Ragan Whiteside’s Blazing, White-Hot Flute

Ragan Whiteside

Being named Flutist of the Year by Black Women in Jazz and the Fine Arts, well, that’s only the tip of the jazzy iceberg for multi-talented Regan Whiteside.  With a handful of jazz/funk/soul albums to her credit (including Class Axe and Quantum Drive)  – and she’s just getting started! –  her style is way beyond catchy. Hard to believe what a flute can do: Regan makes it sing, scream, wail and tell it like it is.  

You’ve been classically trained – which composers do you like?

I’ve always had a thing for composers whose music pulls at your heart strings, like Rachmaninoff, Debussy, and Ravel.  At the same time, I loved playing high-octane pieces like The Planets by Gustav Holst. There is no better place to be than sitting dead center in the middle of the orchestra while performing Mars. Talk about HD surround sound!

When/why the change to jazz? Who were your first jazz influences?

I’ve always wanted to be a jazz musician, but everyone told me that I should get a strong classical foundation first. Initially, I was resistant, but then I grew to love it and changed my whole focus over to performing classical music.

All the while, I was still listening to Herbie Hancock, Ella Fitzgerald, and Oscar Peterson, as well as a ton of R&B and funk like Stevie Wonder, Rick James and Earth Wind & Fire. By the time I got to my senior year in college (as a classical performance major at a conservatory), I realized that my heart wasn’t in classical music anymore. After graduation, I went to a jazz club where Bob Baldwin and Marion Meadows were performing and I knew at that moment where I wanted to go with my music.

“Valentin Dream” by Ragan Whiteside

Were you inspired by any of the rock bands who were into the flute, like Jethro Tull and others?

Yes – I was introduced to Jethro Tull in college and I was excited and inspired to see the things Ian Anderson could do with the flute. I was also inspired by a lot of Latin jazz bands (which I was often exposed to, growing up in New York). Dave Valentin was simply amazing.

What other instruments do you play?

Piano, but mostly for writing. I can play most woodwind and brass instruments, although not well enough to gig with them (smile).

How early were you trained vocally?

I’ve had voice training off and on since I was 14.

Did you have your family’s support when you decided to make music your career?

Absolutely. They have been my biggest cheerleaders and support system. They have gone above and beyond!

Do you come from a musical family?

Music always had a big presence in my house growing up, but my parents were not professional musicians. My dad did a little singing, my mom played a little trombone. However my uncle, Kenny Whiteside, was a professional musician and had a huge influence on me and my decision to go into music.

What instrument would you want to learn?

Electric bass and drums are very high on my bucket list.

How long to perfect your embouchure?

It’s always a work in progress!

When did you form your band (flute, keys, drums and bass) and why?

I was in my early 20s when I first started performing my own music with a band. I’ve been fortunate to have played with some of the most talented musicians of our time. I love collaborating and vibing off of other musicians on stage. There’s no feeling like it.

Which composers have inspired you?

Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, and Bob Baldwin, to name a few.

There’s a new album coming out in May. What would you say about the selection of songs?

The name of the album will be released shortly.

That said, this album is probably my favorite one so far. All of the tunes were written and performed with a “feel good” vibe. I also have some amazing guest artists: Kim Waters, Tom Browne, Bob Baldwin, and Frank McComb, to name a few.

Talk about the experience crowdfunding Quantum Drive?

Crowdfunding that album was very nerve-racking. There was so much riding on its success and there were a lot of moving parts to stay on top of. At the end of the day, it felt really good to see the outpouring of support from family, friends, and fans. I am still very grateful.

Grammy hopes and dreams?

Sure, I would LOVE to win a Grammy – but winning or not winning will never define me as a musician.

Your inspiration for song lyrics comes from what sources?

The lyrics are always inspired by life, whether it’s my life or someone else’s.

Where do you go in your head when you play?

I go to the same place as when I meditate. I find that I’m more creative when I don’t think too much and just let go.

What are the unique qualities of the flute and why is jazz a natural fit?

I love that the flute can be both incredibly melodic and percussive. That range gives you a lot of creative options which definitely lends itself to jazz.

Are you involved in any community education, like helping intro jazz to young adults?

I have visited a bunch of schools from elementary through high school and I hope to do more of that in the future. Music education always seems to the first thing to get cut from the budget so it is up to today’s musicians to help keep it going.

Please add comments, thoughts, etc.

I just want to thank everyone who has supported my music over the years. It really means the world to me!

(c) 2017 Debbie Burke

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