IPS Alumni and Jazz Trumpeter Pharez Whitted is Living the Life He Was Born Into
June 12, 2017
That Whitted would become anything other than a prolific jazz musician would, in certain circles, be unthinkable considering his musical roots — which go as far back as the 1930s in Indianapolis along the famed Indiana Avenue.
A member of the legendary Hampton family, Whitted is the son of the late bassist and singer Virtue Hampton (of the Hampton Sisters) and nephew of renowned jazz trombonist, composer and arranger Slide Hampton. His father, drummer Thomas Whitted Sr., has played with jazz icons Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery.
As a child music was all around Whitted, who began playing the trumpet at age 9 after finding one inside of a closet. He has been active on the professional music scene since the 1980s, performing for the Billboard Music Awards and even at Carnegie Hall. His first album, “Pharez Whitted,” was recorded on the Motown label and released in 1994.
But as much as he loves making, recording and performing music, he also loves teaching it. Whitted served as director of jazz studies at Chicago State University. He is currently the jazz director of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Jazz Orchestra.
Recently inducted into the Shortridge High School Hall of Fame, Whitted hopes to inspire and continue to lead the youth through jazz music.
IPS is proud to recognize the famed jazz musician as he reflects on his early years and how his education led him to pursue his passion and love for jazz.
Early life in Indianapolis …
Growing up, there were adults in my neighborhood that took us kids places with them. Everyone knew one another and it wasn’t just the people next door; there was wider range of fellowship in the community.
I’ve maintained my education in the IPS school district. I went to elementary school at School 4 and School 66. Then I attended Kennedy Middle School, where I was bussed to the south side of town. Finally, for high school I landed at Shortridge.
Your experience at Shortridge …
I was heavily involved in the band at Shortridge. I played the trumpet, which I still play today. I was also in the choir, played football and was part of the wrestling and track teams. Though I was involved in a lot of things in high school, music was my favorite.
Generally, there were excellent teachers that stood out; I had many favorites.
Fondest IPS memory as a student …
I remember my junior year I went on a fieldtrip with the band. We performed at a parade in Holland, Michigan. Another fond memory was being on the football team. I enjoyed the companionship of the guys on the team. We hung out a lot and it was during a time that one could do different things and not be labeled or placed into a clique. There were so many different avenues.
My IPS education prepared me for ….
The unexpected. My education taught me how to cope, improvise and how to be creative. It taught me not to expect things to be handed to me. Instead, it taught me to work for things I wanted to pursue.
Higher Education …
I went to DePauw University; I enjoyed my college years. Myron El was the choir director at Shortridge and he was very influential in me attending DePauw. I received my bachelor’s degree in music. After college, I went to graduate school at the IU Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington and received my master’s degree in jazz studies.
My life since graduating …
Between 1983 and 1985, I taught trumpet at Shortridge; during this time, Shortridge was a middle school. Then I taught at Wabash College, Ohio State University and Chicago State University. I found that higher education was the right path for what I wanted to pursue; it helped shape my outlook.
I currently am the director of Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra’s Jazz Orchestra, and I enjoy what I do. I am also a jazz mentor for the Ravinia Festival. Part of the festival’s “Reach, Teach and Play” outreach program is called the Jazz Scholars, where we work with students from Chicago Public Schools. We also serve a variety of schools throughout the city and work with band directors.
Additionally, I enjoy spending time with my band. I am the leader of The Pharez Whitted Group. We are writing music for a play on (poet) Langston Hughes that is going to show in Chicago. We are also working on a new album this summer.
Proudest accomplishments …
Being nominated for Independent Jazz Album of the Year in 2010 was a proud moment for me. (Another is) working with kids in music to associate the benefits of music and how it applies to life. Also, having the opportunity to play with John Mellancamp, who is a well-known rock artist.
I have a son, Maceo, 21, who lives in Chicago. He is a hip-hop music producer and currently attends Chicago State University.
I come from a family of four brothers and two sisters. Both of my parents played an instrument. My mother played the bass and my father played the drums. The family band performed at the Apollo Theater and Carnegie Hall. My mother was a Hampton; the Hampton Sisters was a jazz group and one of Indianapolis’ performing legends.
My family is very musically inclined. They traveled all over the country and there was even a documentary (“The Unforgettable Hampton Family”) on them on PBS.
Interests/ Hobbies …
I enjoy my work and music. Life pleased, but not satisfied.
My vision is for people to see beyond their own interests and give others respect and a chance to live without persecution. I want kids to discover the possibilities in life — to use their imaginations, their creativity and to think for themselves. Instead of getting in each other’s way, they can help each other.
Final Quote …
Believe in yourself and never give up. Acquire knowledge, experience and compassion because this is only Act 1 of an extended play in which you are the lead character. Be fearless!