He is the artiste that I was first introduced to during my foray into gospel jazz. The style of jazz known as smooth jazz became one of my favourite pastimes a few years ago and I began to immerse myself in the music, albeit on the secular tip. When I decided to get serious about my walk with The Lord, I decided that I needed more things gospel around me, and a friend introduced me to Kirk Whalum and gospel jazz.
The best way for me to describe his music is eclectic fusion. It’s got a little bit of funk, pop, un pocito de latino, and some mainstream jazz undergirded by the Word of God with an urban flair. Like many of the other cats that we consider gospel jazz artistes, he is not averse to strumming something secular. For example, he’s put some songs on a Floppy Disk, gave us the best of himself on The Best of Kirk Whalum, and if that was not enough we got the Ultimate Kirk Whalum. There was a time when he was Joined At The Hip with Bob James and in his cool, calm manner told us that Everything is Everything on the recent tribute Donnie Hathaway. In the realm of gospel he has given us The Gospel According to Jazz not once, not twice, but three times in volumes 1 to 3 as well as The Christmas Message and the Grammy nominated Hymns in The Garden.
Watching or listening to him play, one may get the feeling that they could pick up any old sax and just let it rip. This is one of the main reasons why I like his music so much; he makes it seem effortless. He is a versatile player who can take us from the heights of elation to the lows of relaxation, without losing any of the mellow vibes in between, with ease. No matter how many times you listen to his timeless gospel melodies, which are more like musical sermons, you will not ever lose that feeling you got when you first heard them. It is like digging into a good novel by your favourite author; you just don’t want to put it down and when you are done you want to read it over and over again.
Kirk has a knack for engaging some of the most celebrated singers and musicians in the industry to collaborate on his projects. He has used music royalty like George Duke, Phil Jackson Jr., Michael Manson as well as some extraordinary vocalists including Tata Vega, Layla Hathaway, his brother Kevin to name a few. It is evident that Kirk does what he does because he loves it and is not simply in it for cold hard cash. That would explain the passion that comes across in the music of Kirk Whalum.
It is his passion and raw talent that has enabled him to work with other equally prestigious talent in the gospel industry like Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Take 6 and Bebe and Cece Winans. He has also provided instrumentation for one of my all time favourite jazz vocalists, the legendary Nancy Wilson.
With over twenty five solo recordings Kirk has more than established a name for himself that is synonymous with jazz. Over the years he has garnered three Dove award nominations, one NAACP image award nomination and two Stellar (Gospel) awards. He is also a twelve time Grammy nominee and was successful in winning his first Grammy in 2011 for Best Gospel Song. The Song titled It’s What I Do, is from his album The Gospel According to Jazz chapter 3, with the sultry vocal stylings of none other than Miss Layla Hathaway. It is without a doubt one of my favourite tracks on the album, along with Make Me A Believer and the artistic George Duke solo – Because You Loved Me.
Any jazz lover worth their salt must own a Kirk Whalum CD. If not, ask yourself the question, am I really a lover of jazz? Nevertheless I won’t condemn you (smile) if you have not yet discovered The Kirk of Jazz however I encourage you to use this as your introduction. Dive in and immerse yourself in the smooth eclectic harmonies of the music of Kirk Whalum.