Today on the blog get to know musical wunderkind Matthew Whitaker who Ann Meier Baker—National Endowment for the Arts Director of Music and Opera—calls “unfailingly positive… and unbelievably talented.”
I first met Matthew Whitaker on his 16th birthday, when he performed in front of a large audience at the 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Tribute Concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He appeared that evening in honor of Dr. Lonnie Smith, who was being inducted into that class of NEA Jazz Masters. Whitaker—who was born prematurely and later diagnosed with retinopathy of prematurity, which caused permanent blindness—brought the house down playing Jimmy Smith’s composition “Mellow Mood” on the Hammond B3. Fast forward three years and today the nineteen-year-old jazz multi-instrumentalist and composer/arranger has already accomplished more than many musicians could hope for in a lifetime. I caught up with him again last week by phone, soon after he did a livestream benefit performance to raise funds for jazz musicians with COVID-19 through the Jazz Foundation of America, a National Endowment for the Arts grantee. At the end of our conversation he told me that I did an “amazing job” with the interview, which was quintessential Matthew Whitaker: unfailingly positive. And, oh yeah, unbelievably talented.