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=Living Legend

Peter White

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Growing up in the sleepy little English town of Letchworth Garden City in the 1960s, Peter White first got interested in music while listening to the Beatles on the radio. His parents bought him an acoustic guitar when he was about eight and he taught himself to play while simultaneously taking lessons on the recorder, piano and then later, clarinet. His music education was going along just fine until one day in 1967 he heard the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze”. White had never heard sounds like that coming out of his acoustic guitar and he decided that from that day on, the electric guitar was to be the most important thing in his life.

He eventually got an electric guitar and furiously studied the works of Hendrix, Clapton and Page, but his rock star dreams were soon put on hold when his beloved axe was burned in a fire (accidentally) set by his brother Danny. Distraught, Peter found solace in his old acoustic guitar which had been gathering dust in the corner. He had no idea that this incident, however tragic at the time, would prove to be a turning point. He started to develop a love for the instrument, a feeling that continues to this day. Losing his electric guitar at that time proved to be a blessing - White soon found lots of inspiration in the music of Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell who were all playing acoustic guitar-based music. He started to carry that guitar with him everywhere he went - it became his best friend.

White knew by this time that music was his calling, and while all his friends went to college, Peter worked factory jobs until he landed my first musical engagement playing at an English holiday resort in the summer of 1974. After the summer was over he briefly joined a group by the name of Principal Edwards’ Magic Theatre, only to watch them disband a few weeks later. However, one of the members of that group recommended White to Al Stewart and he was asked to join Al’s band for a tour of England, Scotland and then the USA, starting in 1975. Stewart was opening up for artists like Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and Queen. To be around these musical luminaries was a great thrill for a 20-year-old! That summer saw White’s first studio experience at the famed Abbey Road studio in London, working with Al Stewart on the Year of the Cat album, soon to become a million seller. This was the beginning of a musical collaboration that was to last 20 years, during which time Stewart and White wrote and recorded many songs together, including Al’s 1978 Top Ten hit “Time Passages”.

Along the way, brother Danny (remember the guitar burning incident?) had made his own way in the music business and made up for his pyromaniac ways by hiring Peter to work with a then unknown Polish singer, Basia. White played on her first album which was released in 1987 to much acclaim. It went on to sell millions worldwide and since then he has played on many tours and recordings with her.

In 1990, having been a backup musician for fifteen years, and inspired by the English group “Acoustic Alchemy” White decided to start recording his own music and released his first CD, Reveillez-Vous, a French title in honor of his French mother, Gilberte. It means “Wake Up”. Many other solo CDs followed, with several songs becoming Number One hits on Smooth Jazz radio, such as “Midnight in Manhattan” a song he recorded with one of his idols, Grover Washington Jr. Basia also collaborated with White on “Just Another Day”, a song from his Caravan of Dreams CD.

As well as recording my own music, Peter White has performed on recordings by many of his friends, including Dave Koz, Gato Barbieri, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Craig Chaquico, Jeff Golub, Lee Ritenour, 3rd Force, The Rippingtons, Kirk Whalum, Boney James and Marc Antoine. He has been part of numerous “Guitars and Saxes” tours and also has established the annual “Peter White Christmas Tour”. This is a chance for White and some special guests to play some of their favorite Christmas melodies.

Over the years, White has become more comfortable as a performer. He feels a tremendous joy when he’s able to connect with his audience. “The purpose of being up there is not to show how clever I can be, but to simply invite everyone to have a good time. Meeting people after shows to sign CDs and chat is also something which I like to do, whenever possible.  It’s quite different from the days when I was just in the background getting little recognition!”

What separates White from the crowded pack of smooth-jazz guitarists is his exquisite sense of melody. That skill is on full display on Confidential (2004), easily the best-rounded album of White’s career. Among the highpoints here is the return of vocalist Christopher Cross, who shines on a cover of Brenda Russell’s light bossa nova tune, “She’s in Love.” Other guests include pianist Brian Culbertson, who offers a Bob James-like solo on the title track, trumpeter Chris Botti (“Stormfront”), and saxophonist Mindi Abair, who graces “Are You Mine.” But it’s White’s lines that soar throughout, like melodies in search of words.

White continues to surprise seasoned fans and newcomers alike with his willingness to push the preconceived parameters of his instrument to new places. But White’s musicianship is only part of the story. While his more recent recordings have primarily consisted of cover material, a collection of original songs had been simmering and taking shape for several years. It all comes to the surface on his new CD, Good Day (2009).

While it’s White’s vision that ultimately drives Good Day, he does get some assistance and inspiration from “DC,” the versatile keyboardist/programmer/songwriter who has produced and/or collaborated with a variety of contemporary jazz artists in recent years, including Paul Brown, Jeff Golub and Chuck Loeb. Also helping out was keyboardist/producer Philippe Saisse, an accomplished solo artist in his own right who has helped to re-shape the careers of Rick Braun, Marc Antoine and Gato Barbieri, among many others. “Both of them helped me enormously with this project,” says White. “They brought something to each one of these songs that I hadn’t even heard in my own head, bringing them to life in a way that I never could have, because I had been living with them for so long that I could only think of them in a certain way.”

Even as the sun sets on Good Day, the recording overall represents a beginning for White - an opportunity for him to reconnect with the clever and engaging songcraft that characterized his earlier recordings. “These songs had been raw demos for a long time,” says White. “Hearing them come to life by introducing them to other musicians who were experiencing them for the first time was very exciting, and very surprising. I had lost track of the possibility that these songs could have so much potential beyond what I’d originally envisioned. If I had finished this project purely by myself, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as good. It’s the different ingredients and spices and colors provided by other people that make it what it is.” Check out the latest from Peter White and get ready for a Good Day.

Like his previous album, Good Day, Here We Go (2012) is a collection of songs written and recorded to move people on a level that’s beyond any preconceived concepts. “When I start recording, I don’t have a vision,” White freely admits. “I just go with the moment - what feels good, what sounds good. The vision comes out of the music. The music doesn’t come out of the vision.” Some of the energy fueling this record is the realization of White’s longtime dream to collaborate with Sanborn, whom he’d met while playing in a live jam session with several other musicians just a couple years ago. In truth, White has been a fan of the saxophonist for decades. “David is someone whom I’ve wanted to play with for the longest time,” he says. “This is someone who played at Woodstock and recorded with David Bowie. His sound has become the inspiration for many of my contemporaries. He’s a legend to me and to just about every musician I know.”

Here We Go is, in many ways, a study in diversity - a collection of the joyous and the poignant, the newly crafted and the vintage. “I wanted variety,” says White. “I wanted songs that moved me, in the hopes that they’ll move the listener as well. I’m on a journey, and I want to bring with me anyone who’s willing to follow. That’s what the title of the album - and indeed, the spirit of the album - is all about.”


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