Home Jazz INTERVIEW: Jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker to celebrate “Connections” at Harlem Stage

INTERVIEW: Jazz pianist Matthew Whitaker to celebrate “Connections” at Harlem Stage

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Photo: Matthew Whitaker will perform a sold-out concert at Harlem Stage. Photo courtesy of Jacob Blickenstaff / Provided by Shore Fire Media with permission.


Matthew Whitaker quickly became a sought-after jazz musician, a pianist who played his instrument with great mastery and breathtaking beauty. At 20, he has a long career ahead of him, and he’s already proven himself on stages around the world. On Saturday September 25, he will perform songs from his new album, Connections, in a theater close to his heart: Harlem Stage, part of his Uptown Nights series.

The pianist named the album Connections because it is a testament to the deep relationships he has had with many musicians and collaborators over the years. These 16 songs offer Whitaker a chance to showcase those friendships and highlight the bonds that can be found between people around the world, even in a time of great isolation and great hardship.

“This will be my CD release night on the 25th,” Whitaker said in a recent Zoom interview. “I am really excited for this performance. I have been going to New York since I was little. … New York has truly been a home from home. I am really excited and ready. The whole group will be there. We are going to have a good time.

The press notes describe Connections like Whitaker’s most personal recording. He was born blind 20 years ago in Hackensack, New Jersey, and finally found music at the age of 3. Since then he has fallen in love with this art form, learning from the greats and putting his own twist on original compositions. Connections displays this personal and professional growth.

Connections is really an album that focuses on the relationships or connections that I have with other artists and their relationships or connections with me musically and spiritually, ”he said. “Me and Derrick Hodge, the producer, decided to choose musicians that I have worked with over the years and many great friends of mine. Yes, there are a lot of original tunes and arrangements. It’s really cool. … Some songs were made before the pandemic, but a lot of them were made during the pandemic. “

Listeners can listen to songs with titles like “A New Day” and “It Will Be Okay”, as well as classic tunes such as “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington and “Lately” by Stevie Wonder. His guest collaborators include Jon Batiste, Regina Carter, Alvester Garnett and Steve Oquendo, in addition to the proven band members who have been by his side.

The past two years have been difficult for everyone, especially those in the live performance industry. For the most part, Whitaker has been away from his fans for many months, and he can’t wait to get back to them at that weekend concert in Harlem.

“I love the interaction between artist and audience, so not having that was a bit different getting used to,” Whitaker said. “But I’m grateful that I was able to play virtually again. Even during the pandemic, I had a few shows towards the end of the year where there were audiences. It was really cool to play.

Whitaker said he had the gift of music and had felt that way for a long time. At the age of 3, her first foray into appreciating the art form was through nursery rhymes. He would learn these tunes himself and impressed his family so much that finally his grandfather bought him a keyboard. At the age of 5 he began to train with the classical piano, and today he still works with the same teacher from those first lessons 15 years ago. Its instrumentation extends even beyond the piano and now includes the Hammond organ, Fender Rhodes and synthesizer.

Jazz, a major influence in his life, arrived at age 7. [jazz] because it allows you to be yourself, ”he said. “You don’t have to worry about playing everything exactly as it’s written, whereas in other styles you have to play everything exactly as it’s recorded or written on a piece of paper. But with jazz, you can be yourself and flow.

After learning jazz – and immersing yourself in the music of greats like Art Tatum, Jimmy Smith, Mulgrew Miller, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea – Whitaker began to branch out again.

“I like to take other people’s ideas and put them in my own style,” he said. “When I was 5 years old, I went to [Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School]. … When I was about 7 or 8, I went to Harlem School of the Arts, and when I was 9, I went to the Apollo Theater. … Each of these places was in Harlem, and back to the Harlem scene, it’s great to be back.

By John Soltes / Editor / [email protected]

Matthew Whitaker’s new album is called Connections. He will perform on Saturday, September 25 as part of the Uptown Nights series at Harlem Stage. Click here for more information. Tickets are sold out.