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WBGO's Gift of Jazz to You: A Concert by Matthew Whitaker, From Yamaha Studio NYC

Matthew Whitaker

“I hear this is the hottest ticket in town,” said one of WBGO’s Jazz Leadership Society members at Yamaha Studio NYC, before a concert by the Matthew Whitaker Quintet.

Outside, it was a cold, brisk night on Fifth Avenue, but the energy in the room felt warm and cozy like a family gathering. And when our guest of honor walked out onstage to the piano and an adjacent organ, the crowd burst into a round of applause before a single note had been played. Matthew is quite special in that way; he seems to bring joy to a room whether he’s playing or not.

But playing is something he was unmistakably born to do. I think many of us know Matthew’s story: he was born prematurely, and doctors gave him little to no chance of doing many of the things he does today. At age 3, he taught himself how to play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” on a toy Yamaha keyboard.

WBGO's Gift of Jazz to You: A Concert by Matthew Whitaker, From Yamaha Studios NYC

On this evening, now 20, he sent the audience into another world with his powerful, thoughtful, and one-of-a-kind compositions. Originals like “Journey Uptown” make you feel like your feet are firmly planted (and moving) in one of the world’s most historic neighborhoods, while his spin on a Dave Brubeck classic like “Blue Rondo A La Turk” is one you have never (and I do mean ever!) heard before.

Matthew performed these and other songs from his new album, Connections, featuring Marco Robinson on guitar, Karim Hutton on bass, Isaiah Johnson on drums and Ivan Llanes on percussion. The musicianship between these gentlemen is not something you often see, but we’re honored to bring you this amazing performance via a special livestream on Friday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. — our gift to you this holiday season!

Nicole Sweeney is a Queens-born, Long Island-raised music lover. Growing up in New York with West Indian parents, she was surrounded by all types of music every day and the influence of jazz was constant.