Pianist Harry Whitaker, a staple of the downtown NYC jazz scene passed away on Wednesday 11/17/10 from what appears to have been a heart attack. Although his health had been declining over the last couple of years, Mr. Whitaker performed frequently at Fat Cat Billiards and Smalls, both religious institutions in the West Village jazz scene. Born in 1942, Whitaker cut his teeth playing with Slide Hampton in 1965 at the young age of twenty-two before joining vibraphonist Roy Ayers band in 1970.
Harry can be heard on the breakthrough Ayers recording “We Live in Brooklyn Baby” and went on to work with vocalist Robert Flack during her most commercial and successful years beginning in the mid-1970s. Known for his blistering technical command of various styles of music, the passing of Harry Whitaker marks the end of an era. An era in which jazz musicians blurred the lines between jazz, funk, R&B and gospel and did so without apologies or explanation.
Mr. Whitaker was one of the original performers at the first Small’s and up until recently he continued to perform with his quartet which featured drummer Brandon Lewis, bassist Renee Cruz and alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity. R.I.P. Harry!!!! You’ll be missed.