Annie Whitehead was born in Oldham, Lancashire, the heart of brass band country. She learnt trombone at school and by the age of fourteen was already busy playing with brass bands, local dance groups and the Manchester Youth Jazz Orchestra. At sixteen, she started her professional career with Ivy Benson's legendary All Girls Orchestra, and spent the next two years playing summer sessions and touring Europe with that band. She settled for a while in Jersey where, inspired by the music of Miles Davis, Charlie Mingus and Wayne Henderson, she began to develop her own style.
Arriving in London in the late seventies, Annie found herself much in demand, both for live work and as a session player. She worked with many well-known artists including Joan Armatrading, Chris Rea, Bill Wyman, Elvis Costello, Carlene Carter, Paul Weller, Jerry Dammers, Amazulu, The Communards and Bananarama. She toured extensively with Fun Boy Three, Joe Jackson and Jah Wobble. She was also a founder member of Working Week. By the early eighties her reputation was such that Beat International Magazine described her as:
"The Sly and Robbie of British brass, the woman everyone turns to when they want a class trombone player...for her work on the reggae label Fashion, she would warrant an honourable mention in any history of British reggae. The same goes for her work in African music, Latin and Salsa, Jazz and Pop."
Increasingly involved in the London jazz scene, her versatility and eclectic approach led her naturally into more unorthodox musical territories. She joined The Guest Stars and The Lydia D'Ustebyn Orchestra, both all-women bands and played with Paul Rogers' 7RPM, The Charlie Watts Orchestra and with vocalists Maggie Nichols, Jan Ponsford and Carol Grimes. She then met the great English maverick, drummer John Stevens, with whom she formed a deep and provocative musical relationship. They worked together in a number of bands including Folkus, Freebop and Fast Colour, a band that featured trumpeter Harry Beckett, saxophonists Evan Parker and the great Dudu Pukwana. Through Harry and Dudu, Annie began a rich association with the South African community living in exile in London, playing with Chris MacGregor's Brotherhood of Breath and Louis Moholo's Spirits Rejoice. In Europe she worked with Michael Urbaniak, Jasper van t'Hof, Ursula Dudziak, The World Trombone Quartet (with Ray Anderson), Abdullah Ibrahim and American harmonic guitarist James Blood Ulmer.
In 1984 Annie formed and wrote the material for her own band. Releasing her first album as leader, the critically acclaimed Mix Up:
"A unique hybrid of the most vivid kind; a seamless mix that shows a sure feel for Pop and the reaching thrust at the core of great Jazz. Assured, hungry and innovative."
She also released the self-produced single Alien Style/Mambo 3 (her debut as vocalist). For the next four years Annie and the band toured throughout Britain, Europe, India and the Far East, delighting audiences with their stylish, original music.
By 1990, keen to develop her writing for different line-ups, Annie received a commission from Greater London Arts to compose for a ten-piece group: The Dance. The piece, entitled The Lonely Heart Suite, was performed live on a number of occasions and has been recorded for the National Sound Archive. She has also been commissioned to write pieces for the World Trombone Quartet and by the Berlin City Festival for an all star band.
In 1991, Annie joined the Penguin CafÃ© Orchestra with which she toured worldwide and appeared on three albums: Broadcasting From Home, Union CafÃ© and Concert Program. It was here that she met her partner and musical collaborator Jennifer Maidman. Their first project together was the free-funk ensemble Rude, described by the Guardian as:
"A resourceful line-up crossing just about as many jazz and dance barriers as Whitehead does herself, with trumpeter Harry Beckett, and wake-the-dead drummer Liam Genockey."
They released the CD This is Rude on the Resurgence label(available through Voiceprint) and continue to play live throughout the UK
. In the last few years Annie has also toured and recorded with the Paul Dunmall Octet (featuring Keith Tippett and Tony Levin), Elton Dean's Newscene (alongside legendary trombonists Roswell Rudd and Paul Rutherford), and Gary Crosby's Jazz Jamaica. With the horn section The Kick Horns, she has done session work with Gabrielle, The Spice Girls, Blur, Boyzone, Eddie Reader, Sleeper and Dr John. She is also featured on Robert Wyatt's album Schleep and working with Robert arranged many of his songs for a live project, Soupsongs, featuring Julie Tippetts and Jennifer Maidman on vocals. The band also includes Didier Malherbe and Phil Manzanera. More recently, she wrote the music for a new play by Glyn Maxwell, Anyroad that premiered at the Bridewell Theatre, London in February 2000.
Annie's current band was originally formed in response to a commission from the Musicians Union and Jazz Moves in 1994. Since then the band has toured the UK, appearing at the Glasgow International Jazz Festival, Bracknell Festival and Brecon Jazz Festival as well as two live recordings for BBC Radio 3 from the Blackheath Concert Halls and the Hull Jazz Festival. In August 1996 the band released their first CD "Naked" recently re-issued on the Voiceprint label. The next album was "Home" ,released in 1999 again on Voiceprint.
Her first album for Provocateur Records, The Gathering, was released in September 2000, featuring a guest appearance on vocals,drums and trumpet by Robert Wyatt.
She recently collaborated with concertina player Alaistair Anderson and fiddle player Chris Stout on a new project called "Northern Lights" also featuring Jennifer Maidman and Liam Genockey.It combines elements of Jazz and Folk music and an album "Airplay" has been released on the Provocateur label .
Annie has been asked what links such diverse activities; what kind of player is she? She said of herself:
"Music is something that comes from inside. Collaborating with different people keeps me alive musically. In the end it's spirit that really counts."