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KIRK WHALUM

Let’s talk about sax

by Rika Takenaka

After almost three decades in the music business, jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum says his sound has remained the same.

“I really think that my sound is like my voice,” 49-year-old Whalum tells The Japan Times in an e-mail interview. “It’s the same as when I hear Stanley Turrentine or Michael Brecker. I don’t hear the saxophone, I hear a voice.”

Many will already be familiar with his sound, since the seven-time Grammy nominee has played for and with numerous artists, including Bob James, Take 6 and Babyface to name a few. Whalum also played the sax solo on Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You.”

Next weekend, Tokyo audiences will have a chance to hear him in the flesh, as it were, at his Live in Gospel concerts — together with award-winning producer, composer, singer and keyboardist John Stoddart.

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Whalum was deeply influenced by Otis Redding, Isaac Hayes and other Memphis soul maestros, as well as by gospel music.

“I grew up singing in the choir at the church where my dad was pastor. So that’s the primary source of my musical inspiration and my approach to music,” he says.

Whalum successfully completed his third live-concert gospel project, “The Gospel According to Jazz Chapter III,” in Glenn Dale, Maryland, last month. The concert recording — performed with guest musicians including George Duke and Lalah Hathaway — will be released on CD and DVD soon. However, it is during his live shows that Whalum feels most connected to God, whom he firmly believes “completes the music.”

And the saxophonist has other news: His 18th album, “Roundtrip,” released in the United States in August, contains new tunes and covers of his own back catalog, offering a blend of contemporary soul-jazz, rap, hip-hop and spoken word.

Whalum says it’s always hard to choose songs for a CD, but “Roundtrip” was a thrilling project in that a brand new, younger audience would get to hear what his fans of 20 or more years already know very well.

Above all, Whalum says recording the title track was a very special experience. “The most incredible moment for me was standing in the House of Blues studios in Memphis, my hometown, next to my son Kyle (bassist), my brother Kevin (vocalist), my nephew Kenneth (saxophonist) and my 79-year-old uncle Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum (vocalist)! That was a career-defining moment.”

So, what can Tokyo audiences expect?

“This show in Tokyo will be very, very special. It’s not like anything else I do,” Whalum says. “It’s in a class all by itself.”

Kirk Whalum and John Stoddart play at Kick Back Cafe in Wakabacho, Chofu City, on Nov. 23 at 8 p.m., Nov. 24 at 6:30 and 9 p.m., and Nov. 25 at 8 p.m. Tickets are ¥9,800, ¥11,000 or ¥12,000 ([03] 5384-1577; www.kickbackcafe.jp)