Free Community Concert to Feature Piano Virtuoso

Free Community Concert to Feature Piano Virtuoso

By Becca Newell

Over the last nine years, the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival has welcomed some of the world’s best jazz musicians to the Avalon Theatre’s stage.

While it’s—quite literally—sweet music to many jazz aficionados’ ears, the Festival also encourages those unfamiliar with the often-misunderstood genre to attend by hosting a free community concert. And this year’s performance is undoubtedly teeming with rare talent.

Matthew Whitaker
Photo Credit: Chris Drukker

Seventeen-year old pianist Matthew Whitaker is hastily making a name for himself in the jazz world. He’ll perform at 11 a.m., Saturday, September 1st, during the Festival’s community concert, entitled New Artist’s Showcase.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” he says, eagerly. “I can’t wait!”

Blind since birth, Whitaker was introduced to the piano at the age of three, when his grandfather gave him a small Yamaha keyboard. He recalls teaching himself “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”—with both hands and full chord progressions, he adds—before taking lessons when he turned five.

“I’ve always had a love for music,” he says.

As with most burgeoning pianists, Whitaker’s studies are rooted in classical piano. He’s currently enrolled at The Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School of the Lighthouse Guild in NYC, where he not only studies classical piano, but drums, too. Still, his heart remains in jazz and so he also attends the Manhattan School of Music’s Precollege Jazz Program.

“I first heard jazz in the car with my dad. I was about seven years old,” he says. “Ever since then, it’s been my favorite genre.”

Despite his young age, Whitaker’s certainly made a name for himself in the jazz world. By 15, he was named a Yamaha Artist, becoming the youngest member to join this group of notable musicians. He’s received awards and accolades from competitions and festivals across the country, including a stunning 2016 performance on Showtime at the Apollo that deservedly took home the grand prize. His show-stopping tribute to one of his personal inspirations, Stevie Wonder, earned the piano-playing prodigy comparisons to Wonder himself.

Most recently, he was named one of seven rising stars for 2018 by USA Today network’s 201 Magazine.

But performing isn’t his only quest.

“I also want to be a music director and a producer and collaborate with other people,” he explains, adding that he has a whole list of artists he’d love to work with, from classical pianists to more contemporary artists.

Unsurprisingly, one of Whitaker’s dream collaborators is the Festival’s eponymous headliner, Monty Alexander.

“I love his style and how he combines different elements of music,” he says. “It’s really cool to listen to.”

Like Alexander, Whitaker takes inspiration from other genres—think gospel, R&B, country, and funk—and works them into not only his own compositions, but into standard and contemporary classics, too.

“[It’s] what jazz really is all about—making it you,” he says.

And that’s exactly what Whitaker did for his debut album, “Outta The Box”. Released in 2017, it was listed as one of the best debuts of the year by The New York City Jazz Record. The album boasts a mix of original songs and interpretations of popular tunes indicative of Whitaker’s prodigious talent and of what attendees can expect to hear at the September 1st community concert.

“You’ll hear a lot of different styles; a lot of genres all in one show,” he says. “Come out and have fun!”

 

Catch this New Artist’s Showcase with Matthew Whitaker on Saturday, September 1st, at the Avalon Theatre in Easton. The show begins at 11 a.m. No tickets required. For more information about MAJF, visit JazzontheChesapeake.com. The Monty Alexander Jazz Festival is partially underwritten by the Maryland State Arts Council and the Talbot County Arts Council. Jazz on the Chesapeake is a program of Chesapeake Music.

 

 

 

Categories: Jazz, Press Releases