Presence, the new album by pianist and composer Brad Whiteley, is out on Destiny Records. The melodic and textured release, the New York artist's second as a leader, highlights 11 original Whiteley compositions played by and a stellar NYC band including tenor saxophonist Michael Eaton, electric guitarist Tom Guarna, double bassist Matt Pavolka, and drummer Kenneth Salters
“New York pianist-organist Brad Whiteley offers more than a smart record. He shows us how it’s done.”
– DownBeat on Whiteley’s debut Destiny album, Pathless Land
All About Jazz, praising the concision and accessibility of Whiteley’s music, has marveled at how “easy and enjoyable” his brand of jazz can be – qualities that continue on Presence, even with the pianist’s increasing ambitions as a composer and bandleader. Above all, Whiteley seeks to convey “the power of song.” He says: “That’s a lesson I learned on the road performing with Regina Spektor. Her band is like a small chamber ensemble, and even playing the material night after night around the world, I never tire of her songs, because they’re just so good. I’ve worked with a lot of singers now – not only Regina, but also Kellylee Evans, Ben l’Oncle Soul, workshops for a musical with David Byrne – and it’s all about the song, heightened by the performance. With Presence, I strived for the tunes to be as strong as possible, with the composed material on equal footing with the improvised parts. And I always play to the core of a song when improvising, thinking melodically and structurally. I also learned lessons about the power of song in my gig with the church in the Bronx – each number you play is an attempt to move people, spiritually and emotionally. That’s something I keep with me in whatever music I play.”
The artfully textured arrangements of Presence are tailor-made for the top-flight band, with the players having close connections. “Reflecting on the breadth of material I drew on for inspiration makes me realize how much I appreciate the group on the record,” Whiteley says. “Each player was great at adapting to the different styles and bringing his own approach to the tunes. I’ve known Michael Eaton for 16 years – we met at Indiana University. It’s special to have such a long musical relationship with a friend. He’s an amazing musician, who has huge ears and perfect pitch, as well as an open mind about music and the world. I love the guitar tones Tom Guarna produced for this record, and he fits in so well, from the free sections to his soaring solo on the title track. Matt Pavolka also sounds incredible – I love the way he grooves on all of these styles, from drum’n’bass to free to swing. Kenneth Salters, who also played on my first album, is one of my oldest friends in New York City, plus one of the best drummers I know. He makes it seem effortless, from complicated polyrhythms to straight-ahead grooving.”
The title of Presence stems from Whiteley creating the album while his wife was expecting. “The new ‘presence’ is here now, and she is going to be 2-years-old soon,” the pianist explains. “So, the title refers to having a child come into your world, but it also touches upon the idea of being present in the musical moment, even during the chaos and excitement of becoming a parent. Being fully present and genuine while writing, performing and collaborating with other musicians is what leads to the most meaningful music-making, it seems to me. That ideal of being present in the moment also extends to performing for people – I want to be aware of the audience and open to the people listening. After all, when it comes to music, listening is pretty much everything.”
Already a veteran performer on television, Whiteley has appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Colbert Report, The Late Show with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Good Morning America and CBS Saturday Morning. He also composed the music for, and appears in, the PBS Learning Matters show School Sleuth. Whiteley has been the music director and pipe organist of the Church of the Blessed Sacrament in the Bronx since 2010, and he has performed as keyboardist in the pit band of Avenue Q on Broadway since 2017. Born in 1980 and a native of Upstate New York, he received his master’s degree from the Indiana University School of Music and his bachelor’s degree from DePauw University, with further studies at the Mancini Institute, the Banff Centre and Aspen Music Festival.