Over the years, Peter White has maintained a reputation as one of the most versatile and prolific acoustic guitarists on the contemporary jazz landscape. Armed with an unparalleled combination of lyricism and energy, he combines elements of jazz, pop and classical guitar to create a sound that is singular and at the same time accessible to a broad audience.
Born in 1954 in Luton, a small town north of London, White and his family moved to nearby Letchworth shortly after he was born. As a child, he learned to play several musical instruments, including the clarinet, trombone, violin and piano. And of course, like so many youngsters growing up during the heyday of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he gravitated to the guitar.
He learned his first chords on an acoustic guitar, then bought his first electric guitar in his early teens and studied the recordings of the reigning guitar gods of the day – Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. But his musical aspirations ultimately veered back in an acoustic direction following an accident that doomed his beloved electric guitar. The axe was destroyed in a fire, one that White’s younger brother Danny – an aspiring pianist – accidentally started.
“The funny thing is that Danny didn’t actually admit to setting that fire for at least twenty-five years,” says White. “I had been kind of obsessed with the electric guitar at that point in my life, so that episode kind of forced me to go back to playing the acoustic. In retrospect, that’s a good thing.”
Indeed, White’s interests after the accident shifted more toward the music of acoustic artists like Crosby, Stills and Nash, James Taylor, and Joni Mitchell. Plugged or unplugged, he had decided by his late teens that music was his calling, and his first professional gig was at a holiday resort in England when he was 19 years old.
Barely a year later, he was invited to join Al Stewart’s band as a keyboardist for a tour of England, Scotland, and the U.S. in 1975. In addition to opening for artists like Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and Queen, White worked with Stewart in the studio in the making of Year of the Cat, which became a huge hit for Stewart in 1976. The tour and the album marked the beginning of a twenty-year association with Stewart. In that time, the two musicians co-wrote numerous songs, including Stewart’s 1978 hit, “Time Passages.”
By the beginning of the ‘80s, White and Stewart had relocated to Los Angeles, formed a band called Shot in the Dark, and established a music publishing company called Lobster Music. Around the same time, Danny White – he of the burning guitar incident several years earlier – formed a group called Matt Bianco, which included a talented Polish singer named Basia Trzetrzelewska. Danny White and Basia splintered off to launch the singer’s solo career with the 1987 debut album, Time and Tide, which featured Peter White on guitar.
After fifteen years as a backup musician and a session player, White launched his solo recording career with the 1990 release of Reveillez-Vous (French for “Wake up,” a title chosen by White in honor of his French mother). The album included several unused songs that White had written for Stewart, and it became a favorite among contemporary jazz radio stations.
He followed with three records on the Sindrome label – Excusez-Moi (1991), Promenade (1993) and Reflections (1994) – before signing with Columbia for the 1996 release of Caravan of Dreams. He maintained an ambitious release schedule through the ‘90s and beyond, but also found time to appear on recordings by many of his friends, including Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Richard Elliot, Jeff Golub, Lee Ritenour, Kirk Whalum, Boney James and many others.
On the road, he has participated in numerous “Guitars and Saxes” tours with the aforementioned players, and has established an annual “Peter White Christmas Tour” – the latter enterprise fueled by the success of his two highly regarded holiday albums, Songs of the Season (1997) and A Peter White Christmas (2007).
Good Day, released in 2009 on Peak Records, a division of Concord Music Group, was White’s first collection of original songs in several years. “I just started going through my backlog of material – songs that I’d never finished, some going as far back as ten or fifteen years – and I discovered that I had a lot of gems that I really wanted to show to the world,” he says. “I wanted to record them in my own time and in my own way, without any outside influence or interference.”
White released Here We Go in 2012 on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. The 11-song set, produced by White and DC (George Benson, Larry Carlton, Bob James, Patty Austin), featured several high-profile guest musicians, including saxophonists David Sanborn and Kirk Whalum, and pianist Philippe Saisse, and included a range of original material written in the recent and distant past. “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.”
Smile, released on October 7, 2014, is the final CD in White’s trilogy of albums consisting entirely of his own material. Co-produced with DC, the recording features ten tracks – some were written recently, some White wrote along the way with close friends and some were from the vault. Special guests include Mindi Abair (vocals), Rick Braun (horns), Euge Groove (soprano sax) and Philippe Saisse (keyboards, piano and orchestra programming). White’s daughter, Charlotte, plays violin on one song.
In a career that spans nearly four decades, over a dozen solo recordings and countless performances, White insists that it’s the faces in the crowd and the fans that keep the experience fresh. “I’ll play a live show, and someone will come to me afterward and say, ‘Oh, I loved this CD,’ or ‘This song helped me through a bad time,’” he explains. “Or I get emails from people saying, ‘Oh, I love the way you covered one of my favorite songs on your record back in 1994.’ The idea that someone can write me an email and tell me about something I did on a record that was released fifteen years ago – you can’t buy that. That’s priceless. That’s what keeps me going – the idea that people out there really care about what I do, the idea that I’ve made a difference for someone.”
When tenor saxophonist Richard Elliot began preparing Summer Madness, his follow-up to 2014’s critically acclaimed Lip Service, he knew exactly what he wanted to do. First and foremost, it had to be funky. “When I was growing up in the ’70s and first learning to play the saxophone,” he says, “I was mostly attracted to instrumentally based R&B and to jazz that had R&B roots. This record definitely goes down that path, leaning more on the funk side.”
He also knew precisely who he wanted to accompany him on the new music. “I wanted to involve my band,” Elliot says. “A lot of artists tour with a group of musicians, and then when it’s time to make a record they hook up with a producer and go into the studio and use completely different people that maybe they’ve never even met before. I feel that if you’re lucky enough to have a regular group of musicians that you work with, and you don’t draw on their talent and their inspirations, you’re short-changing yourself.”
Summer Madness, set for release on September 9, 2016 via Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group, is a new kind of Richard Elliot recording. For one thing, the cast includes two other horn men augmenting Elliot’s signature sax work: trumpeter/trombonist Rick Braun, who also produced the album and, on several tracks, baritone saxophonist Curt Waylee. Most importantly though, the music was created from scratch as Elliot and his handpicked musicians formulated and honed their ideas in the studio, with Braun’s ultra-capable guidance. For Elliot, recruiting the additional players and having the entire band—plus a well-respected veteran producer help him shape the music—was integral to the project’s success.
“I didn’t want to direct them,” he says. “I wanted to bring them in and let them be part of the process—the writing, the arranging—and to do it all together. I had a lot of confidence that these guys are mature enough musically. Everybody brought what they do to the table and we all put our heads together. We didn’t have rehearsals first, we didn’t have writing sessions first. We booked some days in the studio and the music just poured out.”
The result of these impromptu jams—seven new originals and three classic interpretations—is unquestionably one of the most electrifying and gratifying recordings of Richard Elliot’s three-plus-decade solo career. From the opening salvo, a super-funkified take on Spyro Gyra’s “Cachaca,” through the closing “Mr. Nate’s Wild Ride,” spotlighting bassist Nathaniel Phillips, who wrote the track along with Elliot and Braun, Summer Madness is one of those albums that simply takes hold the moment you press play and never lets go. Along the way it touches down on a variety of moods and styles, from Latin- and African-inspired funk to soul jazz, even flirting with fusion on the hard-driving, appropriately titled “Ludicrous Speed.”
A couple of sparkling ballads pay tribute to heroes of Elliot’s going back to his earliest days of musical discovery: “Europa,” on which he honors one of his saxophone inspirations, the late Gato Barbieri—who famously remade the Carlos Santana-penned track in his own image, and the title track “Summer Madness,” a mid-’70s hit for funk titans Kool & the Gang.
Among the original compositions, “Harry the Hipster,” says Elliot, “is reminiscent of songs that had cool, recurring melodies and a funky pulse—the idea was not to wrap yourself up in how much complexity you could put into the song, but how much feeling and groove can you put into the song?” Another highlight, the band-written “West Coast Jam,” is Elliot’s nod to yet another influence, the late leader of funk trailblazers Zapp, Roger Troutman, while “Breakin’ It Down,” which arrives early on Summer Madness, is designed, he says, to bridge the genres of funk and contemporary jazz, with which Elliot has long been associated. “I sort of formulated that theory later though,” he confesses. “When we were making the music we were just making it.”
It should come as no surprise to Elliot’s longtime fans that he would, at some point in his career, choose to celebrate funk in such a dedicated, decisive way. It was, after all, with the legendary Tower of Power that many first heard the saxophone virtuosity of Richard Elliot. Although he was born in Scotland and grew up in Los Angeles, where he started playing saxophone while in middle school, his five-year run with the Bay Area institution ToP during the 1980s was when Richard Elliot first came to prominence.
“I learned more about being a musician, about being a performer, about being a team player in a horn section, about how to make a statement when you step out and do a solo, from being with Tower of Power than from any other group or artist I ever worked with,” Elliot says, adding that it was “initially terrifying” to find himself among some of the most accomplished and highly respected musicians on the funk/R&B scene. In fact, he learned enough from working with them, Elliot says now, to know that he was ready to go off on his own when he did.
“Leaving Tower of Power was the hardest decision I ever made,” he says now, but great things were to follow almost immediately. By the late ’80s, Elliot had launched his solo career and was signed to Blue Note Records, where he worked with the legendary record executive Bruce Lundvall, an early champion of Elliot’s work. Since then, Elliot has released more than 20 albums as a leader, and has also polished his chops serving as a sideman for a considerable list of diverse giants, including Motown hitmakers Smokey Robinson and the Temptations. One of Elliot’s favorite projects was the collaborative 2013 release Summer Horns, which found him teaming up with fellow sax-slingers Dave Koz, Gerald Albright and Mindi Abair—the album was nominated for a Grammy in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Throughout all of his music, Richard Elliot has always strived to achieve one certain goal. “Miles Davis said, ‘The hardest thing for a musician to do is sound like himself.’ That stuck with me,” Elliot says. “If you fixate on a single influence, you tend to sound like someone who’s trying to sound like that person. I never know if I’ve achieved that goal but on occasion I’ve had someone come up to me and say, ‘I heard a song on the radio and I knew it was you.’” Summer Madness puts a bit of a new twist on the classic Richard Elliot sound, but you won’t doubt for a single second who you are hearing.
With the release of their highly anticipated Woodward Avenue Records project, Southern California’s premiere R&B, funk and contemporary powerhouse band DW3 lets the world in on a cool CD titled, “Vintage Truth.”
Driven by the ever-evolving musical vision of core members – Brothers Eric and Billy Mondragon and close family friend Damon Reel – their deepening artistry continues to transcend a well-earned reputation as a high energy, fun and freewheeling party band. Eric, Billy and Damon all contribute lead and harmony vocals, while Eric plays keys (including synth horns and strings) and Billy adds percussion.
Building on the success of their single, “I Got You” featuring Gerald Albright, (#16 on the Billboard charts) and the “On The Floor”album that went #1 on the UK soul charts, DW3 – now expanded to nine a piece ensemble. The addition of a horn section really sets the tone for their live shows. The truth is in the twelve tracks of their “Vintage Truth” CD. Delivering original vocal tracks along with freshly re-imagined covers of classics like The Eagles’ “I Can’t Tell You Why,” Luther Vandross’ “So Amazing” and Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed.” The project also includes DW3’s soulful take on The Mamas & the Papas gem “California Dreamin’,” which won the California Lottery Powerball song contest and spawned a popular YouTube video.
DW3 continues to anchor Thursday nights and the 94.7 The Wave Sunday Brunch at Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach and Beverly Hills, the band also continues to entertain Festival and Cruise-goers several times a year. The versatile ensemble is rapidly emerging as a multi-faceted recording outfit in their own right.