Interviewed by
Mary Bentley

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Guitarist Peter White rose straight to the top with his debut release in 1990.  Nineteen years later, he is still a favorite in the smooth jazz community.  This month, Smoothviews talks to Peter White about his new release, his popular Christmas show, and listens as he takes an introspective look at his enduring and successful career.

Smoothviews (SV:) My first question is about the Bloke & the Blonde tour.  Is it still going on?  And, will we be seeing more of that tour in 2010?
Peter White (PW): You are referring of course to the shows I’ve been doing all this year with Mindi Abair.  She is the blonde, and yes, I am the bloke! We have a show coming up on October 15th at the Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival and there are already a couple of shows booked for next year. It looks like it may continue for a while!  I love working with Mindi.

SV:  We saw your show with Mindi at the Berks Jazz Festival in Reading, PA and at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA. The music was great, the crowd was into it, and everyone had a good time!.
PW: That Berks show was actually the first show of the tour. Mindi and I always have a great time playing together.  On stage she is extremely feminine but offstage, she’s just one of the guys. I like that about her. I’m trying to think of who else I like to tour with - Jeff Golub, he’s one of my favorites.  When we play together it becomes all about the guitar and I joke to the audience that we don’t need saxophones- sorry Mindi, I don’t really mean that! (Laughs)

SV: That would be great to see you guys all play together.  And speaking of Berks, I was on their website, and they have a list of everyone who has performed, by year, since the festival began.  The name Peter White appears eight times.
PW: Really?
SV: Really.
PW: That’s amazing because there were a while when I didn’t play there, and I began to think they didn’t like me. (Laughs) That was going back about five or six years.  I realized that I hadn’t played at Berks for years, and I didn’t know why.

SV: I think it’s safe to say that they like you.
PW: And I like them.  I love playing there, and incidentally that was where I first met Mindi, when she was playing in a band with violinist Charlie Bisharat. That was probably the first time I played at Berks Jazz festival and I’m sure you are now going to tell me when that was!

SV: The first time you played there was in 1994, fifteen years ago. You returned in ’95, and then again in ’97, 2000, ’05, ’06, ’08, and ’09.  Next year is their 20th anniversary, so we’re hoping to see you up there again.
PW: I believe that we are booked for next year’s festival already! The Berks Jazz festival is a wonderful event, one of the biggest of its kind with many artists playing over 3 weeks in multiple venues. I love playing there.


SV: I’m going to switch gears a little and talk about the upcoming Dave Koz Christmas tour.  Before you know it, it will be time to get ready for that.
PW: Dave just e-mailed me.  You know he’s getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  He invited all of his friends to be there with him- I’m looking forward to that, and sometime after he wants us all to get together to plan the Christmas show; me, Brenda [Russell], David Benoit, and Rick [Braun].  So yes, I’m just now starting to think about the Christmas season.

SV: Wow!  Christmas comes early. 
PW: We plan Christmas way ahead.  The tour dates have been set since early this year, and we start rehearsals sometime in the middle of November. Wow- I’m pretty busy till the end of the year! On the last two days of October I’m playing a reunion show with Al Stewart in Steelville, Missouri.  Then, I fly to England to do 12 shows in a row. When I return, we immediately start rehearsals for the Dave Koz Christmas Tour.

SV: Where are you playing in England?
PW:  I’m playing all over- some venues on the South Coast of England where I haven’t played before and then I return for nine shows in a row at the Pizza Express in London, my home away from home! I’ve been playing there consistently for 10 years now. Then I fly back to start rehearsals with Dave Koz.  We rehearse all the way up until the tour starts the day after Thanksgiving.  I can pretty much write off November and December.  There’s no free time at all!Early next year I will be off to Florida to play on the Smooth Jazz cruise.

SV: So, you don’t really have a break until mid January.
PW: That’s right, but it’s always good to keep working.

SV: Because you’re doing the Dave Koz Christmas show, the Peter White Christmas show will be taking a hiatus this year.
PW: I decided not to do my tour this year, but Mindi, Rick Braun and I will be back next year, 2010 [with the Peter White Christmas show.]

SV: I think a lot of people are excited to see this Dave Koz Christmas show.  It’s a reunion tour.  I personally would love to see the show if it were coming anywhere near me, but it’s not, so I’m going to have to miss it.
PW: Unfortunately there are only so many days between Thanksgiving and Christmas so I’m sorry that we can’t play everywhere even though we would like to.

SV:  How does it feel getting the old gang back together again to do this show?
PW: It will be great to hang out with old friends and play music together. I haven’t played with most of them since 2002.  That was the last time we did the Dave Koz tour together. Since that time, I’ve played many shows with Rick but it will be great to get together with all of them- Dave, Brenda, Rick and David Benoit to play music again.

SV: And, as you were saying about your Christmas show, it will be returning in 2010. We’re all very happy about that- it’s a lot of fun, the music is great, and you guys look like you’re having a good time.  Are you really having as much fun as you appear to be?
PW: We’re all friends and love playing with each other, Rick, Mindi, and I. We just love being able to play our music in front of an appreciative audience.  This is what all musicians dream of. What could be better?  I mean, it could be much worse.  I could be in a wedding band playing “Tie A Yellow Ribbon!” And by the way, that’s how I started out- playing that song along with other pop tunes in my very first professional band. That was in 1974.

SV: Really! (Laughs)
PW: Nowadays I can choose the music that I want to play, and what’s more I get to choose the people I work with.  How many people can say that?  I’m very lucky.

SV: Your shows seem very free-form; not a lot of structure.
PW: There is structure, but there are places where we just let the music happen, just let the show happen according to how we feel at the time.  So there’s a little bit of both.  There has to be structure in places.  You can’t have a show that’s completely non-structured- that would be chaotic, but we like to leave a lot of space in the show for spontaneity.

SV: I think that’s what we like the most about it besides the music.
PW: We’ve had a chance to develop my Christmas show over many years, just like with Dave Koz and his Christmas show, and that makes a difference.  When you rehearse a show, you pretty much just rehearse the music.  That doesn’t mean you have a show.  A show is what develops on stage in front of an audience and we have now played our Christmas show, oh, about 135 times over 6 years.

SV: I understand you had a CD release party last week.
PW:  Yes, I had a CD release party in San Diego a couple of nights ago.  It was organized by radio station, FM 98, for their listeners and it was great to meet the fans and play some of the new songs.  I’m doing two other release parties, in Charlotte, NC on October 17th, and in Atlanta on October 18th.  All the info will be on my website soon-  And more shows are coming in all the time.  When I release an album, it’s a very busy time.  Everyone wants to talk to me.  When I released my first album, I think I did one magazine interview and one radio interview. 

SV: Now, everyone is fighting over you. (Laugh)
PW: Which is nice.  I must say that it was strange when I released my first album, to find that anyone wanted to talk to me.  I wasn’t ready for that.  I had confidence in the music, but I didn’t have any confidence in myself, that I was interesting enough that anyone wanted to know about me.

SV: When did that happen?  When did the confidence come?
PW: It just happened gradually.  Imagine somebody wanting to interview you and your first response is, “Why?  Who cares?  My life is not that interesting.” Then, I started to accept that, yes, it is interesting to other people.  When I listen to music, and I like somebody’s music, I want to know a little bit more about them.  So, I kind of learned along the way that you have to give a little bit of yourself.  It’s not enough just to make music.  You have to show people that you’re an interesting person, someone they would like to meet.  If people like your music, then they want to know you as a person.

SV:  It goes along with the territory.  You’ve got 12 albums to date.  When you tour and perform, there are certain songs that you know you have to play.  The audience pretty much won’t let you leave the stage without playing songs like, “Bueno Funk,” and “Promenade.”  Also, you will play songs from your current release to familiarize the new music with your audience.  How do you decide what songs to play in your show?
PW: I’m very careful that I don’t change the show too much all at once.  You’ve got to strike a balance.  You want to change the show from time to time to keep it fresh, but you don’t want to change it completely.  I’ve heard that Steely Dan go out and they’ll perform one album, and that’s the show.  I don’t know if I could do that. (Laughs)  I try to include some new songs, but not too many.  For instance, if you consider the previous last album, Playing Favorites, I only ended up playing two songs from that album consistently in my show, “Mr. Magic,” and “What Does It Take.” They were both radio hits so I took those two songs and put them right near the beginning of the show.  If I had played more songs from that CD I would have had to take out some other songs like “Who’s That Lady”, “Bueno Funk” or some other favorites.  Every now and then I do add “Hit the Road Jack,” the last song on Playing Favorites as an encore because it is such a nice audience participation song.  I have released twelve albums so far and there are certain songs that people want to hear and I can’t leave them out of the show. Hey there’s only so much time you get to do a show. We don’t dictate the length of the show generally.  It’s the venue manager or the promoter that dictates the length of the show.  There are security people, workers to clean up after the show, and others that pack up the equipment.  They don’t want to be there all night!  A headline show is usually about 75-90 minutes.  Now, to get in all the songs that I would want to play, I’d have to play for Three hours, at least.  But that hardly ever happens.  There are only a few shows a year where there is no time limit, and one is coming up soon in Temecula, CA, at the Thornton Winery. I can pretty much play as long as I want there, which I love.  On the cruise shows, we’re limited to one hour.  And by the way, at the Birchmere, where you have seen us many times, we’re not usually limited by time either. 


SV: I find it interesting that you say you usually do two of the songs from your latest CD.  Someone told me they were at a concert a few years back of an artist who had a really good, new album at the time.  He said he only played one song from the new album, which I thought was a little odd.  Aren’t you trying to sell CD’s?
PW: Yes we want to sell CDs, but you want to put on the best show possible. I think that adding two songs from a new CD is enough for people to get an idea of whether they will like the whole CD. After an album has been out a while, you get a feel for what songs people like; which are their favorite songs.  I will certainly do “Bright,” which is the first single from the new CD and will probably be part of the show for a long time. Beyond that I’m not really sure which other songs to add. I like all the songs on the new CD and would love to play them all, but if I do, I run the risk of leaving something out of the show that people want to hear from my earlier CDs.

SV: I want to talk about the new CD.  The songs for this album are songs that you kind of had in the bank, that were either unfinished, had not been recorded, or were in various stages.
PW: And I have tons more as well.  (Laughs) Around 1998-2000, I wrote a lot of songs.  That’s all I did, besides a few shows here and there. This was before [my daughter] Charlotte came along.

SV: (Laugh) When you had more time.
PW: Yes, Charlotte arrived in 2001, and it was all over, no more free time for a while, but before that time, all I did was write songs, I’m talking about writing 50, 60, 70 songs.  Of course some of them weren’t that good, but when I went back and listened to them a couple of years ago, there were quite a few that still sounded good to me and I just decided I wanted to finish these songs and put them out there. The title track, “Good Day” was a song started by a friend of mine named Mike Egizi.  He also wrote “Midnight in Manhattan,” and “Venice Beach” with me some years back, which both got a lot of radio play. About ten years ago he gave me two great tracks- one was “Turn It Out,” which we used on Glow, and the other was “Good Day.” I had written a melody for “Good Day,” but never used on any CD until now. It just became one more song that I had in the stockpile and for this CD, rather than writing a whole lot of new songs, I decided to use a whole lot of songs from the vault, as it were! 

SV: Well, they’re new to us.
PW: You’re right- they’re new to everybody in the world except me!

SV: You worked a lot with Philippe Saisse on this CD.
PW: I took the music as far as I could working with my engineer, DC, He is an engineer/producer; a guy that I met while working with Paul Brown.  He was Paul Brown’s assistant, and a computer whiz.  You need someone like that around because everything is recorded now with computers and they do break down!

But I realized that I needed some more musical help and one day I was talking to Rick Braun and he said, “Why don’t you give Philippe Saisse a call?  He’ll help you,” so I called Phillipe and he said, “Yes, I can help you. Just give me some songs and I’ll see what I can do.”  So, that’s what I did.   I gave him the first seven songs on the album and he worked on them in his studio, and soon he had completely transformed the songs. He added different sounds and different rhythms and it sounded so much better to me- these songs which had been floating in my head for years suddenly came alive.  He also introduced me to Simon Phillips, who is an English drummer, quite legendary among musicians. He’s been the drummer for Toto for about 15 years, he’s played with the Who, plus, he’s English, and I liked that. So we had Simon play on some songs, which kicked them up again a few notches.

SV: You’ve already answered my next question, what did Philippe Saisse bring to this album?
PW: It was a joy working with Philippe because he just took what I’d done and made it so much better.  He polished it.  For instance, if you listen to the very beginning of the first song, “Good Day,” that’s Philippe; he added all of the lush keyboard sounds.  Then, if you listen to the end of the song, and you hear a vibraphone solo, that’s Philippe too.  When you listen to the intro to the next song, “Always, Forever,” that’s Philippe playing the keyboard again.  The intro that I had worked up originally was quite lame, and he just transformed it! In some cases, he left the keyboard that I had done originally, like on “Temptation.”  And on some songs he added sound effects, like on “Mission 2 Mars,” where he added all the NASA mission control space talk. By the way, Philippe is French, both Simon Phillips and I are English, and DC is from Croatia.  This album is like a European conspiracy

SV: Mission 2 Mars is an interesting track.  That, to me, doesn’t sound like a Peter White song.  It took me by surprise a little.
PW:  I love that.  To me, it’s a typical Peter White song except that the way it starts is with no guitar, for about the first minute and instead you hear sound effects and then this driving beat, which is when the rocket engines start firing up.  Philippe found all the NASA recordings of the original moon and I’ve been assured that they are public and can be used by anybody. If not then we’re all going to be arrested for stealing government property- (laughs). The guitar melody was the last thing I came up with for this song, almost as an afterthought, and I often think that the song would work quite well without the guitar. That gives me an idea, that I could release it as a dance record and leave the guitar out completely, because the song is all about the drumbeat, the bass line and this wacky keyboard riff which repeats every two measures. That’s how I wrote the song. You can always tell how I wrote a song because of the way it starts out- whether it’s a drumbeat or a bass line or a keyboard riff- that’s usually how I wrote it. One exception is “Bright”. The intro with the high bass line actually came when the song was almost finished because I realized that I needed a better intro than what I had.

SV: “Bright,” is the first single from the new CD, and you dedicated it to Wayman Tisdale.  That’s perfect.  His smile had a way of lighting up the whole room.
PW: Wayman passed away when I was recording the song, so I was thinking about him a lot.  I’d already called it “Bright” from way back.  I don’t even remember writing this song because it was so long ago, and I don’t know why I named it “Bright,” but it just sounded happy to me.  It’s a happy song and almost old fashioned in a way.  There’s nothing really hip about it.  It’s very retro, something I could have recorded on my first album, but it just reminded me of Wayman.  He was so bright.  And the way it starts with the bass; the very first note you hear is a high bass note.  That’s the way he used to play.  He played everything on the high string of the bass, because he used it as a melodic instrument and that way he could heard above the band.  He was always happy, always optimistic, even when he was ill.  I had so much admiration for him as a person.

SV: You also worked on the new CD with Polish singer Basia and your brother, Danny. Tell us the story behind “Love Will Find You.”
PW: Well they sent me this song, which was supposed to be for Basia’s record.  As in pretty much every song I’ve ever worked on with Basia, there was no melody when I first heard it.  They just sent me a track with no melody on it except a little scat singing, and I liked the track and what little singing there was, and so I recorded my own melody.

SV: You just incorporated that into what they had done.
PW: Yes, and I sent it back to Danny and said, ‘What do you think of that?’  He said, “That’s very nice.  Why don’t you do your version of the song, and we’ll do ours and we’ll put both out.”  So, we recorded both versions. 

I added a lot of background guitar rhythm parts, which were used on both versions and I took mine at a slightly faster tempo.  When I finished it I realized that I still needed something more to kick it up at the end so I asked Basia to sing the chorus ‘Love will find you” at the end of the song, which is not where a chorus usually appears, but in this case it seemed to work. As it turned out, they didn’t release their version, at least not to my knowledge- it was called “Oh Mama.” Incidentally, this is the first song that Danny, Basia and I have ever written together!

SV: The other one I really like is “Ramon’s Revenge.”
PW: I originally called the song “Lamont’s Lament,” because there’s a really sad part in the middle of the song, but “Ramon’s Revenge” just sounded like a better title to me and better describes the story behind this song. The way I see it, Ramon and Lamont are friends who both love the same girl. One night they are all at a big celebration party, everyone is dancing and in all the excitement, Lamont slips away with the girl. He obviously has a very convincing way with words! Ramon realizes that they are both missing and becomes very sad, that the girl that arrived with him would leave with another man. At that point the music gets very quiet, the guitar drops out and you just hear the lonely piano.  Ramon has walked away from all the revelry and is wondering whether he should just accept what has happened and move on. But the music starts to build again and he thinks, hell no I’m not going to accept this. I’m going to fight for her. At this moment, the music explodes. Our hero, Ramon, jumps onto his horse, rides off to find Lamont, his supposed friend who stole his girl, beats him up, lifts the girl onto his horse and rides off into the sunset. At the very end of the song, you can actually hear them galloping away.  So you see, although the song has a sad part, it ends up happy, except for Lamont (laughs) who loses the girl, as well as his friend.

SV: When I listened to it, I thought of flamenco dancers and the sound of their feet when they dance.
PW: Yes, there are handclaps and castanets.  It’s a very flamenco sounding song, which is why in the story I pictured people dancing. I’m not big on flamenco music but in this case I think I’ve added my own twist, musically.

SV: The last song on the CD is “Say Goodnight.” It’s a very quiet song- does it have any special meaning for you?
PW: It’s a song that you can only really put at the end of an album. Every song has a mood, and this one reminds me of two old friends saying goodnight. Way back when I played in Al Stewart’s band, he would say at the end of the show “Say goodnight to Peter White.”  I’d wave to the audience and leave the stage.  Al would finish the show on his own, and I always thought this was a nice way to end the show.  So the phrase “Say Goodnight” comes from that time and always stuck in my head. Al Stewart and I worked together for almost 20 years. I gained a lot of experience in terms of composing, recording and performing and I remember those days very fondly.

SV: And you’ve been doing it ever since.  Did you ever think you’d get to where you are today?
PW: No I really didn’t.  I knew I wanted to be a musician and I was quite happy hearing my guitar on the radio when I was playing with either Basia or Al Stewart, and then one day I heard this English band Acoustic Alchemy. They were playing acoustic guitar music and it sounded like the kind of music that I played and that was the first time that I thought that maybe I could make my own music.  Then I could get a bit more recognition for what I was doing.  People were hearing my guitar playing but most of the listening audience didn’t know who I was.  So I knew that I had to make an album and put my name on the front.  When I recorded it, it didn’t sound to me like anything that was being played on the radio.  I had no idea if it would ever get played on the radio, but it did.  I have to thank my friend Cliff Gorov, from All That Jazz Inc. who worked hard to promote my music to radio stations back then, and continues to this day.

SV: You’ve been doing this a long time.
PW: I’ve been lucky.  I’ve found a way to play music that I like, and there are people that want to listen to it.

SV: You can’t ask for much more.
PW: No, you certainly can’t.

SV: Well, thank you for chatting with me this afternoon, Peter.
PW: It’s been my pleasure!

SV:  I look forward to seeing you again.  Let me add that your new CD, Good Day, is out and is available for purchase.  You can check Peter’s website, for the latest tour information.