May 13, 2004

Peter White Confidential

No one's hotter in smooth jazz right now than Peter White. His first single from his latest CD, Confidential, is a happy ditty called "Talkin' Bout Love" that has stayed on the top of the smooth-jazz charts for five weeks.

Peter talks to Smooth Jazz Vibes about the album, its groovy cover art and mysterious liner notes, his early days with Al Stewart, and future CDs he like to create for his fans.

And here's a challenge he throws out to readers: How does it feel? E-mail him at email@peterwhite.com if you think you know the answer.

PeterWhite_live2002.jpgWhen you think of romance, you picture White’s comforting acoustic guitar melodies, which he’s serenaded his adoring smooth-jazz fans with for 14 years and over the course of nine albums, including his latest, Confidential.

Peter White is clearly a musician at the top of his form. His contemporaries call on him to sprinkle his magic dust on their CDs, festivals book him to draw bodies and his fans count the days until the next batch of songs.

The latest batch of songs, released March 23, looks like it’ll perch near the top of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz charts for a while. The first single, “Talkin’ Bout Love,” has been No. 1 on Radio & Records’ top 30 charts for five weeks as of the week ending May 14. The single is the 13th No. 1 in White’s career. Paul Brown, the genre’s most successful producer who now has a CD of his own, Up Front, co-wrote and produced the song. Brown’s first single from that project, “24/7,” has been stuck at No. 2 for a while due to the popularity of “Talkin’ Bout Love.”

“Paul’s probably wishing I would vacate the top spot,” says White jokingly. “But I’m sure he’s not complaining, since I think he’s already sold more records than I did on my first album. Paul’s a great friend and a great talent.”

coverConfidential features an all-star cast of guest musicians, including trumpeter Chris Botti, keyboardist Brian Culbertson, percussionist Lenny Castro, saxophonists Mindi Abair and Michael Paulo. Christopher Cross’s angelic vocals caress a cover of a Brenda Russell song "She's in Love," which she and White did a duet on during past Dave Koz and Friends Christmas tours. White took Russell’s arrangement and substituted his guitar for the piano tracks.

Like all of White’s CDs, there are a number of songs that scream “I’m a hit.” “How Does It Feel,” for example. “It’s silly, funny, it’s light-hearted,” says White, who wrote the song with Abair’s producer, Matthew Hager. “It’s pop, it’s dancey, it’s happy. Matthew came up with guitar line, and I originally told him I couldn’t play it that way. But it kept coming back to me.” In the end, White picked the main acoustic riff, while Hager did the same riff on a funky electric guitar. “There’s a lot of guitars in that song, which is a first for me,” says White. “I like that song because it’s different.”

White chose the artwork of cartoon illustrator Mark Zingarelli for the CD cover, which gives the CD a steamy noir-ish look that matches the title. It’s the second time in a row that White’s face didn’t appeared on the cover. His last, Glow, showed Dean Chamberlain’s photo of a guitar.

“The record company decided they didn’t want my picture on the cover,” White says. “We did a photo shoot for the album where I was determined to smile in every shot. But I’ve never had a photo shoot for an album cover where I’m smiling – I really wanted to be smiling this time. We spent a whole day shooting and the record company said they didn’t think it was moody enough. I seem to go for friendly-smiley thing, but the record company and my manager seem to go for the moody thing every time.”

So White thought if he wasn’t going to have his smiley mug on the cover, he wanted to do something romantic. Hence the cover art and the corresponding liner notes, where White writes a mini-narrative using – directly or indirectly – every song title contained within.

On the cover, a man in room 102 of an anonymous-looking hotel room holds a lipstick-kissed envelope. A woman lounges against the open door. “The open door says so much to more than if it had been closed,” says White. “Why is the door open? Is she leaving? Did she just come in? Does she want to leave? Is he leaving? I think she wants something from him; she’s professing her undying love for him, but he doesn’t believe her. The story really is about me, about 20 years ago. The story isn’t real, but characters are. I’m writing about me in the first person. There’s a half-baked philosophy in there too. I think it’s all more interesting than just thanking people. Half the people I thank I’ve never heard of, anyway. I think they all work for the record company and they put their own names in there.”

Holiday tour with Mindi Abair
WhiteAbairXmasTour.jpgThis holiday season, White says he’ll once again tour with Mindi Abair, with another high-profile guest to be announced. White has tons of experience with seasonal music, as he’s released a holiday CD called Songs of the Season and toured in the past with Dave Koz’s annual Christmas tour. A compelling reason to revisit the tour, says White, is the crowd-pleasing appeal of Abair, one of the freshest new talents in smooth jazz.

“She’s a wonderful performer, and of course she plays great. I look in the audience and no one’s looking at me, especially the guys. I was thinking this is just what smooth jazz needs. After the show you’ll see all these guys talking to Mindi and they don’t even care about me.” He laughs about this. “But that’s fine. There’s enough for everybody. I love playing with her. On the Christmas tour, she’d always be energetic and up for the show. She’d say, ‘Come on, guys!’ “

Peter White looks back
As White turns 50 this year in September, he admits he’s been thinking of the past. Nonetheless, he feels milestones are overrated. “All that means to me is that I’ve survived and managed to make a living for 30 years, so I’m very happy to be turning 50 this year, happier than 30. That was big year for me, leaving adolescence behind. But I felt at age 30 I hadn’t achieved what I’d hoped for.”

White was only 22 when British folk singer Al Stewart released his classic Year of the Cat album, which featured White playing some of the guitar lines. White co-wrote the title song on Stewart’s next album released two years later, Time Passages, which turned out to be Stewart’s biggest hit and White’s first taste of the top of the charts.

Shortly after the British-born White turned 33 and had already been living in the U.S. for a while, however, he became aware of what eventually would become smooth jazz while simultaneously listening to Los Angeles’ pioneering Wave radio station and hearing the music of Acoustic Alchemy. “I thought, What is this music? It’s got acoustic guitar and a good beat. I could play acoustic instrumental pop. And I’m sure they didn’t know there would be ready-made audience for them in U.S. They were just a couple of English guys playing music in a bar.”

In 1990, White released his first CD, Reveillez-Vous, whose title song was his first No. 1 hit. He followed that with Excusez-Moi (an apology for the unpronounceable title of the first effort) and Promenade.

Although nothing is definite on any future projects, White says he has plenty of ideas. “I have so many album projects in me that I want to come out, a lot of retrospectives. I want to go back to those first three albums and rework them with different instruments, maybe some orchestration, using the resources I have today to hire the best musicians and get the best studios. There’s also about 10 songs that didn’t get on my fourth album, Reflections, that I’d like to release.”

He’d also like to offer a greatest-hits CD, but with reworked versions of all of this No. 1 songs. “It’d be the best of, but with a twist so there’s a legitimate reason why someone would pick out the album. It’s an idea that gets me excited, and not much gets me excited. I’m approaching 50, remember. The past becomes far more important to you as you get older.”

Posted by Brian Soergel at May 13, 2004 6:01 AM