Cover Story

For the fifth year in a row, A Peter White Christmas will visit locations throughout the country as one of the most popular holiday tours in smooth jazz. This year, there's a new CD to go along with the show.

By Brian Soergel

You just know audiences are having fun during the annual A Peter White Christmas tour. You can see it in their faces. But there's a possibility that White, along with saxophonist Mindi Abair and trumpeter Rick Braun, are enjoying themselves even more. Last year, during one particularly riotous show, the guys in the band decided to play a joke on Abair during a segment where smaller versions of their main instruments are brought out (White with a ukulele and Braun with a "pocket" trumpet). It was up to Omar Viramontes, Abair’s roadie, to bring out her soprano saxophone, the smallest version of the instrument.

“It's always fun to have Omar walk out and make me look special with me matching all of their tiny instrument antics,” Abair recalled. “Well, on this particular night in Northern California, a male model dressed in nothing but a Santa hat and skin-tight boxer briefs walked out with my saxophone. I about fainted!”

Abair, who calls herself “a Christmas dork,” says it's a good thing Braun and White share her passion for Christmas.

Braun, for his part, looks forward to the holidays as much as anyone. For the past several Christmases, rather than filling out holiday cards, he has recorded a holiday song and passed it along to family and friends.

“This always made them happy, as if the good cheer and laughter that went into making those songs was contagious,” Braun said.

“That's the feeling I get when we play our songs live on this tour, on a much grander scale. I can see the joy on the faces of our fans. It's as if together we're bringing the Christmas spirit to life.”

All the joy must be striking the right note, as A Peter White Christmas is now celebrating its fifth year, the last four with the same lineup of White, Abair and Braun. And the excitement of it all began early with WineandJazz.com sponsoring a pretour teaser featuring White, Braun and Abair during a special Holiday Artist Autograph Session Brunch at Spaghettini Italian Grill and Jazz Club in Seal Beach, California, on Nov. 18. A week later, the festive trio launched the BB Jazz’s Winter Concert Series at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach Resort and Spa. The tour, which continues with 17 more shows this month, concludes Dec. 22 at the Spreckels Theatre in San Diego, California.

"We do it right now,” said White. “The first year we drove around in a minivan, and I did most of the driving. It was the hardest work I'd ever done, driving up and down the East Coast in the snow trying to get there in time to set up. I just remember being exhausted the whole time.”

Today, the show is a finely choreographed affair that features White, Abair and Braun onstage at the same time. They do a precise set list of 12 songs, while also performing a few of their own best-known songs.

“I look at it like 'The Nutcracker,' where sometimes the choruses are different and costumes vary, but the story and the music stay the same,” said White.

“Christmas music is timeless. If we put a new song in the show, we'd have to take one out. That song may be one somebody came especially to hear.”

Nonetheless, if he had one song to add White says it would be “Deck the Halls.”

“It would be hilarious to sing 'Deck the halls with boughs of holly' and stop to see if someone follows with 'fa la la la la, la, la, la la.' We already do that with 'Winter Wonderland,' and it helps bring the audience into the show.”

This year, the 12 songs central to the show are available on CD for the first time on Peter White Christmas, released in September by Braun's ARTizen Music Group.

“It's taken from the live show and pretty much recorded live in studio exactly the way we play the arrangements live,” said White. “We didn't make any changes to make it easy listening or palatable to radio. It's pretty raw, and that's what we wanted to capture.”

The songs chosen for the show and CD––although newly recorded––are taken from songs on the artists' previous holiday CDs, including “The Little Drummer Boy,” “The Christmas Song,” “Greensleeves (What Child Is This?),” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “River,” “Silent Night” and “White Christmas.” Two medleys are included: “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town/Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “Happy Christmas/O Holy Night.” Also, Abair wrote two original tunes with collaborator Matthew Hagar, “I Can't Wait for Christmas” and “The Best Part of Christmas,” while Braun contributes his original “Jingle Jangle Blues.”

"The arrangements for each song evolved night after night on tour,” said Abair. “I think that's what makes this CD so interesting and special. It's a mix of all three of us adding to the other's music and leaving our mark on some great Christmas classics.”**

A Peter White Christmas tour featuring Peter White, Rick Braun and Mindi Abair continues this month with 17 more shows nationwide, including stops at the Tower Theatre, 815 E. Olive Ave., in Fresno, California, on Friday, Dec. 21; and at the Spreckels Theatre, 121 Broadway, in San Diego, California, on Saturday, Dec. 22. For tickets to these shows, visit www.jazzconcerts.com.

For a complete tour schedule for A Peter White Christmas, which also features Rayford Griffin on drums, Nate Philips on bass and Ron Reinhardt keyboards,visit www.peterwhite.com, www.rickbraun.com, or www.mindiabair.com.

**The complete story can be found in the December edition of Smooth Jazz News.  Subscribe today. Receive 11 editions of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (February through December), for $35.