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There I was sitting with my uncle Peanuts, whos literally a legend in a kind of musical microcosm… someone whos played with Nat King Cole, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald. Once I asked David Sanborn if he knew him and he said, Of course I do. Who doesnt know Peanuts Whalum? So my resolution this year was, I am going to somehow document what my Uncle Peanuts does To have him sit there and play songs for me Oh goodness. It was such an experience! It was hard for me to concentrate on what I was doing. Everything he played I loved. 90% of the songs I didnt know. I thought I knew a lot of Jazz standards— but, around someone like him, you know nothing. This man is a giant hes a five foot five giant.
- Kirk Whalum

In the category of Talent Deserving Wider Recognition and Best Kept Musical Secret, Hugh Peanuts Whalum shines with unparalleled brightness. On his self-titled debut on Rendezvous Entertainment, the singer, composer and multi-instrumentalist stamps pop, swing, jazz, blues and gospel standards, underexposed classics and inspired originals with his exquisite vocal sensibilities and instrumental savvy, playing both piano and tenor saxophone.

Spanning decades and crossing genres and generations, the 75-years-young Peanuts musicality and sensitivity find perfect expression on the 10 tracks of an album that is both timeless and classic. Produced by his nephew, Kirk Whalum (the chart-topping, No. 1-selling saxophonist who has been relentlessly occupying the top of the charts for that past few years), Hugh Peanuts Whalum takes his place among the great interpretative singers and instrumentalists of all time: Tony Bennett, Johnny Matthis, Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole, among others.

Backing the singer is a stellar band formed around Peanuts trio (the artist himself on piano, tenor sax and vocals) with Rob Block on guitar and Jeff Anderson on bass. The A-list of players includes nephew Kirk joining in on saxophone, Rick Jackson (Amy Grant, Larry Carlton) on additional keys, Chester Thompson (of Genesis fame) on drums, and Lalo Davila on percussion. Additionally, a special guest appearance is made by Kenneth Whalum, III (Peanuts and Kirks grand nephew and nephew respectively).

Although Hugh Peanuts Whalum is a fixture in the city that gave birth to the blues, St. Louis, this gracious gentleman was born in Memphis. A few years ago, he says with a laugh. I began playing violin when I was eight. I had six lessons, which is all the formal musical training I ever had. From the violin, he moved on to the cornet and a spot in the YMCA band. He and his three brothers were also an in-demand quartet in Memphis and the surrounding areas, where they opened for their father, a well-respected orator and lecturer. Peanuts continued on trumpet through his third year in college, when one of the tenor saxes in the swing band finished college and there was no one to take his place, so I started goofing around with tenor saxophone and that turned out to be the calling, if you will.

As a member of the Central State Collegians, he played Carnegie Hall, sharing the stage with Woody Herman, Billy Eckstine, Peggy Lee and Ella Fitzgerald. He and his college cohorts (including the renowned Frank Foster) were called in on a gig in Dayton, Ohio, when the band that was hired to back Billy Eckstine cancelled. Eckstine was so impressed that when he played Indianapolis, Peanuts and company were brought in once again. On this particular night, Peanuts recalls, Jazz At The Philharmonic was in town So look whos coming to see Eckstine, but Ella Fitzgerald, Lester Young, Howard McGee, etc. They sat in, so I played with young and McGee and behind Ella.

Following graduation (with a degree in chemistry), he toured with the Lionel Hampton Band on tenor sax, ultimately relocating to St. Louis, playing solo piano at hotels, theatres and clubs around the city, gigging on sax with the likes of Miles Davis and Ed Thigpen when they came to town. I have a picture with Miles and Ed, Peanuts chuckles. Were wearing Zoot suits. In the 50s, as part of the Jeeter-Pillars band, Peanuts played behind Nat King Cole and his trio. Whenever Nat would come on and be announced, Ladys and Gentlemen, Nat King Cole, the first thing Nat would say is, Id like to introduce you to my friend. Hed call me out of the band to come and play with him. So every song he played, I played with him that didnt strike me then, but jeez, I think about it now, and say Whoa, was that me? Was that really me?

It may be hard for Peanuts to believe, but for anyone listening to the musical magic on Hugh Peanuts Whalum, it makes perfect sense.

Although long known for his distinction on tenor saxophone, vocals finally took center stage for Peanuts when a club he was playing couldnt afford a trio during Lent, as business would fall off in a highly Catholic part of the city. Peanuts volunteered to do a solo gig, singing and playing the piano. Youve never seen me scuffle like that. That week I went to work. I couldnt play anything, but I could sing and when someone would request a song, Id try to find something complementary, key-wise, on the piano. Id sit there and play, laughing. Do you know business picked up business picked up during Lent.

With Hugh Peanuts Whalum, business is bound to pick up again. Romantic and elegant, Peanuts and his velvet voice imbue every lyric with added meaning and subtlety. His choice of material is impeccable. Covers of songs like the Elvis perennial, I Cant Help Falling, and Frank Sinatras Why Try To Change Me Now find perfect balance alongside Sammy Cahns rarely recorded lyrical gem Its Always Four A.M. (music by Ron Anthony). The latter becomes one of the most evocative and atmospheric songs in memory, making it hard to imagine that anyone but Peanuts could match the songs bittersweet eloquence. Producer Kirk Whalum says, Its the kind of lyric thats so magical, so carefully thought out. It tells a story, has depth such a great twist of imagination to say, When youre all alone, its always four a.m.

Other standout tracks include I Dont Know Why, The Best Man and Beautiful Friendship. Rounding out the romance is album-opener Ill Close My Eyes which has been recorded by everyone from Cannonball Adderley to Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore and Dinah Washington. Peanuts makes it entirely his own, with delightful nuance and shading. The song came out in 40s or 50s; its always been very special and dear to me, but the versions back then were slow. On this one, I bounced a bit.

One song that has special meaning for the Whalum family is Kirkanhugh, an instrumental originally written by Peanuts in the 50s and newly adapted for him and Kirk for this record. Kirkanhugh is a tenor tour de force that swings and percolates with Kirk and Peanuts trading solos and offering some tasty tandem playing reminiscent of Sing, Sing, Sing and other big band favorites.

The album closes with some traditional gospel flavor on I Wanna Be Ready. Kirk says, When we did the vocal part, we got in there altogether singing, walk in Jerusalem, just like John, and we were stomping on the floor to signify the walking part. We had a blast.

Its a fitting close to an album that is, in all respects, heaven to listen to. Hugh Peanuts Whalum is a secret that cant be kept any longer. If his reputation reaches as far as his inspired talent, hell be a legend not only in St. Louis (where hes considered a local treasure) and with jazz insiders, but also around the world.

Hugh Peanuts Whalum, the one and only, is unequivocally a giant. With any luck, and God Willing, as Peanuts is want to say, this man, who should be a household name, soon will be.

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