Kirk Whalum

Kirk Whalum Previews Documentary at the Grammy Museum

The Grammy Museum recently welcomed Grammy-winning jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum for an evening of conversation and performance. Hosted by moderator Scott Goldman, the event kicked off with a preview of the new feature-length Whalum documentary Humanité: The Beloved Community. Created in conjunction with his latest album release, Humanité, the film features interviews and music from international artists that appear on the record. Rising above poverty and civil rights issues and embracing compassion and creativity through music to create harmony in a diverse world are the themes.

“The film began as a selfish thing, and that is a 60th birthday present to myself,” says Whalum, before tonight’s event. “I felt this thing that ‘You’re at this cusp. You need to be doing right now what you are intended to do.' How about I just get on the plane and go to one place. and then I went to another place, and that’s how it began. What you saw is promptly the work of an artist and a filmmaker named Jim Hanon—he shot the movie himself. The whole movie is about collaborations, and collaboration between Jim and myself.

“It started as documenting me making a record in all these places,” says Whalum. “I started traveling rediscovering young artists from other countries. Some I had already encountered in South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria and India. Music is so global now, so the genesis of this project was to represent my contribution to the world. We can all collaborate across these boundaries, these self-imposed boundaries, whether it’s culture, race, economic, and for me, I want to go back and capture people I had encountered along the way.  We all need to reach out further outside of our comfort zone. We collectively have a lot of work to do, but that’s how it’s going to be done.”

The new album, Humanité, finds Whalum collaborating with musicians from Japan, Indonesia, South African, the United Kingdom and Kenya. The 14-song release offers an inspiring journey of cover songs and original compositions rooted in jazz, with elements of R&B, gospel and world music.

“I want people to enjoy the songs and have an enjoyable experience with the album,” says Whalum. “The playing is from the heart. It’s collaborating with these great artists that was so special. It represents 40 years of me trying to become a virtuoso on this instrument, so there’s a lot of playing on there that represents a lot of hard work.”

A highly regarded solo artist and session musician, Whalum has worked with some of the biggest names in music, a list that includes Barbara Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Quincy Jones and Whitney Houston, with whom he ended up touring the world. Whalum’s sax solo can be heard on Houston’s classic hit  “I Will Always Love You.”

“On a personal level, it was never all about me being in the smooth jazz circuit here in this country, it was never in the picture,” says Whalum. “What I did see myself doing is being an international artist and being able to impact, again, from the vantage point of my faith because that’s the core of who I am, and what I do, to share this amazing love with people all over the world. I saw myself as bouncing around the world connecting people through music so they could see the beauty that we see as traveling musicians.”

Following the film preview, interview and audience Q&A, Whalum, was joined on stage by South African/New Zealand singer-songwriter Andréa Lisa and vocalist Chantae Cann, performing selections off Humanité. Fans gave  Whalum and his fellow artists a well-deserved standing ovation as they exited the stage.

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Photos by Rob Nagy 2020