Born: Jul 11, 1958 in Memphis, TN
Styles: Urban, Jazz-Pop, Contemporary Jazz, Crossover Jazz, Smooth Jazz, R&B, Pop/Rock, Adult Contemporary, Quiet Storm, Contemporary Gospel, Jazz Instrument, Saxophone Jazz, Religious
Instruments: Sax (Tenor), Saxophone
From his early days in Memphis, where he played in his father's church choir, veteran saxophonist Kirk Whalum drew inspiration from the rich musical traditions of that city, including gospel, R&B, blues, and eventually jazz. He received a scholarship to attend music school at Texas Southern University, where he formed a band in 1979 and began playing shows on the local club circuit. When he opened for Bob James in Houston in 1984, the pianist was impressed with Whalum's expressive style, and invited him to play on his album 12. Whalum soon signed with Columbia Records and released his first solo album, Floppy Disk, in 1985. That album (as well as the next two, 1988's And You Know That! and 1989's The Promise) was produced by James, continuing the musicians' fruitful partnership. The early '90s saw Whalum issuing two more albums on the Columbia label - Cache in 1993 and In This Life in 1995 - each of them earning the saxophonist increased commercial attention and critical praise. Later, a duet with James titled "Joined at the Hip" took Whalum's career to a new level, as the song garnered Whalum his first Grammy nomination.
In 1997, Whalum jumped labels to sign with Warner Bros. His first solo album on Warner's tab, Colors, was released that same year, and perhaps more than any other album, showed Whalum's ability to synthesize music from a variety of sources to produce a fusion of pop, jazz, and R&B. The following year, Gospel According to Jazz, Chapter 1 exhibited his ability to return to the music of his childhood stylistically, while also pursuing the kind of spiritual depth that has a long history in jazz, echoing artists like John Coltrane in taking advantage of the saxophone's unique expressive qualities. The decade also brought Whalum an amazingly diverse series of session and touring jobs, working with artists like Whitney Houston, Babyface, Yolanda Adams, Take 6, Bebe & Cece Winans, Barbra Streisand, Edwin Hawkins, Quincy Jones, Kevin Mahogany, Al Green, and Luther Vandross. In addition to his solo albums, Whalum worked on a number of film scores, including those for The Prince of Tides, Boyz in the Hood, Grand Canyon, and Cousins. His sax solo was featured on Whitney Houston's wildly popular single "I Will Always Love You," on the soundtrack for The Bodyguard.
The fan base that Whalum had been building throughout the '80s and '90s exploded with his 1998 release, For You, which spent nearly two years at the top of the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart and yielded four Top Ten NAC hits. His self-produced album, 2000's Hymns in the Garden, made a much quieter impact but was critically acclaimed, even earning Whalum a second Grammy nomination. Also in 2000, Whalum recorded again for Warner Bros. and released Unconditional, his third album for the label. Unconditional returned to the contemporary jazz style that had marked his early releases, with a few unexpected covers, including versions of Macy Gray's "I Try" and *NSYNC's "God Must Have Spent a Little More Time on You." "Can't Stop the Rain," a song written and sung by Shai, is the only other song on the album not composed by Whalum. Since 2001, Whalum has released four studio albums, including his second volume of gospel songs, The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter 2, and Kirk Whalum Performs the Babyface Songbook, released on Rendezvous Music in 2005. In 2008, Whalum released Promises Made, a benefit album for the Millennium Project dedicated to the relief of hunger, disease prevention, and economic development in Africa. In 2010, Whalum issued The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III. This volume included appearances by George Duke, Lalah Hathaway, Bishop T.D. Jakes, and Kevin Whalum, among others.
- Stacia Proefrock (All Music Guide)
"The mystery of love is worth discovering at any cost," Kirk Whalum says, and nowhere is that belief more evident than on For You, his brand-new jazz release on Warner Bros. Records. It is a richly emotive and warm collection of beautiful pop/r&b melodies, lifted even higher by Whalum's soulful sax.
Produced by Paul Brown, For You builds on Whalum's strong suit, which has always been the lyrical quality of his playing. "I am very grateful for the way this record has turned out," attests Whalum. "This well-thought-out concept was suggested to me by Matt Pierson [Warner Jazz, Senior VP], once again demonstrating his understanding of who I am as a musician."
For You was recorded in-studio, the old-fashioned way, with mainly live interplay between Kirk and an ensemble of contemporary music's finest players, including Paul Jackson, Jr., on guitar, Paulinho Da Costa on percussion, Ricky Lawson on drums, and Greg Karukas and Ricky Peterson on keyboards, among others.
For You features Kirk's interpretation of ten chart-topping hits, chiefly from the past few years. Already heralded for his passionate artistry, Whalum may well be in breakthrough territory with this album. The first two singles from the collection to be highlighted for airplay and released simultaneously are the exquisitely-rendered ballad "My All" (a mega-hit for Mariah Carey in its previous incarnation) and "Ascension" (a mid-tempo tune that helped put Maxwell on the map).
Other key tracks include Brian McKnight's lovely laid-back "Anytime"; Stevie Wonder's soft-soul "All I Do," featuring Wendy Moten on vocals; and an entirely new take on Marvin Gaye's No. 1 r&b hit "I Want You," featuring Kirk's brother Kevin Whalum's vocals set against an atmospheric Brazilian/world-hued arrangement by David Woods. The album is rounded out with Janet Jackson's "That's The Way Love Goes," Anita Baker's "Same Ole Love" and the title track, Kenny Lattimore's "For You," which "was a great bonus," asserts Kirk. "I had started recording it before I found out it was one of my wife's favorite songs."
The final two songs reflect two lasting friendships in Kirk's life. He has long been associated with Whitney Houston as part of her touring band, and so her hit "Lover For Life" was a natural for this collection. The album's final track, "Goin' In Circles," was originally performed by Friends Of Distinction and written by Jerry Peters who Kirk met when he [Kirk} was twelve years old and was under contract (as a singer) with Memphis Records, where Peters wrote songs and screened material for artists. Whalum remarks, "Playing the saxophone took the place of singing, but out of that experience I made a lifelong friend."
Playing chart-topping and critically acclaimed music is nothing new for Kirk. He earned a Grammy nomination for his collaboration with Bob James, Joined At The Hip, has secured two No. 1 slots on the Billboard jazz charts, and has had several albums chart in the Jazz Top 10. As for romance, his is the standout sax solo on Whitney Houston's worldwide smash hit "I Will Always Love You." His trademark saxophone stylings have been heard on stage and on over a hundred recordings with the preeminent pop, jazz, r&b and gospel musicians of our time, including Babyface, Take 6, Nancy Wilson, Kevin Mahogany, George Benson, Yolanda Adams, Bebe & Cece Winans, Barbra Streisand, Edwin Hawkins, Rev. Al Green, Mariah Carey and Quincy Jones. A seasoned veteran of the studio and the road, a catalogue of Kirk's featured session work would fill a "Who's Who" in modern music.
Kirk started on the road that would lead him to jazz distinction in Memphis, where he played in his father's church choir. Raised on gospel music, r&b and Memphis blues, Whalum ultimately turned to jazz during high school. He received a music scholarship from Texas Southern in Houston, where he formed his own band, playing original compositions on the Texas club circuit. After opening for Bob James in Houston one night, Whalum was invited to New York by the pianist to appear on his album 12. Bob James, in recalling that night, said, "He [Kirk Whalum] was opening for a concert I played in Houston. I was actually able to watch part of his show-unlike most of the time when I don't get to hear the opening act. I just loved him."
Whalum signed to Columbia shortly thereafter, and released five albums for the label: Floppy Disk, And You Know That!, The Promise, Cache and In This Life (three of which were produced by Bob James). Next came the Grammy-nominated Joined At The Hip with Bob James in '96 on Warner Bros. Records.
1997 brought a new label, his sixth solo album and, musically, his most inclusive endeavor, Colors, which paid tribute to musical and cultural diversity. A few of the tracks on Colors foreshadowed his '98 release on Warner Gospel, The Gospel According To Jazz, featuring Whalum, with guests George Duke and Paul Jackson, Jr. Whalum's gospel debut precedes For You, his Warner Jazz release, by only two weeks.
For You is a deeply-affecting and richly-imbued tapestry of feeling and finesse. Whalum's passion for music in general, and jazz in particular, is displayed in a setting that reveals his abundant gift for melody. His power and presence comes from the heart. "Many of these songs describe my reality, like 'Same Ole Love.' I'm glad Anita Baker sang it. The lyric says romance is really better as the years go along. What begins as a genuine, though sometimes shallow and untried relationship has the potential to grow into something amazingly strong and evergreen. My wife Ruby and I have that kind of relationship.
"These are all songs that have had an impact on people's lives and relationships, and to do instrumental versions is a special undertaking that I take very seriously. There's never too much sincerely romantic music," says Kirk, who clearly relishes his role in bringing so powerful a message. "I know that these melodies will bring back special memories," he says. "I tried to treat them with tender care."