A jazz saxophonist up for four Grammys on Sunday in three categories and none of them in jazz?
Kirk Whalum doesn't find that strange at all.
In fact, after nearly 30 years in the business, Whalum says he's finally getting a handle on who he is, and that's reflected in his music, which has been nominated in three categories - pop, urban and gospel.
"The older you get, you end up getting closer to who you are," the 52-year-old said in a recent telephone interview. "And, in my case, I find that I'm spreading out a little bit instead of narrowing down."
Already nominated eight times in his career, the Memphis, Tenn., native was nominated this year for best pop instrumental album for "Everything is Everything: The Music of Donny Hathaway"; best male R&B vocal performance for "We're Still Friends," a collaboration on the Hathaway recording with Musiq Soulchild; best gospel performance for "He's Been Just That Good" featuring Lalah Hathaway; and best gospel song for "It's What I Do" with Jerry Peters, both on Whalum's "The Gospel According to Jazz: Chapter III."
"It's all pretty doggone cool," Whalum said when asked about his peers' recognition of his work.
Ordained as a minister 12 years ago, Whalum said he's beginning to "own up to the fundamental aspect that I'm a minister of the gospel who's dressed up as a musician."
"I'm not necessarily looking to pastor a church, but I'm able to express myself spiritually in work like 'The Gospel According to Jazz.' It's been highly acclaimed, but I didn't do it for that. I didn't expect a large group of people to 'get' it, you know, because it was a spiritual artistic statement," he said. "I wasn't going for the charts or the airplay. But what happened? People 'got' it, and the acclaim came too."
Whalum is scheduled to perform on the Grammys pre-telecast ceremony in Los Angeles, but before that, he'll host and perform at a free concert event honoring artists nominated for a Grammy award in the gospel and Christian categories. Those with internet access can watch the concert via the web at www.DreamCenterLive.com for $4.99, with proceeds benefiting Project Hope, one of many charitable projects Whalum supports.
"They deal with human trafficking and slavery," Whalum said. "It's mindboggling that that kind of stuff is going on in this country."
Whalum also said he hopes to finish seminary school this June while continuing in the role of president and chief executive officer of the Stax Museum of Soul Music in Memphis.
"I'm really blessed to be in this position in my life," Whalum said. "Stax is all about an amazing staff. As for me, I have an amazing wife, who is my partner in all this, and an amazing personal manager. My wife always says 'It takes a lot of people to be Kirk Whalum,' and that's definitely the case."