Getting to Know Matthew Whitaker
October 6, 2021
Our only jazz concert of the 2021 Rising Stars season is this Sunday, October 10, at 4 PM ET featuring the Matthew Whitaker Quartet! We asked Mr. Whitaker to answer a few questions to get to know him better. Here’s what he had to say:
Your love of playing music first began at the young age of three after your grandfather gave you a small Yamaha keyboard. Who or what inspires you when you are performing and composing music?
Matthew Whitaker: I get inspiration from different people, places, or even what is going on around me. Sometimes the music just comes to me; other times it’s intentional depending on what is going on. As an artist, we are so emotionally connected to our art that when we perform or create, it is a direct expression of where we are mentally and emotionally.
You will be performing with Marcos Robinson (guitar), Isaiah Johnson (drums), and Karim Hutton (electric bass) on Sunday. How did the four of you become acquainted and how long have you been performing together?
MW: A couple of years ago I was looking for musicians to have my own band where we could develop and grow together. A mutual friend, Nat Townsley, recommended these guys. It has been great playing with the same guys. Also, as you tour, you get to spend a lot of time on the road and it’s good to develop that relationship as well. They are all great musicians and humans.
You’ve performed concerts around the world. What is your favorite performance venue and why?
MW: It’s hard to choose a favorite. Different stages have their unique attractions. For example, I enjoy making a connection with the audience where I can sense their reaction to the music. The music allows us to connect even if we do not speak the same language or me not being able to see them. I also think the entire experience is important. First, getting to interact with the band preparing for the event, then, once you get into the city, having the interaction with the people there and the behind-the-scenes support, and finally, you are in front of the audience. It’s just beautiful.
You recently released your third studio album, Connections. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
MW: The album Connections is based on the connections I have with the musicians on the album. I have the band playing and some special guests like my first band teacher from when I was eight years old, Steve Oquendo; Jon Batiste, who I met when I was about nine years old and has been a great inspiration and mentor; Ms. Regina Carter who I met a few years ago at Monterey Jazz Festival and since then wanted to record with. The songs on the album are a combination of originals and some covers. “Journey Uptown” is a song I composed for a dance piece choreographed by American Ballet Theatre soloist Gabe Stone-Shayer and Principal Skyler Brandt. Gabe asked the question, “What does New York sound like to you?” “A New Day” was a composition honoring the great Hammond B3 organ players like Dr. Lonnie Smith, who recently passed. We also had some improvised music created in the studio like the title track, “Connections” with Jon Batiste, and “I’m Sorry”. I composed “Stop Fighting” during the summer of 2020 when there was a lot of civil unrest. While I was composing the song, I was asking myself, “Why all the negativity? Why all the police brutality? Why all the bullying?” I also pay tribute to Chick Corea with “Spain”, Dave Brubeck with “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, Thelonius Monk with “Bye-Ya” on a piano duet with Jon, and “I Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” by Duke Ellington featuring Ms. Regina Carter.
If you had any advice for young pianists who want to change their passion into a career, what would it be?
MW: I would say, follow your dreams, get the preparation you need, have fun in the process and JUST BE YOU! 😎