Matthew Whitaker – On Their Shoulders: An Organ Tribute

MOCAT Records - Available
Matthew Whitaker - On Their Shoulders: An Organ Tribute

Matthew Whitaker is one of the greatest current jazz organists, who, with this album, pays a vibrant tribute to his predecessors. Whitaker is an artist who knows where he is going because he knows where he comes from. His new recording “On Their Shoulders: An Organ Tribute” is his sincere seven-track homage to the pioneers of the Hammond B-3 organ who paved the way for him. Among them are “The Organ Grinder’s Swing” by Jimmy Smith; “Happy ‘Cause I’m Goin’ Home” by Charles Earland, “Pilgrimage” by Dr. Lonnie Smith, “In The Key of the Universe” by Joey DeFrancesco, and the festive “Expect Your Miracle” by gospel organist Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark of the Clark Sisters. The album also includes two studio jam sessions: the Latin-tinged “Yessaah” and the Afro-futuristic hip-hop “Don’t Count Me Out.” It is noteworthy that this album almost follows a historical chronology in its tracks, and Matthew Whitaker imposes his style, which I would describe as almost rock, as the energy developed throughout this album electrifies us.

Matthew Whitaker states, “The idea to do this project came from playing a lot of these tracks and listening to these artists while growing up,” says Whitaker. “I listened to Jimmy Smith a long time ago, and I love the way his trio interacted musically. I remember my uncle playing Charles Earland for me. And I remember how it grooved all the way through without stopping. Dr. Lonnie Smith was so down-to-earth, from the moment I met him until his passing. And every time I went to see him live, he always played ‘Pilgrimage’ and would always invite me on stage to play it too. I also saw Joey DeFrancesco growing up, and his wife suggested I record ‘In The Key of the Universe.’ Elbernita ‘Twinkie’ Clark is another one I had the chance to see live and interact with. I saw her play ‘Expect Your Miracle’ at a concert last January. And I was like, oh… I have to do that!”

Even more impressive is knowing that this excellent artist is blind; one can easily imagine all that his brain has recorded over the years, which undoubtedly adds a form of depth to this album that we very rarely see in this type of album. I am personally in awe of his interpretation of “Expect Your Miracle” and “Yessah.” It is clear that Matthew Whitaker projects his art into a post-industrial form, playing with the most sophisticated rhythms and making his organ vibrate with his deepest passion.

Whitaker has played, produced, and composed the music for the Emmy-nominated short documentary “Matthew Whitaker: About Tomorrow” on All Arts, and he also wrote the soundtrack for the short film “Starkeisha” for ESPN’s Landscape platform, currently streaming on HULU. He was also featured in “The Greatest,” an Emmy-nominated Apple commercial highlighting the company’s accessibility features that help disabled people solve daily challenges. Whitaker was the musical director of “Billy Strayhorn: Something To Live For,” a musical about the composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn, which premiered in Pittsburgh. Whitaker has 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-musician Bulgarian Symphony Orchestra in Sofia, Bulgaria. Matthew Whitaker certainly does not lack projects, which we will follow with great interest, as he says, “I look forward to doing more projects with other artists,” he says. “One thing I love to do is collaborate. I hope to do more of that. I want to highlight my original music, but I also hope to one day do tributes on piano and drums.” So yes, we will be here patiently waiting for the realization of his projects, hoping to pin them, like this one, to the stack of my “Essential” albums.

Thierry De Clemensat
USA correspondent – Paris-Move and ABS magazine
Editor in chief Bayou Blue Radio, Bayou Blue News

PARIS-MOVE, June 24th 2024

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To buy this album


  1. The Organ Grinder’s Swing (5:43) Will Hudson, Irving Mills, Mitchell Parish
  2. Happy Cause I’m Goin’ Home (7:04) Robert Lamm
  3. Yessaah (3:25) Matthew Whitaker
  4. Pilgrimage (7:56) Lonnie Smith
  5. In The Key Of The Universe (7:00) Joey DeFrancesco
  6. Expect Your Miracle (5:50) Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark Terrell
  7. Don’t Count Me Out (5:23) Matthew Whitaker