Some 14 years had passed between the release of trumpeter, composer and bandleader Pharez Whitted’s second album and the release of his third and latest, Transient Journey (Owl Studios), which became available at various retail outlets a couple weeks ago. Was it worth the wait? Is the record good? Yes, it was. And, yes, it is. Very good.
There are 11 songs here, all written by Whitted and all utilizing his regular working band: guitarist Bobby Broom, pianist Ron Perrillo, bassist Dennis Carroll, tenor/soprano saxophonist Eddie Bayard and drummer Greg Artry. The material ranges from upbeat hard-boppish stuff to sturdy balladry and tone poems. All of it is done well and with great spirit. And, as jazz journalist Neil Tesser observes in the album’s liner notes, “Throughout the album — throughout all of Pharez’s music, really — the spirit of Freddie Hubbard hovers nearby. Hubbard’s extravagant, virtuosic trumpet work of the ’60s and ’70s had a massive influence on plenty of trumpeters. But few have managed to channel it as effectively as Pharez Whitted, who honors the late giant with his combination of intensity and technique, spank and sparkle, and that hot-cider tone.”
When Hubbard was alive, he and Whitted were friends. It was through Whitted’s large and musically accomplished family that he first encountered Hubbard and his music. Pharez’s parents — drummer Thomas Whitted Sr. and singing bassist Virtue Hampton Whitted — had been members of a jazz orchestra called the Hampton Band that also included five of his uncles (trombonist Slide Hampton among them) and three of his aunts. His three older brothers are musicians, and one of his sisters a singer. His father played drums with Hubbard in the 1950s, before the trumpeter moved from Indianapolis to New York.
Pharez went on to earn a master’s in jazz studies at Indiana University. He signed with MoJazz in 1994 and recorded two CDs, but found himself at odds with the label with respect to musical direction. “I was hearing something else,” he says now. “We musicians reject the fact that the commercial world is forcing us to do something, but then the jazz world is trying to force us to do something else again. The music you play should be something people want to listen to. I try to live down the middle. That’s where the music usually comes from, and that’s where I am.
“Some jazz musicians say, ‘This isn’t enough,’ and the commercial world says ‘This is too much,’” he 49-year-old trumpeter continues. “But I’ve always believed: Be yourself. Motown didn’t allow me to do that, and that was my frustration. Owl seems to be pretty free — ‘do your thing, let’s roll with it.’”
Since becoming Chicago State University’s director of jazz studies in 2001, Whitted has immersed himself in the city’s vibrant jazz scene. He’s played with, among others, legendary saxophonists Ari Brown and Von Freeman, and for the past six years he’s been a member of the 17-piece Chicago Jazz Ensemble, led by Jon Faddis. He formed his own sextet four years ago and finally overcame his reluctance to record. The result is Transient Journey.
Whitted plans to feature the music of the new CD with his band at several upcoming shows, including the Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis on June 4 and 5, and the Green Mill in Chicago on June 25 and 26. He’s also planning to do some writing this summer. “Not sure what the configuration is gonna be,” he says. “It could be different, but it’ll be me, with new music.”