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Whitfield’s return to the Big Easy is a family affair

1st October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

When jazz guitarist extraordinaire Mark Whitfield arrives at Snug Harbor on Saturday, October 6 (his 46th birthday), he’ll be in familiar territory and among family and friends. The set includes his two sons, drummer Mark Jr., 22, and pianist David, 19, as well as bassist Roland Guerin with whom the guitarist often performed during his residency in Louisiana.

Whitfield, a New York native and resident who enjoys a very successful career, boasts strong ties to the area having lived in Baton Rouge from 1990 until 1996. At the time he had just signed with the prestigious Warner Bros. label and had released his critically heralded album, The Marksman. That gave the Berklee School of Music graduate and father-to-be the freedom to move away from the Big Apple. New Orleans jazz fans will remember Whitfield regularly performing at havens like Snug Harbor, Julius Kimbrough’s Jazz Showcase on North Broad Street and North Rampart Street’s Funky Butt. (The latter two are, unfortunately, now defunct.)

MARK WHITFIELD

“There were so many great young musicians playing around at that time,” Whitfield fondly remembers. “It kind of reminds me of the way guys talk about New York in the ‘50s. Every night in the early ‘90s, there was somebody playing somewhere in New Orleans,” he adds, mentioning names of then up-and-comers like trumpeter Nicholas Payton, bassist Donald Edwards, drummer Brian Blade and pianist Peter Martin. “There was always great music going on. I look back at my time spent in New Orleans that wasn’t that long but it seems I got the benefit of a lifetime of information and experience there.”

While in Baton Rouge, Whitfield also took advantage of the opportunity to study with the late great clarinetist and educator Alvin Batiste. “I do my best to spread the gospel according to Alvin Batiste everywhere I go,” says Whitfield, who for a time taught at Berklee. “My students at Berklee had the benefit of my experience with Alvin Batiste, that’s for sure. That man was just unbelievably ingenious and ahead of his time and ahead of everyone else.”

It was son David’s inspiration for the family group, which plays together at least once a month in New York City, to come to New Orleans. He was visiting his grandparents in Baton Rouge and called his dad to ask him what he thought about them playing down here.

MIA BORDERS

“He lit the fire in me,” recalls Whitfield who hadn’t performed in the area for over 10 years. Calling it a mini-tour, the band is booked at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, the Manship Theater in Baton Rouge and Snug Harbor.

Expect a mixed set of material at the Snug Harbor show with tunes coming from Whitfield’s latest fine release, Songs of Wonder, on which the guitarist performs the works of master Stevie Wonder, blasts from the past off of Whitfield’s 1994 Verve album, “True Blue,” as well as new compositions and those from the pens of his children.

“They’re inspiring and amazing,” Whitfield proudly says of his kids. “Mark is turning into one of the top drummers in New York City and David has become a remarkable jazz and classical pianist.”

“We just try to make a program of music that showcases our different influences and rocks the crowd,” Whitfield explains. “We try to keep folks tappin’ their feet and dancin’ in the street.”

Whitfield’s connections to New Orleans go back to the 1980s having worked with saxophonist Branford and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis when he attended Berklee at the same time as trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis . He’s recorded with saxophonist Donald Harrison and trumpeters Terence Blanchard and Nicholas Payton. In 2007, the guitarist and Payton along with bassist Christian McBride celebrated the 10th anniversary of the release of Fingerpainting, a tribute to Herbie Hancock.

In other words, Mark Whitfield is a part of the extended New Orleans musical family. His dedication to the music, beautiful tone and dexterity proves it’s so.

Free, Free and Free

Cash might be tight, but that’s no excuse not to go out and hear live music in New Orleans. This week holds a wealth of excellent choices.

First up is Wednesday evening’s weekly Harvest the Music series at Lafayette Square. Vocalist, guitarist and songwriter, Mia Borders takes the stage at 5 p.m. The New Orleans artist, whose star is on the rise, brings it on with her own style of funky blues rock and soul. Rocker Anders Osborne headlines the night augmented by the big sound of the Bonerama Horns plus guitarist Dave Malone.

Though there’s still much to be done, Armstrong Park looks beautiful particularly when it’s full of people and music as it is for the Thursday evening fall series of Jazz in the Park. This week, the People United for Armstrong Park (PUFAP) presents jazz vocalist Stephanie Jordan at 5 p.m. followed by the Soul Rebels at 6:30.

Three days of free music can be found at the Gentilly Fest that takes place at Pontchartrain Park on the corner of Press and Prentiss drives. Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers open up the festivities on Friday evening, October 5 at 6:30 p.m. followed by the Hot 8 Brass Band at 8 p.m. The music goes all day on Saturday and Sunday at the event that boasts three stages – the main stage with favs like Walter “Wolfman” Washington (Sunday), a gospel tent with ensembles such as the St. Raymond/St. Leo Gospel Choir (Saturday), and a brass band stage where the ReBirth Brass Band will close out the fest at 5 p.m. on Sunday. There are lots of activities for children as well at the festival that celebrates “everything Gentilly.”

This article was originally published in the October 1, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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