Matthew Whitaker is a 22-year-old jazz pianist from Hackensack, New Jersey. He has performed on the Ellen DeGeneres Show and been featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes. Whitaker has played Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center, and the Weill Recital Hall, to name a few. He began music lessons at the age of 5, and has been learning under his teacher Dalia Sakas since he was a child. Although Whitaker was born blind, his music and arrangement capabilities are not to be overshadowed by his condition. Whitaker has a vibrant stage persona, and in-person, he was as genuine as he is kind. On his way to meet us at the media tent, fans stopped him nearly every step of the way for pictures and greetings.
Anna of WRIU spoke with Whitaker after his performance on the Harbor stage [edited for brevity]:
A: What was it like to take this historic Newport stage today?
M: Oh my gosh, it felt amazing to be on stage – shout out to everyone that was there, and everyone for making it possible. We really appreciate you. It’s my second time back here, so it’s good to be back here, after a long time.
A: Many great artists, such as Coltrane, Davis, and Ray Charles have taken this stage, could you feel some of that history while you were up there today?
M: Oh yeah, definitely. I felt all the vibes, from everyone, from onstage, to the audience.
A: Dalia Sakas has been your piano teacher since you were 5 – how would you say that relationship, as well as relationships with others that are close to you, have influenced your music and your development?
M: She’s been a huge inspiration to me, especially in Classical piano playing. The fact that I am still working with her today, I am really grateful.
A: What do you hope the audience gets from your music?
M: Honestly, as long as everyone is having a fun time, that’s what matters to me.
A: Can we expect any new music soon?
M: An organ tribute On Their Shoulders. An organ tribute to Jimmy Smith, Rhoda Scott, and more.
A: What advice would you give to young musicians:
M: Follow your dreams, do not let anyone tell you you can’t do something, always have fun, and keep working on your craft.