The Gospel According to Jazz Christmas at Clayborne Temple 

Kirk Whalum's coming home for an all-star Christmas concert benefitting Memphis' history-rich Clayborn Temple. The jazz saxophonist won't be here for long, though. He just returned from Africa long enough to tour with A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas shows. After a few more dates stateside, he'll be playing Japan.

Not so very long ago, Whalum thought he was moving home to Memphis, settling down, and touring less, but he blew it. The 12-time Grammy nominee became a first-time winner in 2011 and suddenly found himself busier than ever.

click to enlarge Kirk Whalum
  • Kirk Whalum

"I said I'd never move home," Whalum says, still a little surprised he ever did. "My wife and I moved [back to] Memphis after more than a few times having literally said 'I will never move back.' We lived in L.A. for a while, and we lived in Paris. Then, 10 years ago, my father got really sick, and we thought maybe we'd go home for a while and regroup. Then we'll move to New York. We've never lived there before." Whalum never made it to Manhattan, though. "We fell in love with Memphis," he explains. "It just kind of hit us sideways."

Whalum's show for Clayborn Temple, the former home base for Memphis' striking sanitation workers, promises to mix equal parts jazz, gospel, and R&B.

"You can be an atheist and have a blast," Whalum says of A Gospel According to Jazz Christmas, a show he also describes as being "unabashedly" about the birth of Christ. "I thought there was probably a niche for people who want to celebrate Christmas and bring their kids, but they may not be churchgoers. They may not be gospel music fans. So this is a little of all of that. And the cool thing is, I get to bring a couple of my really, really good friends who are world-renowned artists, like Grammy-winning guitarist Norman Brown and Keiko Matsui, who's one of the best pianists in the world. We also have Sheléa, a vocalist who's been performing with Stevie Wonder for the last two years. And I played with Whitney Houston, so when I say she's killing it, she's killing it."

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