A Chat with Kirk Whalum

Columnists, Kim's Kronicles — By on December 20, 2017 at 6:38 pm


By Kim Webster

There are certain instruments that talk to you or make you feel a warmth towards someone and the saxophone is in that category.  Saxophonist/songwriter Kirk Whalum says, “the emotional dynamic of that instrument is very, very wide.”  Kirk began playing the sax when he was 12 years old, but it was not his first instrument of choice.  “I started kind of messing around with the piano at church like most of us do.  Then I wanted to have a set of drums.”  His parents gave him some snare drums because they wanted to first see if he was really interested in the drums.  “I had a bass guitar so before twelve I had tried out a few different things.  In my day when you got to Junior High School you were automatically issued an instrument.  We got to get back to that because that changed my life.”

When asked his suggestion to encourage a young person who aspires to play an instrument and create music as opposed to making music with electronic sounds he explained, “Well two things; one the technology has brought a new vista of creativity.  I love the fact that young kids who came up in that age with technology are using it in some ways that us old guys use instruments.  But I will say that for the most part the technology is replicating real instruments so if you can learn the real instrument there is no shortcut to that.”  Reading music, learning scales and mastering your instrument is important.  “It pays dividends and it’s something you can dedicate your life to, you can be passionate about, and long after the bucks stop coming in you can enjoy playing an instrument.”  He spoke about going to Memphis, New Orleans or Mexico City you hear people playing horns “and that’s not ever going to stop.” He referenced guitar player Albert King saying, “you can’t do that on a computer!”  “Most young kids now, especially when it comes to rock, alternative and a lot of other bands feel better because they’re playing real instruments.  They have can appreciation for great music from the past and a connection with it.”

Traveling worldwide, performing in many countries, this reporter asked about the impact of that experience?  “I’ve played South Africa lots of times.  Use to live in Europe, Paris and I’ve played lots of places in Europe, the Far East, Southeast Asia and played in Japan more times than I can remember.  The difference between American music culture and most every other music culture is in those places it’s not as economy driven.”  An artist doesn’t need to have a “number one record” to make money.  “In Europe you can turn on the radio and hear any kind of music; like JUKE music from West Africa, Reggae, Arabic music it’s all on there.  It just opened my head up. Wow you get to hear Brazilian music, we never hear that because that has to do with commerce; what’s marketable.  In other countries they approach music from the art point of view.  Visual arts, music, dance they consider these things all valid expressions of art. [in the United States] You’re not going to hear blues on a pop station whereas in France you’ll hear blues with next to something from Africa and get to hear where it actually came from.  There’s all kinds of music in Africa that we have basically replicated — nothing that we have can be basically separated from Africa.”

Kirk has recorded over 25 albums, received a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Gospel Song and on December 21, 2017 will present the 6th Annual A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas Tour featuring outstanding artists: Jonathan Butler, John Stoddart, Shelea, and his younger brother Kevin Whalum. The entire family will enjoy this concert beginning at 7:30pm, at West Angeles Church 3045 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles CA. Doors open at 6:30pm.  For info please go to www.kirkwhalum.com or call 323-609-3498.

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