Peter White — Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2018)

Jan. 2018

Peter White — The Perennial English Giant of Smooth Jazz

One of the real pleasures about writing about musicians is that their back stories are always so interesting. Growing up in the UK through the seventies and eighties were amazing times, musically at any rate. The club scene was dominated by U.S. Black music (Brass Construction, Fatback Band, Kool and the Gang, etc.) and tucked in amongst those funk heavyweights were gems like “Westchester Lady” from Bob James, Herbie Hancock’s “Rockit,” and other contemporary jazz tracks. Those crossover jazz funk floor fillers left a deep impression on me at the time and started my love of jazz. The club scene was where you had to go then to find that kind of music. Very different from today. It was out of that scene that many good British soul bands emerged (Hi-Tension, Light of the World, Incognito, and a crossover Latin soul funk band called Blue Rondo a la Turk). The guys from Blue Rondo were London club scene regulars, among them was a keyboard player named Danny White and a Polish singer named Basia. You are probably wondering: “What this trip down memory lane has to do with the artist of the month?” Well, all will become clear.

Peter White was born just north of London in a town called Luton in 1954 to a French mother and an English father. The family moved to Letchworth soon after Peter’s birth and, a few years later, had a second child, Danny. As a youngster, the elder son loved sports, hiking, and tree climbing, but music was most special to him. He first got interested in music listening to the Beatles on the radio. His parents bought him an acoustic guitar when he was about 8, and he taught himself to play while simultaneously taking lessons on the recorder, piano and, then later, clarinet. His father encouraged him to learn many musical instruments — recorder, clarinet, cornet, trombone, violin, harmonica, piano — but the one instrument his dad couldn’t help him with was the guitar; the kid was on his own.

His musical education was progressing nicely until, one day in 1967, he heard the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze.” White recalls “I had never heard sounds like that coming out of my acoustic guitar, and I decided that from that day on, the electric guitar was to be the most important thing in my life.” After acquiring an electric guitar, White furiously studied the works of Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Jimmy 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, White 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 in his life. White started to develop a love for the instrument. He 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. That was the point where White started to carry his guitar everywhere he went.

While his friends went to college, White took a job in a factory, determined to make a career out of music. He got his first music job playing at an English Holiday Resort in 1974. When the summer season was over, he joined a band called Principal Edwards Magic Theatre. The group only lasted a few weeks before disbanding. However, one of the members of that group recommended White to folk rocker Al Stewart, and he was asked to join Al’s band for a tour of England, Scotland, and then the USA, starting in 1975. The band was opening for artists like Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel, and Queen. To be around these musical luminaries was a great thrill for the 20-year-old.

That summer saw his 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 they wrote and recorded many songs together, including Stewart’s 1978 Top Ten hit “Time Passages.”

Around 1979, White moved to Los Angeles, where Stewart had relocated, and formed a band called Shot in the Dark with other musicians who had played with Stewart. He established a music publishing company called Lobster Music. Meanwhile, back in the UK, his brother Danny had started a new band, Matt Bianco. The group was initially formed in 1982 by Mark Reilly (vocals), Danny White (keyboards), and Kito Poncioni (bass), all of whom had just left the art pop group, Blue Rondo a La Turk. Also in the line-up from the beginning was then-unknown Polish vocalist Basia Trzetrzelewska. Initially, the band was known as Bronze before settling on the name Matt Bianco in 1983.
Danny White and Basia left the group to launch the singer’s solo career. Basia’s 1987 Epic debut album Time and Tide. The album went platinum, bolstered by the hit singles “New Day for You” and “Time and Tide.” The elder brother White played on Basia’s first album which was released in 1987 to much acclaim. Her second LP, London Warsaw New York (Epic, 1990), mimicked the success of her debut and, since then, White has played on many tours and recordings with her.

Having been a backup musician for 15 years and inspired by the English group Acoustic Alchemy (another Smooth Jazz Ride favourite!), White decided to start recording his own music and released his first CD Reveillez-Vous, a French title in honour of his French mother, Gilberte. It means “Wake Up.” Made up mostly of unused songs that White had written for Al Stewart, the album became a DJ favourite at jazz and emerging smooth jazz radio stations. Epic exec Cliff Gorov was the man who first brought White’s music to the attention of contemporary jazz radio.

Former Al Stewart drummer Steve Chapman put down his sticks and became the guitarist’s manager. After recording three albums for Sin-Drome, White signed with Columbia/Sony in 1995.

His solo work continued throughout the ’90s with White releasing a slew of records: Caravan of Dreams (1996), Songs of the Season (1997), and Perfect Moment (1998). By Candlelight: Collection, Vol. 2 was issued two years later. In 2001, Glow was released, followed by Confidential in 2004. White then decided to revisit some of his favourite songs from the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s in his 2006 release Playin’ Favourites. The low-key Good Day followed in 2009. In 2012, White delivered the studio album Here We Go, featuring guest appearances by such artists as David Sanborn, Andrew Neu, and Kirk Whalum. In 2014, White released his 14th studio album, the all-original Smile. 2016’s Groovin’, his fifteenth album as a bandleader, featuring reworkings of a number of classic songs from the ’60s and ’70s.

White can also be heard on the concert CD Basia on Broadway and on releases by Richard Elliot, Warren Hill, Craig Chaquico, Rick Braun, Marc Antoine, Kirk Whalum, and Everette Harp. White and the aforementioned musicians periodically do a concert tour, An Evening of Guitars, Saxes and More, with each artist showcasing their own music as well as collaborating with others on their songs.

Smooth jazz guitarist Peter White’s lyrical lines and musical inventiveness are a joy to listen to. The affable Englishman’s charm and playfulness come through in his music, whether in the studio or live, giving his style of smooth jazz a liveliness that so many others in the genre lack. He is truly a unique living musical story unto himself. – Steve Giarchardi

For more on Peter White and his discography, click here.