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Mark Whitfield: Quick Whit

By Published: December 1, 2008
"It's because they allowed me to be who I wanted to be. So that's something that I wanted to make sure that I somehow carried on with my kids—that they get to be the people that they want to be. I'm convinced that if they choose to continue on with music they are both going to have brilliant careers. I never pushed either one of them into (music)," he says of his sons. "I've been a traveling musician for their entire lives. I was always afraid that they would resent music or resent the thing that took me away from them so often. I was very careful to keep my career, and music in general, in a positive light in their eyes. I just allowed them to involve themselves in music with me. It was an open door policy. If you want to come in here with me while I am playing, come on in. Grab an instrument and join in. If not, do what you want to do. I think that 'no pressure' situation allowed music to become something that we could enjoy together."

Whitfield continues, "I am really proud of both of them because they have really captured the spirit, in my opinion, of what jazz is supposed to be. Jazz is tradition, it's a language, and it's in your spirit that is passed on from generation to generation. With every generation your experiences and your traditions should become richer. Instead with many things, as it is passed on, it somehow gets diluted. And I am very proud of the kids because they've taken what I have had to pass on and they have already taken that and begun to build on it. And they are doing their own thing with it."

Perhaps there may even be some music from Whitfield and Sons.

"Chris' schedule is very hectic, but I am going to try to do something with them," says Whitfield. "I am going to try to find some way for us to at least do one performance every month with us together, as a family. I used to do it because I wanted to get the kids some experience and give them some exposure and it was just so much fun watching them play. But when I played with them a while back, they kicked my butt! I was like, 'Wow! I blinked my eyes and you guys got really good on me!'" he laughs. "It was very inspiring. So now it's taken on a whole new attitude for me. That's something that I didn't expect that I'm really enjoying. I didn't think that far ahead, that at some point my kids would be passing me by. But it's a beautiful thing. That's what you live for."

Though he continues to tour with Botti, Whitfield has other projects planned. He recently recorded an album with co-producer George Fontenette called Songs of Wonder (Mark Whitfield and George Fontenette, 2009), a tribute to Stevie Wonder, to be released in January. Botti and guitarist John Mayer have guests spots on the recording.

He's my absolute favorite songwriter," he says of Wonder. "It took me a long time to work up the courage and the confidence to interpret his music. But I think I've done it justice. I am really proud of the Songs of Wonder album ... I hope that Stevie gets a chance to hear it and it will make me very proud if he endorses it." He also recently celebrated the 10th anniversary of record made for Verve Records in 1998 with Christian McBride and Nicholas Payton, called Finger Painting, a tribute to Herbie Hancock. The group recently played a week at the Jazz Standard in New York and is going to record all new music and release a new album. "It's sort of the first kind of big, real, traditional jazz album that I've done in years," says the guitarist.

"I've been making records and been playing for almost 20 years now. And that's something I never thought I'd be able to say. The last year or two, I've been doing some great playing. My best work is yet to come."

Selected Discography:

Mark Whitfield, Songs of Wonder (Mark Whitfield and George Fontenette, 2009)

Cleo Laine, Jazz (Pid Records, 2008)

Chris Botti, Italia (Columbia, 2007)

Hector Martignon, Refugee (Zoho Music, 2007)

Jimmy Junebug, On My Way Home (Blue Canoe, 2007)

Pat Bianchi, East Coast Roots (Jazzed Media, 2006)

Jason Miles, To Grover With Love (ARTizen Music Group, 2006)

Mark Whitfield, Mark Whitfield Featuring Panther (Dirty Soap Entertainment, 2005)

Various Artists, New York For Lovers (Verve, 2005)

Javon Jackson, Have You Heard? (Palmetto, 2005)

Neal Smith, Some Of My Favorite Songs Are... (NAS, 2005)

Javon Jackson, Easy Does It (Palmetto, 2003)

Various Artists, Jazz Romance: A Night In With Verve (Verve, 2001)

Mark Whitfield, The Jazz Channel Presents Soul Conversation Featuring Mark Whitfield & JK (Image Entertainment, 2000)

Mark Whitfield, Raw (Transparent Music, 2000)

Jimmy Smith, Jimmy Smith's Finest Hour (Verve, 2000)

Mark Whitfield, Soul Conversation Featuring Mark Whitfield & JK (Transparent Music, 2000)

Jimmy Smith, Ultimate Jimmy Smith (Verve, 1999)

Brother Jack McDuff, Bringin' It Home (Concord Jazz, 1999)

Fred Sanders, East of Vilbig (Leaning House Jazz, 1997)

Courtney Pine, Underground (Verve, 1997)

Various Artists, Jazz For Joy: A Verve Christmas Album (Verve, 1996)

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