On Their Shoulders: An Organ Tribute
Release Date: June 14, 2024
Label: MOCAT Records

On Their Shoulders: An Organ Tribute, is Matthew Whitaker's soulful, 7-track shout-out to the Hammond B-3 organ pioneers who paved the way for him. They include “The Organ Grinder’s Swing” by Jimmy Smith; Charles Earland’s “Happy ‘Cause I’m Goin’Home,” Dr. Lonnie Smith’s “Pilgrimage,” Joey DeFrancesco’s “In The Key of the Universe,” and the festive “Expect Your Miracle” by gospel organist Elbernita “Twinkie” Clarke of The Clarke Sisters. The recording also contains two in-studio jam sessions: the Latin-tinged, “Yessaah,” and the Afrofuturist, hip-hop-pulsed, “Don’t Count Me Out.” The album streets on June 14, 2024, via MOCAT Records. 

 “The idea to do this project [came from] playing a lot of these songs, and listening to those artists growing up,” Whitaker says. “I was listening to Jimmy Smith a long time ago, and I just love the way that his trio interacted with each other musically. I remember my uncle playing Charles Earland for me. And I remember how it just grooved all the way through nonstop. Dr. Lonnie Smith was so down to earth, from the time I met him until his passing. And every time I’d go see him live, he would always play ‘Pilgrimage,’ and he would always invite me on stage to play it as well. I also saw Joey De Francesco growing up, and his wife suggested that I record ‘In The Key of the Universe.’ Elbernita “Twinkie” Clarke was another one that I've had a chance to see live and interact with. I saw her play “Expect Your Miracle” at a concert she did last January. And I was like, oh …I have to do this!”

Whitaker’s latest album is his fourth release as a leader. His other releases include Connections (2021), produced by bassist Derrick Hodge, which features a duet with Jon Batiste, Now Hear This (2019), produced by Grammy-winning producer Brian Bacchus, and his debut, Outta The Box (2017) with Christian McBride and guitarist Dave Stryker.  Those records featured Whitaker’s take on compositions by Chick Corea and Ahmad Jamal, as well as his own songs.

Whitaker’s music is an offshoot of his determination to pursue his dreams, regardless of the obstacles in his path. Born on April 3, 2001, premature and blind since birth, Whitaker showed signs of tremendous musical talent at the age of three when his grandfather gave him a keyboard. “I first started playing when I was really little,” Whitaker recollects. “I played a pipe organ when I was five”. He became a child prodigy, mastering the Hammond organ at the age of nine, and four years later, was the youngest organist to be endorsed by that company. He became fluent in jazz, gospel, blues, Latin, and many other musical genres, on piano and drums.

One of the most memorable moments of his life occurred when he won first place in the Child Stars of Tomorrow Competition at the Apollo Theater, also when he was nine. “When I was up there on that stage, I was like, Yeah, this is something I want to do,” Whitaker fondly recalled. “I played in smaller situations where I'm just playing in front of teachers and parents and stuff like that, but not anything that [big].” The next year, Whitaker was invited to perform at the Apollo for Stevie Wonder’s induction into the theater’s Hall of Fame.

Whitaker’s many awards and citations include the “Outstanding Soloist Award” from Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Charles Mingus and Essentially Ellington High School Competitions and Festivals. In 2019, he won The Herb Alpert Young Jazz Composers Award for his composition “Emotions!” Whitaker studied at The Harlem School of the Arts, is an alumnus of the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School in New York City, and is a 2023 graduate of Juilliard, majoring in Jazz Piano.

Whitaker starred, produced, and scored the All Arts Emmy-nominated short documentary, “Matthew Whitaker: About Tomorrow,” and he also wrote the score for the motion picture short, “Starkeisha,” for ESPN’s Landscape platform; currently streaming on HULU. He was also cast in "The Greatest,” an Emmy-nominated Apple commercial highlighting the company's accessibility features, which help people with disabilities solve everyday challenges. Whitaker served as musical director for “Billy Strayhorn: Something To Live For,” a musical about composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, which debuted in Pittsburgh. Whitaker also appeared as a guest soloist for the Aspen Chamber Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa, and he composed a song for the 82-piece Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra, in Sofia, Bulgaria.

With so much accomplishment in such a short period of time, we can look forward to what Matthew Whitaker will create. “I'm definitely looking forward to doing more projects with other artists,” he declares. “One thing that I love to do is collaborate. I hope to do that more. I want to feature my original music, but I also hope to one day do some piano and drum tributes as well.”