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Mark Whitfield: Quick Whit

Trish Richardson By

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I was very fortunate that about the time I was getting out of school, and ready to become a professional musician, that Wynton and Branford Marsalis and Terrence Blanchard had started to turn the music world, the music industry, over on its ears.
Panther [Pan-ther]

College Dictionary:

noun - Four-legged feline, usually found in largely forested areas.

Sports Dictionary:

proper noun - Two-legged player, usually found in the Carolina areas.

Whitfield Dictionary:

1. Collective noun - Group of players (namely Mark Whitfield, Cy Smith, Byron Moore, Jason Murden, Donald Edwards and Antoine Drye), usually found in jazzy areas.
2. State of being - The experience of being independent.

see also: Alternative Soul.



Guitarist Mark Whitfield speaks about "After the Mix," from his album Mark Whitfield featuring Panther (Dirty Soap, 2005), intoning that "although the album seems like a diverse collection of musical styles, it is really just my collective vision of the things that I appreciate about music. It's about the group ... It's about the experience of being independent.

"That's what Dirty Soap (Dirty Soap Entertainment, their production company formed by Drye, Edwards, and producer/engineer Ken Shillington) is about, that's what Panther is about. So when people think about Dirty Soap they'll know that music that is unique and individual has a soul. That's what our whole collaboration is about."

"Panther comes from a lot of things," says Whitfield. "It was a crazy project that I put together with some friends, some very close friends of mine. We threw around a lot of names and that one stuck. It didn't really have any special significance at the time, although it did seem like it came to represent something unexpected. I think for most people who are fans of my jazz records and people who followed my career, Panther came as a big surprise. Hopefully, as a pleasant surprise, but certainly came as a big surprise."

One of those surprises includes the song "After the Mix." It was an recorded from an actual conversation that took place while Whitfield was in the dressing room at the Blue Note, talking with drummer Donald Edwards, trumpeter and co-producer Antoine Drye and saxophonist Craig Handy. Also taking part of the conversation was master engineer, Ken Shillington. It was Shillington, in the studio at the time, who decided to record the conversation.

Whitfield recalls, "Later on, when we were in the studio listening to mixes, Ken said, 'Hey, I've got something for you guys to check out.' We thought it would be cool to borrow that device that a lot of modern day R&B hip-hop records seem to have. They have interludes and sections where people talk. I would liken that introduction to Mary J. Blige's first record, What's the 411? (MCA, 1992), where the first song is her answering machine playing back all the messages that people are giving her about her record. It's kind of cool."

Whitfield describes the music on the Panther album as alternative soul. He chose that phrase because "in trying to find labels now to describe music, there are so many new catch phrases that are being created because music is continuous. Thank God, artists are pushing the envelope and traditional breakdowns and genres no longer really exist. Everything is bits and pieces of this style and leading to this style and so on and so forth. And that creates a new blend.

Panther "creates a new style and it keeps music fresh. I think 'alternative soul' is a term meant to describe the sound of classic soul and R&B with the mixture of rock and roll and jazz. All these things can only be described as an alternative to the norm when you think of R&B or soul music. The spirit and the feeling of the music still remains the same—untouched and pure."

Whitfield continues to tour with trumpeter and front man Chris Botti's band that also includes pianist Billy Childs, bassist Robert Hurst and drummer Billy Kilson. He considers the band to be part of his family. As such, a friendly sibling rivalry has developed on stage between Whitfield and Botti. "I've always been a bit of a ham and I take great pride standing next to Chris Botti and taking all his attention away," he says with a good-natured laugh.

Not all of the attention gets focused on the band. Whitfield's bright red guitar certainly demands quite a bit of attention on its own. Yet the fire-engine colored instrument seems to be the ideal match for Whitfield, whose nickname is Quik Pik. The name was given to him by "a good friend and a great bassist, David Dyson" because of Whitfield's fast playing. Watching his fingers fly across the strings, it sometimes seems combustion might just be a possibility.

Why red?


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