Rodney Whitaker and Xavier Davis are no strangers to the concert stage. The two jazz stalwarts are known and respected worldwide. And on Thursday, October 27 they will be performing in Traverse City alongside Interlochen’s Bill Sears as part of the “Artists From Interlochen” at Kirkbride Hall music series.

“These guys are world-class and world-renowned musicians,” says Sears from his office at Interlochen Center for the Arts, where he is the director of jazz studies and saxophone instructor. “They’ve both been on between 50 and 100 albums. Xavier is a member of the Christian McBride Big Band, and Rodney was with Wynton Marsalis for years.”

Of course, Sears himself boasts a resume that includes performing with the likes of Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Bill Evans, Rick Margitza, Peter Erskine, Art Farmer, Joe Williams and Nancy Wilson. He’s played in different groups with both Whitaker and Davis, the latter of whom actually studied under him at Interlochen. In addition, all three are heavily involved in education; Sears at Interlochen, and the other two as faculty members at Michigan State University, where Whitaker is the director of the jazz program.

Davis, a 1988 graduate of Interlochen, is associate professor of jazz piano at the MSU College of Music, following six years of teaching at the Juilliard School. He has performed and recorded with world-famous jazz artists including Freddie Hubbard, Tom Harrell, Christian McBride, Nicholas Payton and Jon Faddis. Whitaker is a Mack Avenue recording artist and artistic director for the Professors of Jazz at Michigan State University. In addition to his seven-year tenure as bassist with Wynton Marsalis, he’s performed with Diana Krall, Chick Corea, Tommy Flanagan and Dizzy Gillespie.

Sears says while they have played together in different group settings, this will be the first time the three perform as a trio. The drummerless configuration will allow them to put what Sears calls “a different spin” on the music. “It will be a little more interactive, more intimate,” he says, though he noted, “it will be straight ahead, not ethereal.” The trio will perform jazz standards and classics by the likes of Duke Ellington, Benny Golson, Joe Henderson and Oscar Pettiford.

The concert is part of a series of performances at Kirkbride Hall in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons by members of Interlochen’s faculty, which began last year. Upcoming shows feature Ara Sarkissian on violin November 10 and singer/songwriters Courtney Kaiser and Kyle Novy November 17. Sears says the opportunity for outreach to Traverse City by the faculty members is something they all are pleased about. “We’re all thrilled to take Interlochen into the community.”

Here’s the skinny …


Saxophonist Bill Sears, director of jazz studies at Interlochen Center for the Arts, with Xavier Davis (piano) and Rodney Whitaker (bass), from the faculty of Michigan State University

Additional Background

Kirkbride Hall was built between 1883 and 1885 as the chapel of the former Northern Michigan Asylum. It was used to host a wide range of recreational activities including socials, religious services, dances and concerts. After years of neglect, the hall was restored by owners the Minervini Group, with a drop ceiling removed, plaster details restored and recreated and the stained glass windows fully exposed. The “new” Kirkbride Hall opened its doors in May 2014, with numerous private and public events now being held there. Each of the Interlochen faculty performances there will be followed by an afterglow event in the lobby, providing attendees a chance to mingle with the performers and enjoy light refreshments.

Kirkbride Hall is located at The Village Grand Traverse Commons. Check out this aerial MyNorth video of the gorgeous propety.


Kirkbride Hall, Traverse City

Date & Time

Thursday, October 27, 7:30 p.m.

Ticket information

Tickets are $24 for adults, $10 for youths. Go to

For more

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Photo(s) by Myrna Jacobs