Heart and Soul 

Local sax player offers noteworthy releases; gospel great publishes book

Local sax player offers noteworthy releases; gospel great publishes book

Though better known for his success on the contemporary jazz circuit, Nashville saxophonist Kirk Whalum has always had a strong interest in gospel as well. Whalum demonstrates his love for both styles with two new albums, one devoted to gospel, the other to jazz.

The Gospel According to Jazz (Warner Gospel) and For You (Warner Jazz) are both showcases for Whalum’s warm, bluesy tenor, though there’s more expressive playing on the gospel album than on the tightly produced For You. Keyboardist George Duke is among the supporting musicians on The Gospel According to Jazz, which is also spiced by a strong guest appearance from Whalum’s brother Kevin on a stirring rendition of the spiritual ”Wade in the Water.“

The son of a noted Memphis Baptist minister, Whalum has worked a variety of gigs, from playing in his father’s church choir to working with keyboardist Bob James, urban contemporary divas Whitney Houston and Mariah Carey, and even legendary swing and big-band saxophonist Arnett Cobb. He’s currently featured backing the Carey/Houston duet on the Prince of Egypt soundtrack.

For The Gospel According to Jazz, Whalum wrote or cowrote five selections, and the record’s power and authority are much more impressive than his commercial material for either Columbia or Warner Bros. With The Gospel According to Jazz, he has issued one of the finest statements yet in the emerging style of jazz gospel.

Keeping up with Jones

Grammy-winning television host and recording artist Dr. Bobby Jones is highly regarded in gospel circles, both for his duties on Black Entertainment Television’s Bobby Jones Gospel and Video Gospel, and for his other musical activities. Now Jones has moved into the literary field with his new book, Touched By God: Black Gospel Greats Share Their Stories of Finding God (Pocket).

The book features accounts of life-altering experiences affecting 19 contemporary stars, including Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Vickie Winans, and John P. Kee. Also featured are recollections from more traditional artists, such as Shirley Caesar, Dorothy Norwood, and Albertina Walker. Cowritten by journalist Lesley Sussman, the accounts are written in a direct, assertive fashion. Touched By God should appeal both to hardcore believers and to any reader interested in inspirational accounts of survival and triumph.

Almost Nashville cats

He’s not a local musician, but guitarist Bill Frisell is thoroughly identified with Nashville, thanks both to his award-winning recent LP of the same name, his use of local session players, and his ability to integrate country stylings into an improvisational framework. Now Frisell, among the most versatile players in recent memory, has switched back to a traditional jazz format for his latest recording.

Songs We Knew (Nonesuch) pairs Frisell with another excellent, eclectic stylist, pianist Fred Hersch. Hersch, whose scheduled Nashville concert was regrettably canceled a few months ago, establishes with Frisell the uncanny communication that’s necessary to reinvigorate the likes of ”It Might As Well Be Spring“ or ”I Got Rhythm.“ Here’s hoping Hersch will find a way to adjust his dates in the near future and make his local debut. And here’s hoping Frisell joins him to play the selections on this disc.

Tuning in

Throughout much of the ’90s, a small but faithful core of individuals working in Nashville’s urban-music community have insisted that the city is home to a sizable R&B and hip-hop audience—one that has been ignored by the music industry as a whole. Now there’s evidence to support this assertion in the form of the latest Arbitron ratings for Nashville radio stations.

WQQK-FM (92.1) placed a healthy second among the top 18 stations listed in the Nov. 14 issue of Billboard, which carried ratings for stations in markets 28-52. (Nashville, incidentally, is the 44th largest radio market, right ahead of Memphis at 45.) Only country giant WSIX, with a 12.3 mark, finished ahead of WQQK’s 10.2. This figure is an overall average for listeners 12 years old or older, and it covers the summer months of 1998.

Granted, this is a total number, and breakdowns for demographics and specific listening periods were not available in the Billboard listing. But for the last five rating periods, dating from the summer of ’97 through this past summer, WQQK has placed second every time, and on three occasions it has been the only station besides WSIX to garner double-digits.

It certainly helps that 92Q has no competition from other commercial stations playing urban music, but its current strategy of aggressive promotion, coupled with different formats for daytime and nighttime audiences, seems to be working. Now, if only the station would start providing exposure for worthy local acts.

Bottom to top

Bass virtuoso Victor Wooten, who showed up earlier this year in the Downbeat critics’ poll, has now been recognized by his instrumental colleagues as well. Wooten was selected as 1998 Bass Player of the Year by the readers of Bass Player magazine—the second consecutive year and the third time overall he has earned the honor. The results will be announced in the publication’s February ’99 issue. His third release for Compass records is slated for a late spring release.


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