The two standouts of Saturday’s performances were born 66 years apart. Keyboardist Matthew Whitaker is likely the first bandleader born in the 21st century to play the festival. Whitaker is only 17 and blind, but his consciousness of the crowd was stronger than the average jazz bandleader.
"This year a highlight was the Matthew Whitaker Trio. Reading Whitaker’s bio during his performance I thought it must be a mistake that he was born in 2001!! But it is true. On top of that he is blind.... Playing a solo on the organ foot pedals and another playing piano with his right hand and organ with his left hand, he amazed the audience with his talent and versatility."
After a remarkable year that found him sharing the gift of music with audiences from Kennedy Center to Harlem’s famed Apollo Theater, 15 year old jazz prodigy, Matthew Whitaker, unleashed his debut studio album. Matthew’s not alone on this ride either. He brings along quite a few great friends like Christian McBride, Dave Stryker, and Ray Chew, who all lend a musical hand in helping Matthew piece together Outta The Box.
“He hears music and he hears the entire picture right from the start. He innately understands the structures and how the chords are there and has that whole picture in his mind.… he’s so happy when he’s doing music.”
The Filomen M. D'Agostino
Greenberg Music School
"It has been my privilege to present this musical prodigy to the Apollo Theater audiences since he was age 9. As composer, arranger and musician, Matthew Whitaker is beyond his years and focused on sharing his gifts and joy with the world. Enjoy, with the knowledge that there is more to come."
“To warm up the crowd for the main event, 13-year old Apollo organ player veteran Matthew Whitaker started off with Michael Jackson’s “Baby Be Mine” on the keyboard. This boy may be young, but his skill exceeds many older musicians. His sense of rhythm and his style of performance made the audience fall in love with him right out of the gate.”
"At the Jazz Foundation of America’s “A Great Night in Harlem” benefit concert at the Apollo last week – a show that played host to stars like Elvis Costello, Macy Gray, Quincy Jones, Morgan Freeman as well as Jazz ringers like Steven Bernstein and Nicolas Payton – 12-year-old Matthew Whitaker stole the show...., Matthew Whitaker is quickly becoming one of the promising young talents in jazz."
"Matthew is an exceptional young musician and an outstanding representative of our music school. We have high hopes that he will go far in his career."
Executive Director of The Filomen M. D'Agostino Greenberg Music School
"Young Matthew Whitaker, who played the piano and also happened to be blind, stole the show as he jammed and improvised. He garnered probably the loudest ovation of the night after he finished his solo, and conductor Steven Reineke, (NY Pops orchestra), was blown away by how good the 11-year-old was. “I was just told that the young man on the keys is only 11 years old. Are you kidding me? That's ridiculous!”
Writer for Charged.fm on performance with Ozomatli and NY Pops at SummerStage