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.”
I grew up in the sleepy English town of Letchworth Garden City in the 1960s and first got interested in music when I heard the Beatles on the radio. My parents bought me an acoustic guitar when I was about eight and I taught myself to play while also taking lessons on the recorder, piano and then later, clarinet. My music education was going along just fine until one day in 1967 I heard the Jimi Hendrix song “Purple Haze”. I was amazed- never had I heard sounds like that coming out of my acoustic guitar and I decided that from that day on, I had to have an electric guitar. Now if only I could convince my parents to buy me one…
I soon got my electric guitar and set to work trying to play like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), but my rock star dreams were soon put on hold when my beloved axe was burned in a fire (accidentally) set by my brother Danny. Distraught, I turned back to my old acoustic guitar, which had been gathering dust in the corner. The guitar-burning incident, though tragic at the time, would prove to be a major turning point in my life. I started to develop a love for acoustic music, something that continues to this day- I soon found lots of inspiration in the music of Crosby Stills and Nash, James Taylor and Joni Mitchell all featuring acoustic guitar. I now carried that acoustic guitar with me everywhere I went - it became my best friend.
By the time I left school in 1973 I knew that music was my calling, and while all my friends went to college, I worked factory jobs until I landed my first musical engagement playing at an English holiday resort in the summer of 1974. After that I briefly joined a group by the name of “Principal Edwards’ Magic Theatre”, only to see them disband a few weeks later. However, one of the members of that group recommended me to Al Stewart and in early 1975 I was asked to join Al’s band for a tour of the UK and then the USA. It was a most exciting time for me. It was my first trip to America and we were opening up for artists like Linda Ronstadt, Billy Joel and Queen. Just to be around these musical luminaries was a great thrill for a 20 year old! That summer saw my 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 between Al and I that was to last 20 years, during which time we wrote and recorded many songs together, including Al’s 1978 Top Ten hit “Time Passages”.
My brother Danny (remember the guitar burning incident?) had by now made his own way in the music business and asked me to do some recording with his group Matt Bianco, featuring an unknown Polish singer -Basia. I subsequently played on her first solo album “Time and Tide” released in 1987 and also on many of her tours and CDs. Thanks Danny!
In 1990, having been a backup musician for 15 years and inspired by the English group “Acoustic Alchemy”, I decided to start recording my own music and released my first CD “Reveillez-Vous”. I used a French title in honour of my French mother, Gilberte. It means “Wake Up”. Many other solo CDs followed, with several songs becoming No.1 hits on Smooth Jazz radio, such as “Midnight in Manhattan” a song I recorded with one of my idols, Grover Washington Jr. Basia collaborated with me on "Just Another Day", a song from my "Caravan of Dreams" CD.
As well as recording my own music, I have performed on recordings by many great artists and 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. I have been part of numerous “Guitars and Saxes” and “Jazz Attack” tours and have also established my annual “Peter White Christmas Tour”. This is a chance for me and some of my musical friends to play our favorite Christmas music. My first Christmas CD “Songs of the Season” was released in 1997.
Over the years, I have become very comfortable as a performer. I feel a tremendous joy when I’m able to connect with my audience. The purpose of performing 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!
Peter’s latest CD, Here We Go features his first ever collaboration with David Sanborn. “It is a dream come true for me- he appears on the title track, a song that I wrote specifically for him. Kirk Whalum and Philippe Saisse also join me on this album, a varied collection of all-original songs, some new and some, which I have kept under wraps for many years! I hope you like it.”
- Best Collaboration “Peter White and Grover Washington, Jr.”
- Best Guitarist
- Best Guitarist
- Best Guitarist
- International Instrumentalist of the Year
- Song of the Year “Bright”
- Guitarist of the Year