Kenneth Whalum III
Rising jazz star Kenneth Whalum, III makes his debut onto the New York jazz scene with a bold, distinctive voice of originality, and creative artistry. As a brilliant composer, arranger, bandleader, and tenor saxophonist, Whalum will release his highly anticipated album, To Those Who Believe. “It’s somewhat of a musical statement to those that believe,” asserts Whalum. This statement embraces his diverse musical experiences in the world of jazz, soul and R&B to create a highly authentic and personal account of a rich acoustic sound. He is supported by a lineup of NYC’s most sought after jazz talent; Robert Glasper (piano), Chris “Daddy” Dave (drums) and Derrick Hodge (bass) to produce this year’s most remarkable project. Emphasizing a spiritual direction, with a mission to help and encourage people from all walks of life, Memphis native Whalum combines soulful grooves to redefine the scope of great music among his peers.
Whalum’s own musical journey is defined by strong family support, his religious background, and childhood exposure to music education. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee and was exposed to the city’s rich cultural tradition. He originally started to develop as a drummer at Kirby Middle School but switched to the saxophone, at the request of his teacher. Thereafter, Whalum played professionally around town and in church, The New Olivet Baptist Church, under the leadership of his father, Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr. Further musical development can also be attributed to his uncle, 8-time Grammy nominated saxophonist and recording artist Kirk Whalum. He also cites his great uncle Hugh “Peanuts’ Whalum, who has played with the legendary Lionel Hampton and Miles Davis, as a major contributor to his development.
The historic legacy of Memphis’ music life is reflected in Whalum’s playing. It is a blues-based city that has transformed American culture, beginning with legendary Beale Street musicians and performers such as B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, and Robert Johnson. Even Memphis native and world-renowned saxophonist Charles Lloyd adds an influential lyrical depth to Whalum’s sound. Thus, Whalum relies on this rich cultural landscape to explore greater musical possibilities.
After a brief stay at Atlanta’s historic Morehouse College, he transferred to New York City’s prestigious The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, graduating in May 2008. Located in New York’s Greenwich Village, he was immersed in a rigorous jazz education curriculum. In addition, Whalum was surrounded by a versatile jazz community which have included rising stars such as Robert Glasper, Bilal, and Brad Mehldau, to name a few.
In the summer of 2006, he was called upon to tour with music icon Sean "P Diddy" Combs. This engagement led to television appearances hosted by Ellen DeGeneres, Tyra Banks, Jimmy Kimmel, and David Letterman. Whalum quickly played on more gigs and tours for the industry’s most sought after producers, musicians and entertainers. After Combs, Whalum toured with rapper and business leader Jay-Z. He wrote horn arrangement for Jay-Z’s popular song “Roc Boys (And the Winner is)” and is featured on the album, American Gangster. This song was named No. 1 by Rolling Stone magazine’s “100 best Songs of 2007.”
Whalum went on to record, tour, or write for the industry’s most leading musicians and entertainers, including multi-platinum artists 50 Cent, Snoop Dogg, Al Green, Mary J. Blige, Ciara and provided recording accompaniment for Fantasia, Beyonce, Joss Stone, and R&B producer Rodney Jerkins. More recently, he has toured across the world with R&B crooner Maxwell, playing in sold-out arenas, concert halls, and benefit concerts. Whalum can also be heard on BLACKSummers’night, Maxwell’s long awaited and platinum–selling album. In 2010, this album was nominated for six Grammys, including “Best Male R&B Vocal Performance” for “Pretty Wings” and “Best R&B Album,” for BLACKSummers’Night.
Whalum’s artistic approach embraces diverse musical genres of southern gospel, soul, R&B, jazz, and classical. His capacity to traverse the human experience through a personal musical journey is evidenced by his rhythmic sensibility, soft ballads, and enigmatic playing. With roots in the African American church tradition, Whalum understands the tradition of human struggle for freedom. He uses music as a force for good to overcome great obstacles with faith, hard-won dignity, and an imaginative clarity. Veteran sax player Myron Walden had this to say about what he hears from such a brilliant young musician: “Beyond his years in spirit and thought he puts into his music a sincerity that touches all that hears it.” Whalum has a distinguishing and remarkable ability to connect with people from all walks of life from different corners of the globe–speaking to their personal struggles, giving light to the human condition, and offering a modest insight through music in his own unique way.
The strength of his playing lies in its unrelenting quest for beauty, warmth, and rich, vibrant colors to empower his audience in any kind of setting. Whalum adds: “My faith has really gotten me to the point I’m at now and this album is somewhat of a story of how I have developed as a person as well as a musician. Of his upcoming album, He adds: “it’s a snapshot of where I am in life…some ups and downs but it’s an honest statement.” His upcoming release marks a bold, inventive direction for NYC’s vibrant young jazz community. After reflecting on his own personal setbacks to become a professional musician, Whalum realizes it might just be a matter of faith and persistence, or for those who believe!
Mr. Whalum currently resides in Brooklyn, New York.
Kenneth Whalum III: To Those Who Believe
Kenneth Whalum III Chats With JubileeMag (@JubileeMagazine)