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Pianist Matthew Whitaker delivers in KNKX studio session

Matthew Whitaker has packed a lot of music into his 22 years. Playing his first keyboard at age three, taking classical piano lessons at five, exploring jazz at seven and picking up the Hammond organ and drums along the way.

More recently, Whitaker has been concentrating on arranging, composing and producing. He often sends complete recordings of specific instrument parts to his bandmates before rehearsals. New technology has made the world of music easily accessible to the voracious musician, who was born blind.

His third album Connections, from 2021, demonstrates Whitaker's artistic development. Check out the diverse set of compositions he performed in this studio session with guitarist Marcos Robinson, bassist Liany Matteo, drummer John E. Steele and percussionist Ivan Llanes.

Whitaker's band began with the organ burner "A New Day," a hint at an upcoming tribute to the jazz organ tradition he's been planning.

Next was the pianist's musical response to recent civil rights unrest, "Stop Fighting." Moody atmospherics and a dramatic melody mix Whitaker's acoustic piano and synthesizer, including the sound of a siren wailing deep in the mix.

Finally, the funky "Take a Break" provided a joyful conclusion to the session. Whitaker's keyboard-derived horn parts punched up the song's bouncy theme with brilliant solos on acoustic and electric keys.

Whitaker made his Seattle debut at Jazz Alley last month and returns to the Northwest for a Sunday matinee performance at Centrum's Jazz Port Townsend July 30. He'll be the musical director of a new Billly Strayhorn musical in Pittsburgh this fall, and is also the minister of music for his church.

Along with the upcoming Hammond organ tribute album, it would seem Whitaker's hands are full. After meeting him, there's no doubt he can handle it.

Artists:

  • Matthew Whitaker - piano
  • Marcos Robinson - guitar
  • Liany Matteo - bass
  • John E. Steele - drums
  • Ivan Llanes - percussion

Songs:

  1. A New Day
  2. Stop Fighting
  3. Take a Break
Abe grew up in Western Washington, a third generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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