By Brian Soergel
In this era of self-promotion dictated by the crumbling traditional music business model, smooth jazz guitarist Peter White offers an astonishing revelation, “I hope I never have to do another interview where someone asks, 'How do you describe your music?' Or 'How do you describe your latest album?'”
You can kind of see his point. It’s been 20 years since White’s solo debut, Reveillez-Vous. And since Billboard began publishing a smooth jazz singles chart in the mid-1990s, he’s tallied at least one No. 1 single from each subsequent CD. Favorites include “Caravan of Dreams,” “Midnight in Manhattan,” “Bueno Funk,” “Turn It Out,” “Talkin' Bout Love,” “Mister Magic,” “What Does it Take (To Win Your Love)” and “Bright,” the latter coming from his latest release, 2009’s Good Day.
The votes of White’s fans helped him pick up three victories at the American Smooth Jazz Awards in October, the most of any artist.
Why is his music so inviting? Maybe it's the catchy melodies or the way he always includes covers of baby boomer favorites. More likely, though, it's the great songwriting and exceptionally polished sounds coming from White’s nylon-string guitar. These are the strong elements that make his music consistent from CD to CD, and from performance to performance. So White’s point is that his musical direction hasn’t shifted much during the past two decades, and fans shouldn’t expect atonal riffs or screaming electric guitar solos in the near future.
“I love talking about my live music and my career, but it’s hard to talk about a particular song after just recording it,” said White during a telephone interview from his Southern California home. A good example is “Bueno Funk” from 2001’s Glow. “So many fans use that song as their theme music on their MySpace pages and it’s a staple of my live show. At the time I recorded it, it was just a song with a simple melody, but now it’s become an icon. Just about everybody in smooth jazz has played that song with me, but if you’d asked me about it at the time, I wouldn’t have had much to say about it. It’s not what I think. It’s what happens when a song is out there and people listen and respond to it.”
OK, in the spirit of acquiescence to a 56-year-old guitarist who’s entitled to a few eccentricities, let’s hear him out as he talks about a few of his memories from the past, as well as memories to come. These are just a few of his favorite things. But don’t worry. No matter what White says we’ll be back in touch next year when he releases his next CD. Meanwhile, here are a few vignettes from Peter White’s career.
A Peter White Christmas
This month, White is once again in full swing on his annual A Peter White Christmas with his two regulars: trumpeter Rick Braun and saxophonist Mindi Abair. (The band includes drummer and vocalist Rayford Griffin, bassist Nate Phillips and keyboardist Ron Reinhardt.) The tour skipped last year as White and Braun joined saxophonist Dave Koz on a special anniversary edition of his own holiday show.
“The whole Christmas show started with Dave,” said White, who will complete his tour in time to spend the holidays with his wife of 14 years, Robin, and their 10-year-old daughter, Charlotte. “I did that for five years in a row and really enjoyed that aspect of it, doing three weeks of concentrated shows and having the Christmas spirit. When Dave told me he was going to change the band lineup, I knew I wanted to keep it going. So I decided to go to all the places Dave didn’t go to.” That first year, in 2003, featured only White and Abair, who had just released her much-praised solo smooth jazz debut, It Just Happens That Way. “She’s just fantastic on stage,” White said. “She plays great, sings great, looks great. She’s very glamorous, but the moment she’s off stage she’s just one of the guys. On the last night of the first tour, I told her she’d done well. I said, 'You’ve been able to change in five minutes, almost like Superwoman in a phone booth. You don’t even need a wardrobe department.' She said, 'I’m not a diva.' I’ll always remember that and love her for it.'”
That first year White may have already been a smooth jazz superstar, but the perks were few on the East Coast tour. “We had two SUVs for us and the band. I drove one and Mindi the other. We drove in snow the whole time; it was the most work I’ve ever done in my life. The road manager didn’t drive; he was promoting shows. And I didn’t want the band guys to drive since I hired them as musicians. I didn’t feel I should ask them to drive next year.”
For the second A Peter White Christmas, White added Braun––and a bus driver.
Performing with Al Stewart
Before there was smooth jazz, there was “Year of the Cat.” White began performing with Al Stewart, famous for “Time Passages,” “On the Border” and other hit singles, at the tender age of 20. But he didn’t get the gig because of his guitar prowess. Stewart, who played the steel-string guitar, was looking for a keyboardist. White’s audition took place in London in January 1975 in the basement of the home of Miles Copeland, a music industry hotshot who formed I.R.S. Records and whose brother, Stewart Copeland, was an original member of the Police. **
**The complete Peter White Story can be found in the December issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Peter White, including his complete tour schedule, visit www.peterwhite.com or White’s fan page on Facebook.
A Peter White Christmas with Rick Braun and Mindi Abair
Park Hyatt Aviara (formerly the Four Seasons Aviara)
7100 Four Seasons Point
Fifth Annual New Year's Eve Gala
Featuring Rick Braun, Peter White, Gerald Albright, Jeff Lorber and Selina Albright
JW Marriott Starr Pass Resort & Spa
3800 W. Starr Pass Blvd.
Feb. 12, 2011
Valentine's Concert featuring Peter White with Guitars & Saxes
Long Beach Performing Arts Center
300 E. Ocean Blvd.
Long Beach, California
March 27, 2011
21st Annual Boscov's Berks Jazz Fest
Peter White with Guitars & Saxes
Sovereign Arts Center
136 N. Sixth St.
Aug. 26-Sept. 2, 2011
Dave Koz & Friends at Sea Cruise
Departing Port of Seattle, Washington, on Aug. 26
Aboard Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Seas
Visiting Ports of call at Juneau, Skagway and Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska; and Victoria, British Columbia
(800) 225-5759, (707) 546-1212
1990 Reveillez-Vous Chase
1991 Excusez-Moi Sindrome
1993 Promenade Sindrome
1994 Reflections Sindrome
1996 Caravan of Dreams Columbia
1997 Songs of the Season Sony
1998 Perfect Moment Sony
2001 Glow Columbia
2004 Confidential Columbia
2006 Playin’ Favorites Sony
2007 A Peter White Christmas Sony
2009 Good Day Peak