get that Memphis sound and make sure that's authentic was great.

Kirk Whalum has stayed away from using his family on some of his past projects. He says, I just thought it was obnoxious to beat that drum about Whalum this and Whalum that. But the fact is music is very deeply rooted in my family way, way back. Farther back than I know for sure. My grandmother, for instance, was a music teacher, taught voice and piano and directed the choir at Metropolitan Baptist Church right here in Memphis and taught people like Hank Crawford and a lot of great artists. All my uncles and both my grandmother's were musicians. My other grandmother was a gospel singer. My uncle was dean of music at Morehouse College, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was in the Morehouse Glee Club and on and on.

In Roundtrip, Whalum changed his philosophy and used many family members in the project. He says, my uncle, who I was fortunate to produce his 'debut release' at 77 years old, is involved in this record. People call him Peanuts, Hugh 'Peanuts' Whalum, and he's 79 now, sounding better than ever. I was able to get my brother Kevin once again, I'm just a huge fan of his. My son Kyle, who is now touring with me, I'm kind of stealing him away from his own rock and roll band to tour with me on bass. And my nephew Kenneth, I've been borrowing him from P. Diddy and he's an amazing saxophonist, a tenor player who is studying in New York and just sounding wonderful. And there's more down the pike, in particular the young 18 year old trombone player Cameron, who is really, really incredibly good.

Roundtrip shows how many kinds of music influence each other. Kirk Whalum says, not only do I want to express the natural connection between rap and hip-hop and jazz and R&B, all of this music that really came from the same root system, but to really emphasize the fact that they started out together. They've always shared at least one element and that is the fact that they were born out of street culture and, in particular, black culture in this country. They really do reach across the world to impact not just the music world, but even culture.

Whalum says hip-hop is a worldwide culture today. He says, you go to Russia, you go to South Africa, you go to Guatemala and you see hip-hop culture. Not just the music, you see clothing, you see the way people walk, the way people talk, the way they dress. That is absolutely what happened with jazz music. Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington, people wanted to not just hear the music, they want to dress like them and walk like them and talk like them. It's a cultural phenom that we share that I wanted to help emphasize.

To help promote Roundtrip, Kirk Whalum is touring the country on the Guitars and Saxes Tour. He says, it's totally unique. For several years now, people have really enjoyed this mixture of different artists. This year, there's a different twist to it that Gerald Albright and myself are mentioned in the same breath. Saxophone players who really endeavor to play with soul and to really connect with the people's heart in the spirit of Hank Crawford or Fathead Newman. Then for us to have this other balancing act on the left with Tim Bowman, who really is a tremendous jazz player with a very spiritual grounding from Detroit with a big sound like a Kenny Terrell, with Jeff Golub, who is perhaps one of the finest rock and blues guitar players in the world informed by his knowledge of jazz.

The Guitars and Saxes Tour doesn't mean the end of Whalum's musical year. He says, we're going to be doing 'Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 3' coming up on the 13th of October. It's a live event video and CD that features George Duke and Doc Powell, Leilah Hathaway and a lot of great artists, my brother Kevin, my uncle, all those Whalums. It's going to be held at the Reid Temple in Washington, DC. Kirk Whalum gives his heart out to God and his fans and he, in term, gets it back to him a hundred fold.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Kirk Whalum
  • Subtitle: Into His Soul
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