Jazz musician Pete Whitman shares his inspirations and influences

Pete Whitman is a saxophonist, flutist, clarinetist, composer, arranger and educator based in the Twin Cities.

As a freelance musician, Whitman performs in a wide range of musical styles including jazz, classical and pop. He has performed with nationally known jazz musicians like Jack McDuff, The Glenn Miller Orchestra and The Temptations.

Whitman joined host Cathy Wurzer to talk about his music and what inspires him as a musician.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC - PETE WHITMAN, "BERTYE] CATHY WURZER: That is Twin Cities jazz saxophonist Pete Whitman with his song "Bertye" off the album Life After. Pete is a saxophonist, a flutist, clarinetist, composer, arranger, and educator based in the Twin Cities. As a freelance musician, Pete Whitman performs in a wide range of musical styles, including jazz, classical, and pop.

He's performed with nationally known jazz musicians like Jack McDuff, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, and the Temptations. Whitman joins us now to talk about his music and what inspires him as a musician. Hey, Pete. Welcome to Minnesota Now.

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, hey Cathy. Thank you. Thank you for having me.

CATHY WURZER: That's a beautiful track we just heard. I know you recorded that with guitarist Chris Olson. What do you like about performing with Chris?

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, Chris is just such a wonderful musician all around. And on that particular tune, he kind of lays down this beautiful bed of color. And, I mean, that's just one of his many strengths. So I'm always glad to play with Chris.

CATHY WURZER: A bed of color. I like that. And then how do you see your role as a saxophonist?

PETE WHITMAN: Well, in that particular tune, I am playing this introspective melody and lots of long notes where there's plenty of room for the bassist, Gary Raynor and Dave [INAUDIBLE] as well as Chris to kind of color it and shape things.

CATHY WURZER: Jazz is such a beautiful art form. How did you get involved in the jazz world?

PETE WHITMAN: I grew up in Kansas City, and just in junior high school, there was somebody who was playing some music that I had never heard before, and I kind of, what is that? It's jazz. And so he directed to me to his saxophone teacher. What I started doing is just going to the library and reading about every jazz musician I could and then going and trying to find recordings. And a lot of it that I was reading about, like Charlie Parker and Count Basie, and Jay McShann was happening or had happened in Kansas City.

CATHY WURZER: I bet your mind just opened like a parachute?

PETE WHITMAN: As a 14-year-old kid, it was a very great time to be motivated. And it really gave me kind of a sense of direction and focus that I didn't really have before that.

CATHY WURZER: Did you pattern yourself how you play the sax or the clarinet after any one particular musician?

PETE WHITMAN: Well. I can even remember, I was about 17, and I was just listening to the radio and I heard this cut, and I thought, Oh, Wow! What a beautiful tenor saxophone sound. And it was Joe Henderson recording. And then the very next cut was Swedish saxophone player-- not Swedish, Norwegian named Jan Garbarek playing with Keith Jarrett. And they're very opposing. One's more dark and intense, the other was more a bright kind of color. Very different approach. And I'd been trying to play those both at the same time ever since. So.

CATHY WURZER: And your style is beautiful.

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, thank you.

CATHY WURZER: It really is. I love listening to you. It's been fun kind of following you around the Twin Cities this summer because you've been pretty busy. So I understand that you're going to be even busier because you're going to be the head of the JazzMn Orchestra. Did I say that right, JazzMn Jazz M-N?

PETE WHITMAN: Well, yeah, I'm going to be the music director for the Jazz Minnesota. Big band that will be playing at Crooners on October 8th with our very special guest Joey DeFracesco on the organ. I have been playing with the orchestra since its inception and love the group.

They're kind of going through some transitions, so I expect that they'll have several different MDs, music directors this season.

CATHY WURZER: Part of what I really like about this segment here, Pete, is that we ask musicians what they're listening to, what they're into. And it's fun to listen to them explain why a certain piece touches them. So I'm going to play another tune. OK, I'm going to try to pronounce this. It's "El Perseguidor." I think. Is that right?

PETE WHITMAN: "El Perseguidor."

CATHY WURZER: Got it. OK, this is by the Quintet Mississippi. Let's take a listen.

[MUSIC - QUINTENT MISSISSIPI]

I like it a lot. What do you love about this particular piece?

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, well, it's kind of Coltrane meets Afro-Cuban music. And it was composed by Andres Prado, who's a wonderful guitarist composer from Peru who happened to be in Minnesota for a couple of years and he formed a quintet, Peter Schimke, Kevin Washington, Jeff Bailey and myself. It was the Andres Prado Quintet. And we played his compositions, which were Afro-Peruvian.

And so this piece is one of his Afro-Latin modern jazz. And Andres basically just flipped us all out. He was such a great musician and he had a different way of feeling time than maybe the Brazilian and Cuban and some of the more familiar Latin jazz styles. It just blew our minds the way he would phrase, the way he played time, the way he would blend these cultures, bridge them together. And it became an amazing education for all of us that were in the group. And that group eventually became Mississippi.

CATHY WURZER: Let me ask you, because, of course, you-- thanks for painting the picture of the group Mississippi and the various-- and the musical style. Talk about just the Twin Cities as a place for jazz, right? How is it evolving?

PETE WHITMAN: I think the Twin Cities has become much more diverse in the last 20 years. And it's really making the music in general go in all kinds of different directions. I think there are a lot more African musicians and Latin musicians. And it's coming out in the music. So I think it's a very creative time. This area has always been really good about supporting the arts, and so there's a lot going on. A lot of live music and a lot of venues that do support live music.

CATHY WURZER: Which is great. Which is great. You can just see how the scene has really changed, you're right, in the past even 10 years or so.

PETE WHITMAN: Yeah.

CATHY WURZER: And it's been fun to watch that evolution. You sent along something else with Chris Olsen. I'm going to play another piece here. This is called "Life After." This is off the album Changes We Can Believe In. And this is what Chris Olsen.

[MUSIC - PETE WHITMAN, CHRIS OLSEN, "LIFE AFTER"]

Now, this is bright. I like this. It's got some cool energy to it.

PETE WHITMAN: Yeah. I guess "Life After" is kind of my way of dealing with my transition to older age. But I want to keep going, I want to keep taking chances. I don't want to slow down even though I'm sure I probably will have to at some point. But the form of the tune is there's a saxophonist that's named Kenny Garrett who I'm very fond of. It's me trying to write a tune inspired by Kenny Garrett.

CATHY WURZER: OK. Let me ask you something. I always wanted to ask this of a jazz musician, because when I watch you guys up on stage, you just seem like you are so enveloped in the music. So when you're up there playing sax, what do you-- are you thinking about something in particular or are you letting the music just kind of come through you, flow through you? I don't know, is there any thought process to what you're doing exactly?

PETE WHITMAN: Well, the less thinking the better. Because if I'm thinking, that's getting in the way of organic reaction. Sometimes you're thinking about logistics. where's the microphone or how's everything going. Is something going wrong how? Do I deal with it? But if everything's going well, hopefully you're not thinking much. You're just kind of experiencing it. Because thinking usually will goof things up.

CATHY WURZER: And it's clear that, as I say, when I'm watching, it's just this great picture of people that are immersed in the music. And I love watching that. Thank you for that gift.

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, well, thank you. And I will say for a live music performance, it's so much about the audience. All this COVID, where we were doing some broadcasts from venues without an audience present. It's just not the same. But as soon as you can just feel energy coming back, it creates this amazing cycle. That's, for me, what it's really about.

CATHY WURZER: All right, I wish you well. Hey, thanks for stopping by and talking.

PETE WHITMAN: Oh, well, thank you for having me. It's a great pleasure. I'm a fan of your show.

CATHY WURZER: Likewise. Mutual fan club here. Thank you so much.

PETE WHITMAN: Thank you, Cathy.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

CATHY WURZER: What fun talking to Twin Cities musician, composer, and educator Pete Whitman.

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