Wilmington Jazz drummer Johnathan Whitney performed songs from his debut album Friday in the latest installment of the new online Clifford Brown Year Round concert series.
Whitney composed all the songs during his time as artist-in-residence at The Episcopal Church of Saints Andrew and Matthew in Wilmington.
The online Clifford Brown Year Round series debuted last month, prompted by the success of translating the annual public concert into a virtual one this year when COVID-19 shut everything down. While the city’s jazz festival is usually a staple of summer, the digital version allows concerts to show up monthly.
“In a time of separation and uncertainty we still have the ability to connect through music,” says Wilmington Cultural Affairs Director Tina Betz, “The year-round concert series is a chance for people to gather in their homes and really get to experience not just the music but to connect with musicians through question and answer. It’s an incredible opportunity for all jazz-lovers and a boost for the local arts and music scene.”
Whitney’s event served as a release party for his CD with his band The Whitney Project. The album is called “Life’s Dimensions.” The musicians performed live before a small audience at the Christiana Cultural Arts Center on Market Street for the event. Limited in-person tickets are $25 and digital-only tickets are $10. Buy them here.
Whitney also is the 2020 Delaware Division of the Arts Established Artist Fellow in Jazz Composition, manager of Performance Programs and Community Engagement at the Delaware Art Museum and a civic activist. He was one of the masterminds behind the group painting boarded up stores in downtown Wilmington after the protests in early summer.
“All the pieces were written for jazz vespers at SsAM,” Whitney says. “Each piece was paired with a reading.”
That reading could have been from Martin Luther King Jr., Maya Angelou, Hildegarde of Bingen or The Bible, he said.
Some of the readings and songs specifically reference violence in Wilmington, the national climate and the human family.
Five of the pieces are written about paintings by Wilmington artist Eunice LaFate.
Those who watched Friday’s concert got a bonus: Betz interviewed Whitney and LaFate about their collaboration.
Then, she sat down with Whitney’s parents to talk about his life and inspiration.
“And that’s just straight-up scary,” Whitney said before the show, with a laugh.
His parents, Jonathan and Patricia Whitney, live in Newark, and both Jonathans are drummers.
The son says his earlier memory is from age 3 or 4, when he skipped going to daycare after school and instead went to a friend’s house and then walked home because he knew that a brand new full-size gold-colored Ludwig rock drum set was being delivered.
He thought he’d get away with it because his mother and father would be at work. HIs dad was at home, though.
“Somehow, I got in the house,” Whitney says.