Tim Whitehead was born in Liverpool, the son of one of the original writers of Dennis the Menace in the children’s comic, The Beano. His first public performance was as solo clarinettist in his school orchestra’s rendition of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, conducted by his fellow pupil, the now knighted, Sir Simon Rattle. From this promising musical beginning, Tim decided to follow a career in Law, but was pulled back to music, and more specifically jazz, soon after qualifying.
During his career, Tim has played extensively throughout the UK and Europe, and more recently in the USA with American pianist Phil DeGreg. In the 70s he toured with Ian Carr’s Nucleus and Graham Collier Music and won the Young Jazz Musicians of the Year Award with his own band South of the Border in 1977.
In the 80’s he was a member of the groundbreaking big band Loose Tubes, and continued to develop his own music, recording for Spotlite Records and Editions EG – English People (1983) and Decision (1987) with his own bands, featuring at different times John Parricelli, Django Bates, Nic France and Pete Jacobsen. In the 90’s he recorded Authentic and Silence Between Waves, on Ronnie Scott’s Jazz House Label with Dave Barry, Pete Jacobsen and Arnie Somogyi, and received The Andrew Milne Award for Jazz, as well as several other commissions during this period. In 1999 Tim released Personal Standards, an album of soul and pop tunes arranged for jazz quartet, which received widespread interest and critical praise including Jazz Album of the Year in the BBC Music Magazine, and led to an educational project at Trinity College of Music under the same title. In 2000, Contemporary composer Colin Riley and Tim won the Peter Whittingham Award to complete and record Tides with the Homemade Orchestra. This was the beginning of a long term collaboration. Since then the HomeMade Orchestra have toured extensively and received several awards and commissions as well as releasing their second album, Inside Covers in 2005.
In 2004 Tim founded the musicians’ co-operative WayOutWest, which he continued to chair until 2010, presenting regular performances at the Ram Jam Club in Kingston and latterly, The Orange Tree in Richmond, and at local theatres as well as workshops and discussion groups. Early in 2005, Tim toured with the award-winning Italian pianist Giovanni Mirabassi. This led to the release of their album Lucky Boys (in the UK and Japan) in 2006 and since then they have continued to work together both in the UK and Europe. Also during this period, Tim premiered Landscape with Birds, a saxophone concerto by Colin Riley, with the Orchestra Viva. In November 2007 he featured with BBC New Generations Artist Gwilym Simcock in The Free Thinking Festival at St George’s Hall in Liverpool, recorded live for BBC Radio 3, also collaborating with Gospel singer Jennifer Johns on his own piece ‘Let Her Rave’.
In 2008-9 Tim toured and recorded a new work, ‘Nonsense’, co-written with Colin Riley and Liam Noble featuring settings of Children’s Poet Laureate Michael Rosen’s two books of Nonsense poetry, which was performed at The Queen Elizabeth Hall , Southbank Centre in London in The London Jazz Festival 2008.
In 2009 he was the first ever musician Artist in Residence at Tate Britain (funded by an award from The Leverhulme Trust), to research and compose music in response to the work of JMW Turner. During the residency he wrote ‘Colour Beginnings’, a series of compositions written from transcribed improvisations performed in front of and in response to a selection of JMW Turner’s watercolour sketches. The work was performed at Tate Britain in November 2009 following a series of lecture demonstrations in October. The performance was also recorded for release in 2010 and filmed for a profile on the project by Gwynhelek Productions. December 2009 saw a collaboration with Colin Riley and The Royal College Of Music String Orchestra, to perform ‘Landscapes With Birds’ by Riley for tenor and soprano saxes, which Tim performed with them at St James Church Piccadilly in London , and which was also performed at The Royal College Of Music in January 2010.
‘Colour Beginnings’ has been shortlisted again, this time for the Parliamentary All Party Jazz Awards 2011 Album Of The Year.
In 2010 Tim continued touring ‘Nonsense’ with Michael Rosen and The Homemade Orchestra remained active in the Way Out West co-operative, and organised a fund raising concert for the charity ‘Parents For Inclusion’, for whom he served as a trustee. In Autumn he toured and released the CD album ‘Colour Beginnings’, to critical acclaim, receiving a four star review in The Guardian, five stars in The BBC Music Magazine and three in The Times, and was shortlisted for THE BRITISH COMPOSER AWARDS 2010 for ‘Colour Beginnings’.
In 2011 ‘Colour Beginnings’ was again being toured from April onwards, and work began on a new project for young children with Michael Rosen and The Homemade Orchestra, and the album was also shortlisted for Jazz Album Of The Year 2011
In May 2012 Colour Beginnings was performed on WDR German Radio by Tim’s Personal Standards Quartet.
The London Jazz Festival commissioned Tim to compose ‘Turner And The Thames’ for the 2013 and 2014 festivals, which were performed by Tim’s quartet at The Festival Hall Ballroom and The Maritime Museum in Greenwich at the opening of their exhibition ‘Turner And The Sea’. The second stage of the commission is scheduled for three performances at the LJF 2014 and a UK tour in March 2015.
In 2014 Tim collaborated with his daughter Maisie, composing and performing an orchestral score for her dance and aerial show ‘Strung Out’, which was performed at ‘The Place’ (London Contemporary Dance), in February and three performances in The Kingston International Youth Arts Festival in July.
Tim co-founded and chaired Jazz Umbrella in the 90’s, and WayOutWest in 2004, and was for some years an active member of the Musician’s Union. He was also chair person of the charity Parents For Inclusion for 7 years to 2011.
“Whitehead has a highly personal, always gorgeous sound on tenor and an infinite vocabulary – in a country of fine saxophonists he is one of the finest.”
Peter Bacon, Jazz CD of the Week, Birmingham Post *****
“Those of us who have caught him live … have been left in blinking disbelief. It’s not just his mastery of the tenor saxophone, phenomenal though it is, but the absolute conviction of his playing that is so impressive.”
Dave Gelly (The Observer/ BBC )