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January 2002 Smooth Jazz Vibes title logo Denis Poole offers his view with an english slant on all that's good in smooth jazz

Welcome to the January 2002 issue of Denis Poole's Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on all that's good, and not so good, in the world of smooth jazz.

Peter White

A new year begins, the Secret Garden is bringing in a new feature, but some things don't change. More about the new feature later but for now lets dwell on what is a fortunate and consistent aspect of today's smooth jazz. It is the quality of the music that Peter White continues to produce in what seems to be, for him, a matter of course. Evidence of this can be found in his latest release on Columbia Glow that his been monopolising the Secret Garden sound system over the festive period.

If the Secret Garden had been a little slicker it would have featured Peter White in its December offering and titled the piece 'White Christmas'. Thankfully, and so avoiding this most cheesy of links, it is the January page that is given over to the major league smooth jazz of White.

  
Peter White - Glow

Whites music has been critically described as 'warm and sunny acoustic string breezes that have become a joyous constant in the smooth jazz genre over the years'. Each of his releases have caught automatic melodic fire with a mixture of new music and thoughtfully inventive soul oriented standards that has found the guitarist paying homage to the pop angels of his formative years. These trade mark covers never prompt us to forget the originals as White adds his distinctive rhythm and silk flair, along with a few stirring arrangements to give these songs new urgency.

From his base in Los Angeles White is, together with the likes of Brian Culbertson and Bob James, one of only a handful who can be truly described as smooth jazz superstars. He has reached this pinnacle through his constantly high standard of recording over a golden ten-year period and by some artistically rewarding collaboration with a number of his smooth jazz peers.

This must have all seemed a long way off to White when, as a teenager in the early seventies, he was making his way in the music business. Born in Luton, England on September 20, 1954 Peter White was influenced by the pop stars of his time. The first album he ever bought was The Beatles Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and his first sortie into the world of professional music, after a summer season at an English seaside resort, was to join a London based band managed by Miles Copeland.

 
Al Stewart - Year of the Cat

As luck would have it Miles Copeland also managed Al Stewart and when Stewarts backing musicians disbanded White got the call to support Stewart on keyboards. The time at which White joined Al Stewart coincided with the Glaswegians most successful period. The vocalist, who had started out as a member of DJ Tony Blackburn's band The Sabres, asked White to play keyboards and acoustic guitar on his 1975 release The Year Of The Cat. The album went platinum and the single 'Time Passages' that was taken from it was co-written and co-produced by Stewart and White.

This collaboration between Stewart and White would span almost twenty years and in 1993 White co-produced Stewart's album of that year Famous last Words.

Al Stewart was also, in part, responsible for White relocating to Los Angeles. This location, that was later to become the smooth jazz capital of the world, was where Stewart had moved to in 1979 and where he formed the band 'Shot In the Dark'. Whites arrival saw the two of them get together to form the music publishing company Lobster Music.

  
Basia - Clear Horizons

Music runs in the family. Whites brother, Danny, formed the group Matt Bianco, an offshoot of Blue Rondo a la Turk. The band featured the Polish vocalist Basia Trzatrzelewska. Danny White and Basia left the group to launch the latter's solo career and found instant success as her 1987 debut album Time and Tide become a hit in both Europe and America where it went platinum. With Danny Whites musical assistance Basia developed a subtle cocktail of jazz-pop and her second release, London Warsaw New York in 1990 proved just as successful as her first. However, her third release, in 1994, failed to find an audience. Clear Horizons – The Best of Basia followed in 1998.

 
Peter White - Reveillez-vous

1990 proved to be a big year for Peter White. Not only was he asked to tour with Basia as a backing guitarist, he also released his first solo album on the Chase Music label. Reveillez-Vous was made up mainly of unused songs that he had originally written for Al Stewart and it became a DJ favourite with then emerging smooth jazz radio stations. Also at that time former Al Stewart drummer Steve Chapman took over as Whites manager. Three album releases on the Sindrome label followed before a switch, in 1995, to Columbia where he remains to this day. It is interesting to note that the backing that White provided to Basia on her 1990 tour was reciprocated in 1996 when White featured her on his composition 'Just Another Day' from his 1996 album Caravan of Dreams.

A key feature of Peter's smooth jazz career has been his artistic liaisons with a number of smooth jazz greats, both on record and in live performance. It has become a normal facet of his recordings to find artists such as Boney James, Steve Cole, Rick Braun, Gerald Albright, Brian Culbertson, Marc Antoine, Kirk Whalum, Jeff Lorber, Dave Koz, Euge Groove and most notably Grover Washington JR. These collaborations have enriched the music and created what can only be described as a smooth jazz family. This concept has now been extended to the Guitars, Saxes and More concept of smooth jazz live performances that have become a huge success right across the United States.

Peters British roots and his continued willingness to promote smooth jazz in the country of his birth has seen this Guitars, Saxes and More format extend to venues in London and Manchester. This latest example of smooth jazz missionary work is due in part to the radio station jazz FM and also to the involvement of DJ Robbie Vincent for whom White reserves special thanks in the sleeve notes of his latest release, Glow.

Glow is everything the Peter White fan would want and expect. Top-notch compositions from White himself, great examples of collaborations with other artists, wonderful production qualities and a smattering of quality covers. One of these covers, the Strong and Whitfield composition from 1971, 'Just My Imagination' was a featured Smooth Soul Survivor in the March 2001 Secret Garden.

Norman Whitfield

Norman Whitfield, born New York City in 1943 was one of the true driving forces behind Motown Records. While still in his teens he was a working session musician and staff producer in Detroit and he became one of the architects of Motown in 1962 joining such songwriters as Harvey Fuqua and Holland Dozier Holland in shaping the music that would influence a generation. He had the energy and the vision that allowed him to take the helm of the Temptations recordings where from 1963 onwards he was producing most of what that band was doing with his own songs. With records such as Ain't Too Proud To Beg, Beauty Is Only Skin Deep and I Know I'm Losing You, hits too immense to even fit the description of classics, already in the bag, Whitfield took over entire production responsibility for the Temptations in 1966. He was able to keep them fresh and on the cutting edge of soul for as long as her worked with them.

  
Temptations - Cloud Nine

Whitfield became Motown's sparkplug as music entered the psychedelic era, taking to the new sound and, especially, the use of sound effects more easily than most of the rest of the label. The Temptations were his instrument, their singles and albums his canvas, as Whitfield began creating more involved and ambitious works. Beginning with the single 'I Wish It Would Rain', written in collaboration with lyricist, Eddie Holland, who became Whitfield's song writing partner, he moved the group and the company into this new era, which opened up the subject matter as well as the sound of their songs. I Can't Get Next To You, Ball of Confusion, and Cloud Nine were among the best records to come out of the label during the turn of the 1960's into the 1970's. When Whitfield wasn't producing the albums himself, his protege, Frank Wilson, using techniques and approaches he'd learned from Whitfield, was in charge.

Whitfield kept moving with the times, and had other songs and outlets for his compositions in mind. Edwin Starr had been with Motown for several years without scoring a major hit, but in 1970, he scored the biggest hit of his career with "War", co-written by Whitfield and Holland. The song was so well known, that 22 years later, its lyrics ('War, what is it good for') figured in a key joke (involving Tolstoy's War and Peace) at the centre of an episode of the hit TV comedy series, Seinfeld.

The dawn of the 1970's and it was during this swan song period that Whitfield took the Temptations back towards their original smooth roots with Just My Imagination. The success of albums such as Marvin Gaye's What's Going On and Stevie Wonder's Innervisions saw Motown enter a last, great flowering in its recordings during this period. Whitfield created his greatest effort, Masterpiece by the Temptations, during this time, but its critical notices were better than its sales. However, he soon found himself, like most of the label's other producers, being discouraged from further recordings as ambitious as that, particularly as Motown's fortunes declined. The company had started the 1970's in healthy enough condition, but by the middle of the decade had taken huge losses, not only on many recordings but also on several dubious film-related projects.

In 1975, Whitfield left Motown to found his own label, Whitfield Records. Its emblem, a 'W', was virtually an inverted Motown 'M' with the only difference being a change in colour scheme. He left behind many Motown memories and right up there with them was 'Just My Imagination'.

A full smooth cover discography of Just My Imagination can be found in the March 2001 page. This latest Peter White interpretation is a worthy addition to it. Check out the March 2001 Smooth Vibes archives for the full story.

What is "Smooth Jazz"?

Now for a new Secret Garden feature. It's called quite simply 'what's smooth jazz?' Have you ever been in a situation where someone has asked about the music you listen to, you have said 'smooth jazz' and they have said 'what's smooth jazz?' The fact is the question is not always that easy to answer. You might try to relate the music to an artist that you hope they may have heard of. You might reference it to a smooth jazz radio station that you think they may have listened to. As you may have already found, if thus does not do the trick you are probably in trouble. That's what this feature is all about. Imagine an episode from Third Rock From The Sun. Dick might say 'what is this phenomena called smooth jazz?' Mary Albright would respond by switching on a mp3 player and playing a definitive smooth jazz example. The purpose of this new 'what's smooth jazz?' feature is to draw up a short list of the really great examples of smooth jazz that could be used in such a situation.

  
Peter White - Perfect Moment

This month we start to answer the question of 'what's smooth jazz?' by retaining the Peter White theme and choosing a track from his 1998 album Perfect Moment. It is 'Midnight In Manhattan', co-written by Peter White, Paul Brown and Mike Egizi. What then makes 'Midnight In Manhattan' a superb example of smooth jazz? It has a great beat and is as smooth as silk. It also utilises the classic smooth jazz guitar and sax combination that is, in this instance, done to absolute perfection. This is due, in no little amount, to the fact that the tenor sax is handled in this case by the late great Grover Washington JR. GW could put the word 'jazz' into smooth jazz like no other could and on this track his skill is wondrous to behold. That said this is not a one-man show. The feeling White produces with his guitar playing is of the highest order and fits so well with what Washington is achieving. This is a tremendous example of what smooth jazz is meant to be. Find it also on the Jazz FM compilation from 2000, The Very Best of Smooth Jazz – Volume 2.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this months Secret Garden or have you a favourite Smooth Soul Survivor or a track for 'what's smooth jazz?' that you would enjoy being featured in a future edition? If so please contact the Smooth Jazz Vibes Guest Book or e-mail me on DenisPoole@AOL.com


Added: 1/3/2002