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Teachers Rodney Whitaker


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My son had a drum set in our basement. That meant that we had the band in our basement. For a while, a teenaged Rodney Whitaker was contributing to the sounds coming up  from the basement to the parents upstairs. This was my introduction to Rodney. The band sometimes got gigs on Mack Ave where Marcus Belgrave would occasionally come and offer his support. Marcus recalls standing up and hushing the crowd so that he could better hear the band and then sitting in.. Growing up in Detroit playing jazz is like that. Marcus and others would take the time to give a gentle but firm push to those young players who were willing to listen and work. Rodney was a world class learner and listener. Rodney has never stopped learning nor teaching. Rodney Whitaker, today, is a robust giant in jazz and in life.  He is respected for the depth of his understanding of the music and its roots. He is the sum of all those who guided him and those whose lives he has enriched.

Rodney currently is the Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University where he is also a professor of Jazz Bass.  musicians. He has taught master classes at Howard University, University of Iowa, University of Michigan, Barbican in London, the New School (NY), Lincoln Center, and the Detroit International Jazz Festival. In addition he has served on the faculties of University of Michigan and Julliard Institute of Jazz.

Considered one of the world’s finest double bass players he has been featured on over 100 jazz recordings and appeared with countless legendary players, including seven years with his friend Wynton Marsalis’ septet.  He has found time to be a member of the Jazz at the Lincoln Center Orchestra, the Detroit Jazz Orchestra and appear at venues and events around the world.

Rodney has balanced all these achievements with a solid commitment to his family and community. He has never forgotten those who nourished him and took some time to listen as he found his voice. Rodney Whitaker is one more example of Detroit’s tradition of giving back.

Rodney and his daughter,Rockelle Fortin, can be heard on their latest Mack Avenues release: When We Find Ourselves Alone

John Osler

Rodney’s infectious smile can be seen in the discussion below with his daughter Rockelle.


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