After he completed two weeks of performing on the Smooth Jazz Cruise, I had the chance to talk to Peter White about everything that’s happening with him. His new CD, Here We Go
, is about to be released, he is booked to tour all over the world this year, and is one of the most genuine people I have ever met. His love of his fans and fellow artists is refreshing. So, please enjoy catching up with guitarist, Peter White.
SmoothViews (SV):Let’s talk about the new CD, Here We Go, releasing on March 13th. Wonderful CD. With all of your music, I always get a happy feeling. There is something always upbeat. Do you feel it when you are playing and initially recording these songs?
Peter White (PW): I don’t think anyone has ever asked me that. A new question- I love that! You know, we’re musicians, and we’re musicians because we like to play music. When we play music it transports us to a different world where we can control everything. We can control if we want to express sadness or joy, and even with expressing sadness it makes you feel better just by expressing it. There is a song on the album that I consider the saddest song I ever wrote, “Requiem For a Princess.” I wrote it about Princess Diana. Other people have listened to it and said it sounds beautiful. Well, it might be beautiful, but it is also sad. I think you can feel better listening to something sad as long as it also has beauty. To me, Chopin’s Funeral March is one of the most beautiful pieces ever written. It is cathartic to express sadness like that. As musicians, we express ourselves with music. Other people might do it with poetry or making a speech. So, yes, when I am writing the music, I’m happy because to me the music is perfect when I am writing it. In my head, it is perfect. When I am recording it, I’m happy because I am perfecting my art. The only sadness really is when I have finished the album, and it’s gone, because it’s like I have lost a child! My child has grown up and is going out into the world. That’s the only sad part of the process for me, the letting go.
SV: Do you worry that the feeling that you get when you are writing or recording these songs won’t be transferred to your listeners?
PW: Another great question. In the end, that’s all we have. All we have is that feeling and all we can hope for is that other people will have that same feeling, because if you aren’t feeling it when you’re making the music, I don’t think anyone is going to feel it when they are listening. So, my experience tells me that people do respond to my music. They have been telling me now for twenty years that they respond to my music, so I have had a little bit of comfort in that. I’m just a human being like everyone else, I have feelings and if that’s what I express when I am playing the music, then surely someone else will feel it when they listen, be it happy or sad. And if that ain’t happening, then I’m not in touch with my feelings, because it has much more to do with feelings than technique. I’ve seen this so many times where I marvel at other musicians’ techniques, and yet, that’s not what moves people. What moves people are feelings, not technique. A great example is B.B. King…great blues man. He doesn’t have to use much technique. I don’t think he ever plays a chord, but he can play a single note and just bring you to tears. You can teach anyone where to put their fingers on their instrument, but that’s not music. Music is responding to the feelings you have inside and allowing those feelings to come out, and not being afraid to let them come out. You know, we all have fears, but something happens when I pick up my instrument. All of that fear melts away.
SV: You debuted “Our Dance” during the Christmas show when you had Kirk Whalum with you and I heard it again on the Smooth Jazz Cruise. Kirk is the perfect fit. How do you select someone to record with? Do you write the song first and think of the right person, or select a collaborator and write together?
PW: Yes, on the recent Christmas Tour, it was the perfect opportunity to do something together with Kirk. What better than to do a song that we recorded together from the upcoming album? But to answer your question about who to record with, in the case of “Our Dance,” I didn’t immediately think of Kirk. But the song was so soulful and almost gospel in some places, that it was crying out for Kirk to add his saxophone magic! Kirk is the most soulful sax player out there. There was no other choice for me- I was quite certain that he was going to be the right person for that song. In the case of David Sanborn, that was a little different. I knew I wanted to ask David to play on the album but there didn’t seem to be any song already on the album that would fit his style, so I thought I had better come up with a song…and soon! The album was half done and I knew that if I didn’t come up with the right song for him, I would have kicked myself for the rest of my life. So, I came up with a melody and wrote the song “Here We Go” specifically for him to play on. So, to answer your question- there is no set procedure, sometimes you write a song specifically for one person to play on, and sometimes it just happens during the process of recording.
SV: So, on Here We Go, you went back to your engineer/producer, DC, after a brief hiatus. What made you go back to working with him?
PW: Well actually this is the 3rd album we’ve done together. Playing Favorites, Good Day and now the new one, Here We Go. With Playing Favorites, I started with DC and then we brought in Paul Brown to finish the album, which worked out well as he brought in a whole lot of new ideas. Paul suggested I record “What Does it Take” and he also completely reworked “Mister Magic” on that CD. They were both hits on radio so I thank him for that! Playing Favorites (2006) was really a continuation of the first album I did with Paul, which was Reflections in 1994. We used a lot of the same musicians on both albums, in fact we got the same 3 saxophone players who played on Reflections to play on Playing Favorites: Boney James, Richard Elliot and Sam Riney. So both albums, even though they were recorded 12 years apart, actually go together, all cover songs. I’m acknowledging all my favorite songs from when I was younger.
SV: How do you choose who to work with?
PW: I always want to work with people I feel comfortable with, like DC, because we mesh together so well. We’re good friends and I feel that he always has my best interests at heart. That is really important when you’re working on a project together. He truly loves the music and loves to work with me. Also, he comes up with musical ideas that I would never think of. Sometimes it’s crazy stuff that I don’t agree with and sometimes it’s just the right amount of spice to make the song more interesting. That’s a good analogy- musical spice! It’s hard to do everything yourself. Once you have a song in your head for a long period of time, it’s hard to think of it in any other way, so it’s really useful to have someone else listen to it and say, “Hey, how about adding this sound?” That’s what DC does for me. And, also, he’s a whiz with computers, which is how we record everything now. If anything needs to be fixed, he can do it!
SV: Will you begin playing more from the new CD, say at the Berks Jazz Fest?
PW: I’ll probably play the title track from the new album. I am only playing three or four songs at Berks because I am part of an All-Star group put together by Brian Simpson, so I have to choose very carefully. But, I think because the single is the title track, it will be good chance for me to try it out. Incidentally, I think the Berks Festival will be the first concert I play after the new CD is released.
SV: Speaking of Berks, you are on the schedule for this year again and appear to be one of the most frequent on the lineup from year to year. Is it one of your favorites?
PW: I have been very lucky to be asked to play so many times at Berks, starting around 1994, I think. It really is one of the best festivals and always a thrill to be there. I’ve played many different kind of shows there, sometimes with my band and sometimes in collaboration with others. For the audience it is very special to see combinations of artists that you maybe wouldn’t see anywhere else. For instance, it was at Berks that I first saw Kirk Whalum and Gerald Albright play together. Later I did a Guitars and Saxes tour with both of them, and because I had seen them at Berks, I already had an idea of how the show was going to be. The people that put on the festival, from (producer) John Ernesto down to the stagehands are all like family and it is always a joy to go there and be a part of it.
SV: So, you just recently spent two weeks on the Smooth Jazz Cruise. I know I had a great time seeing all of the fantastic artists and groupings of folks playing together that you might never see elsewhere. What is the experience like for you?
PW: One big, giant party! What I love most of all is that once we are all on that ship, we are all equal. We all play on the same stage. We all play together. There’s no hierarchy. There’s no I’m cooler than you or I’m bigger than you or I sell more records than you. Everybody is the same. We all join in together and play together. For instance, I knew that Boney James was going to be on the cruise, and I have recorded many songs with Boney over the years. It so happened that I was doing two songs during my show that Boney had played on, “Caravan of Dreams” and “Walk on By.” How long ago was that? Those albums came out in 1994 and 1996, sixteen and eighteen years ago!! I wasn’t really expecting Boney to play with me because I didn’t think that he would remember those songs since so many years had gone by and we hadn’t rehearsed together. But while we were at rehearsal, Boney said, “Oh, do you want me to play that song [“Walk on By”] with you?” I said, “Wow…absolutely because you’re the guy that recorded it with me and if you remember how it goes, that would be great.” And he said “Yeah, I think I got it. I heard it on the radio a few times!” We rehearsed it and it was like no time had passed. It sounded fantastic, just as good as the recording and so I asked if he wanted to come up and play “Caravan of Dreams” with me the following night. He said, “Sure. I think I remember that one too.” That song turned out great as well, and I think that was the only time we have ever played it live together, right there on the cruise ship, a song that we recorded 16 years ago!
SV: What was the most memorable moment for you during the cruises?
PW: Probably hanging backstage and jamming with David Sanborn and Joe Sample, two of my idols. The audience sees what is on the stage but there is a whole lot more going on backstage. Joe was showing David how to play a Beatles song “Get Back” that he was going to do in a show the following night, and I thought to myself hey, if there’s anything I know how to play, it’s the Beatles so I picked up my guitar and played right along. I had someone take a picture of us jamming together and posted it on Facebook as I was so jazzed about being part of that. Oh, and that photographer was none other than… Kirk Whalum (laughs).
SV: I understand that you were a late entry in the Talent Contest during week 2, playing “Ain’t No Sunshine” on the harmonica.
PW: You know, I always go to the talent shows on the cruise because I think they are a lot of fun and I like to cheer people on. I have learned to sit in the back because I don’t want my presence to be disruptive. But Andre Berry, who is the host, always tries to get me involved in the show. So, I thought, he is always asking me to do something so this year I did. I had my harmonica with me, which is to say the least is not my first instrument, it’s an instrument that I played as a teenager and recently started playing again. So, I decided that I was going to go up there and play something that I am not totally comfortable with and a song that I never rehearsed or played in my life. So, I played “Ain’t No Sunshine” because it was in an easy key, A minor. I thought, “How hard can that be?!” (laughs) I had no time to practice because I had decided this about five minutes before the show and so after a while I started to think that maybe I should back out…maybe this was going to be a disaster, but I knew Andre would do this chicken thing he does. He calls people who sign up then back out, chickens and he does the chicken dance. Well, I didn’t want to be a chicken, so I went up there and did it and it was fun. I just wanted to see if I had any talent! (Laughs).
SV: Did the crowd feel you had talent?!
PW: Yeah…at the beginning one person shouted out, “Not fair.” But at that point I was just the same as everyone else. I felt nervous about doing it. It takes a lot of courage to get up there in front of people and perform, especially if you haven’t had a lot of experience, and I certainly haven’t had a lot of experience playing harmonica in front of people!
SV: So if the guitar thing suddenly quits working, you have the harmonica and accordion to fall back on!
PW: Absolutely!!! I need to keep working on that!
SV: Your touring calendar for 2012 is quite full already and I know that I’ll get to see you again in July. Can you elaborate on the White Hot Summer Groove Tour?
PW: My manager, Steve, suggested I team up with Euge Groove, and I thought that would be fun since I hadn’t done any shows with Euge for a while. We have recorded together and have played together only occasionally, so I thought it would be nice because it’s always fun to play with different people and I’ve always been a big fan of Euge’s playing.
SV: That’s what I wanted to ask about. How do you choose who to tour with?
PW: Euge had asked me to play on his latest album, and I started to think that it would be nice to do some shows together and maybe play that song during the show. Like I said, I am always looking for something different…a new pairing. I have toured many years with Mindi, Rick Braun and Gerald Albright and I thought it was about time to tour with Euge. We were trying to come up with a name for the tour and we first came up with Euge Peter, which I didn’t think was very good! I was thinking White Groove, White Hot Groove. My manager came up with White Hot Summer Groove. I am looking forward to it.
SV: So after the summer tour, can we expect the Christmas tour again?
PW: We will do the Christmas tour again, this time with Rick Braun, who is coming back to join us. We always try to something different there as well. This last year I did the tour with Mindi and Kirk. The year before that it was with Rick instead of Kirk, and the year before that, Rick and I joined Dave Koz’s Christmas tour. So for the last three years, it has been different every time. This year, with Rick coming back, we will try to put together a different show again.
SV: I look forward to that show of yours every year, regardless of who is with you. I know it will be a fun show. You all are having fun up there and that transfers to the audience.
PW: It is always fun for me- for example, a couple of years ago I decided that I maybe could do a little Elvis! So that became part of the show. Then last Christmas, Mindi decided that she could be Eartha Kitt and sing “Santa Baby.” That was the high point of the tour for me! She had a boa and at first I had to encourage her to play with that boa. She was way too self-conscious about it and I had to show her how to work it!!! (Laughs)
SV: That scares me that you knew how to work with the boa more than she did!
PW: Yes! I have never had any practice, honestly, but I started playing with it in rehearsal and once she got used to it, she got really good at it and it became for me the best part of the show! We are so good together and help each other do things out of our comfort zones. We like that the show isn’t completely structured. We like performing without a net and letting some parts of the show go wherever they are going to go. Last year we added Kirk Whalum to the mix, and he fit right in because Kirk likes to go with the flow and be in the moment too! You never know what he is going to do. It’s the same thing with Rick, too. It all makes for a very spontaneous show and a whole lot of fun for us.
SV: Is there anything else you want everyone in the world to know about?
PW: I would love for everyone to visit my website, www.peterwhite.com for the latest news and tour schedule. All of the latest concert dates are there. I have shows in England coming up. And please visit me on Facebook. I am the easiest person to get in touch with. I always take time to read the posts on Facebook and to respond. I do try to always respond. It’s important. I remember when I first met Joni Mitchell. I was about 23, I think. I met her in a hotel coffee shop. She was sitting alone and I told her what a huge fan I was and she invited me to sit down and talk to her. So, that’s what I do now. I always remember how gracious she was to me and I try to be that way. I have met so many people over the years that I never thought I would ever meet. And I have played with so many great people that I never thought I would play with. I am just so incredibly blessed and lucky. I’m so grateful and thankful that people come to my shows that I will stay behind until every last person has got the picture or autograph that they wanted. If you want to come and talk to me, I will always have time for that. It’s the least I can do to show my appreciation.
SV: And your fans are so appreciative of all that you do. I want to thank you for taking the time to talk with me tonight. It’s always a pleasure to chat with you, Peter.
PW: Thank you, Bonnie. See you again soon.