Jazz Inside Interview with Chip White
Born on December 21, 1946, New York City native and always in demand drummer/composer/poet Chip White has performed and/or recorded with a variety of artists, including Carmen MCrae, Jaki Byard, Frank Foster, Jon Faddis, Chet Baker, Bill Hardman, Junior Cook, Claudio Roditi, James Mody, Houston Person, Etta Jones, and many more. White released a book of over 100 poems dedicated to various jazz musician. His latest releases as a leader are entitled “Music and Lyrics,” “Double Dedication,” and “More Dedications.” The first is a collection of his originals sung by Gail Allen, while the Dedications CDs feature original music written for various iconic musicians, along with a second CD featuring White reciting his corresponding poems for these people. Whit’s bands include Steve Wilson, Randy Brecker, Wycliffe Gordon, Kenny Barron, Ray Drummond, Steve Nelson, Duane Eubanks, Patience Higgins, Mulgrew Miller and Peter Washington. Following is an excerpt of our extensive interview with White. To read the complete transcript, subscribe to our quarterly magazine at www.jazzinsidemagazine.com
Jazz Inside: Chip, I’ve been listening to all morning. I listened to Music and Lyrics, Double Dedication, and More Dedications. All of the stuff is great, man! I really enjoyed everything – top notch musicians, the sound quality, the songwriting, and the poems are so educational. With the poetry, you really do learn a lot of the most important points about these different musicians from the perspective of an insider who may have actually seen, hung out with, or played with these people, and who really has an insightful grasp on what makes these people great.
Chip White: Thank you. I appreciate that. I’ve been around for a little while so I figured I might as well document it and I think a musician writing about the musicians, with the poetic aspect – some people might be doing it, but I don’t think there are a ton of people doing it, so hopefully I can carve out my own niche. (Laughs)
JI: Sure yes, -- it’s very unique. I wanted to start by just talking about that. I kind of wrote out a bunch of questions so I don’t leave anything out, but I think we should start by talking about the collection of Dedications – both the CDs and the book. Can you talk about where it all began and what the process was like for you from start to finish.
CW: Well, some years ago I had written a tune for Duke Ellington and I had written a tune for Lee Morgan and I had started a tune for Billy Strayhorn when I was in Europe at a friend’s house and I just thought well that’s nice, I’m just going to play those along with my personal tunes, and then I was in Japan at a point and I was trying to stay in the hotel room because things were so expensive and so I wrote a couple of poems. I wrote about fifteen poems and I cam back to it and I looked at this little pile and thought that it could actually be a book so I continued with it and completed the book and then I came up with concept of, “Well, since you have some tunes and you have like 100 poems written for these musicians, why don’t you put out a date or maybe two with the concept of the music and the poetry?” and that’s when I really thought, wow, let me sit down and get this together.
And with these people, I’ve always listened to their music growing up – I was fortunate enough to see and hear Coltrane and Miles and Monk when I was a kid and so many more, but each artist I would try to capture their ambience by listening to their music and getting into their mood and trying to write sort of in my style and their style, like a combination. I didn’t’ want to write a tune just like their tunes, but I wanted to give it their ambience so people would say, “Oh wow! Yeah, I see Mingus there, and I understand where Clifford Brown was coming from,” or Booker Little or whatever, so then I said, well you know, if you have good music or great music then you got to have great musicians because that’s going to – you know what I’m saying?! (Laughs) That was they whole thing – they come in and play your music like it’s their music and that is the greatest compliment when they’ll come in and just – guys like Kenny Barron and Mulgrew Miller and they sitting at the tunes and you can tell they aren’t only enjoying the music, but they are also seeing, “Wow, how did he get that?” and “Wow, he came up with that little lick, and then it was something personal,” and they’re like “Oh I see what he’s doing here!” and once I had that concept, I realized not everyone was doing that, because people do dedications, like they’ll play Joe Henderson’s tunes for him and that’s great, but I thought maybe I could put my own stamp on it by playing my tunes for them in combination with the poetry. And you know, it helps a lot of people. I sell a lot of the books jazz cruises, to educators, and even young kids can read these poems and they can put a rap beat to it or something like that, to help tie the generations together, so . ..
CW: So after I did the first one, I thought, well, I got some more, and I always loved Joe Henderson and Booker Little and Clifford Brown, so I started with them. I always listened to Miles Davis in high school and then all of sudden my music teacher was very hip and he gave me Monk’s Dream and then he gave me Clifford Brown and I said “How come I never heard of Clifford Brown?” and then he said, “Well, he died in this accident, so he wasn’t around long and you couldn’t hear him,” so I realized even as a kid, if you want to find out where you are going, you have to go back and find out where the music is coming from so you can sort of find out where you fit in and where it’s going – try to find the sequence.
So that is really how I kind of came up with it and I decided to put it on on two discs and my record guy told me that was really good because some people will only play the music and some people are interested in the poetry, so they’ll play the poetry first and somebody might say, “Oh, Lester Young. Great man! Now I’ll go back and listen to the Lester tune that goes with it and I have some background now.” Everyone’s not a jazz aficionado and it you want to get people who aren’t to come in and appreciate the music, so it’s great to have compliments from the musicians and your peers, but when you someone who doesn’t know anything about the music and they say they really like it, you know you’ve hit some kind of an emotional place, because they can’t get into it technically, they just like the way it sounds, so that’s what I’m aiming for with all of this. I tried to put it in some sort of a chronological order, starting with Lester, then Duke and Bird, try to keep a little chronology, but it’s important that the pieces move in the right order too, soundwise, in combination with the chronology of the artists.
Chip White: Press
Reviews of Personal Dedications & Percussive Tributes
It’s a good idea to take yourself seriously, but not too seriously. Zealots turn people off. People with a sense of humor can lighten things up and make it fun for people to be around – and people like to be around people they like and trust. Even if you didn’t know Chip White, it’s easy to understand that besides being an excellent drummer, rhythm section accompanist and composer, he’s got a sense of humor. Since the jazz world often suffers from hypersensitive artists analyzing every syllable and blink of an eye about them without any sense of humor, Chip is a breath of fresh air. He’s got it together in so many ways – and I’m Just the Drummer in the Band, the book of poetry Chip wrote, provides that wink that he’s loose about things.
Personal Dedications & Percussive Tributes is a two-disc set featuring an all-star cast. The first disc features nine of Chips’s composition with an array of inspiring and well crafted solos by trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Steve Wilson, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and pianist Renee Rosnes. The second disc features recitations of Chip’s poetry by the author himself in nine short tracks.
White’s compositions are substantive and diverse. He’s not just the drummer who sits down at the piano and plunks out a few melodies as throw-away platforms for a drum showcase. Nor are Mr. White’s compositions some shallow collection of songs to create the illusion of being a well-rounded musician. Mr. White is as much a polished composer and arranger as he is a rhythm session accompanist and drum soloist. Indeed, when you take a closer look, you see an artist who is a constant student of his craft. With degrees in music from Ithaca College, Berklee College of Music, as well as private studies in composition with Frank Foster (one of the great composer-arrangers in the jazz lineage), Mr. White’s pedigree is clear.
It’s a smart idea to energize the listener with the very first track – and that’s exactly what Chip does with the medium up-tempo rendition of “Adrienne’s Theme.” This hard-bop grooved theme is stated by the three-horn front line, followed by brief solo exchanges by each of the horns, and a lengthier solo by pianist Rosnes, who brings it to a climax showing off her technique.
Demonstrating his flexibility, White moves over to vibes to take the first solo. Of course, since he is playing drums to accompany the ensemble on this Latin-flavored pied, the vibes solo is overdubbed afterwards. Brecker and Rosnes follow with expectedly well-crafted works of solo art.
“October Song” is a deeper, darker sounding composition in 3/4 time medium relaxed tempo. Wilson switches over to flute to lead the ensemble. The sounds are McCoy Tyner-esque. After Brecker’s solo, Wilson changes colors and moves over to soprano sax for a lyrical outing. Gordon takes the mute off his trombone for his expressive, melodic chorus.
I hadn’t looked at the title of “Something About Rollins” before hearing the track. My immediate response was that this certainly was a tip of the hat to the Saxophone Colossus himself. Besides the calypso groove of Rollins classic “St. Thomas,” the piece moves from the calypso to an up-tempo swing groove in 4/4, followed by a drum solo – much the same structure as Rollins’ original recording of “St. Thomas” that featured a drum solo by Max Roach. By comparison, Chip employs “rhythm changes” as the foundational fabric and form for this tribute.
The album’s beautiful ballad is entitled “The Other Side of the Rainbow with Sibyl.” Wilson states the melody on alto sax, with warm padding by other two horns – Brecker and Gordon. The accompaniment is appropriately light and sparse for Wilson’s delicious solo.
The album is full of highlights and just plain enjoyable listening. “Rain” is ballad-like, a two-beat groove, White on brushes, and a lyrical trumpet solo by Brecker, and a pensive outing on piano by Rosnes, ideally complementing the vibe of the song.
The album wraps up with “Afternoon in Mombasa.” An Afro-Latin type of groove, with a thickly orchestrated melody – it brought to mind what a cross between the sounds and grooves of Art Blakey and McCoy Tyner might create.
On disc two, each of the nine poems authored by Mr. White is dedicated to a different musician – the first one to Sonny Rollins, and the remaining eight are tributes to drummers Papa Jo Jones, Kenny Clark, Philly Joe Jones, Aland Dawson, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Ben Riley, and Mongo Santamaria. Music from disc one provides the backdrop as Mr. White recites his poems.
Chip has been the rhythmic anchor in Houston Person’s Quartet for a long time – and that’s a tight ensemble in which you can get a taste of his skills in person. In the meantime, his recording Personal Dedications & Percussive Tributes provides a sumptuous hour or so of finger-snapping straight ahead jazz – and a chance to experience the many talents of Chip White.
Drummer and vibraphonist Chip White has an abiding respect for jazz history and the players who helped to shape it. On Personal Dedications & Percussive Tributes, White expresses his gratitude through music and poetry. White wrote all of the songs on this album, which vary in style and tempo but have the straightahead style as a common denominator.
Renee Rosnes’s excellent piano drives the midtempo tune “Adrienne’s Theme”. Steve Wilson’s flute and White’s stellar vibraphone highlight the boss nova tune “Bright Colors”. White returns to the vibes on another bossa nova, “Bossa de Bahia”, but the star of this tune is unquestionably Wycliffe Gordon, whose wonderfully creative trombone has a distinctly vocal quality, a guttural voice that sounds like Louis Armstrong singing Jobim. Moreover, when Randy Brecker (on fluegelhorn) and Wilson play the theme of “October Song” it, too, has pitch-perfect vocal quality.
“Something About Rollins” is a vibrant take on the classic “St. Thomas”; White’s drumming references the great Max Roach. “Full Moon” and the ballads “The Other Side of the Rainbow with Sibyl” and “Rain” further exemplify how White composes in the classic jazz tradition. The theme of “Afternoon in Mombasa” sounds almost ominous, with Steve Kroon’s percussive edginess and Patience Higgins’ low moanin’ bass clarinet. But Wilson’s blistering solo on alto sax opens things up and Gordon again steals the show, first whinnying like a horse, then providing elephantine trumpeting.
The second disc of this two-disc set is White reading poetry over a Latin percussive backdrop. The poems are his tributes to his jazz heroes (most of whom, not surprisingly, are drummers) and are pocket-sized jazz history lessons that convey his love for jazz’ glorious past. With Personal Dedications & Percussive Tributes, White manages to entertain and enlighten.
Reviews of More Dedications
4 STARS! Chip White's second two-CD set of musical and spoken-word dedications to jazz masters cruises like a fine car -- powered by first-line players like Wycliffe Gordon, Mulgrew Miller, and Steve Nelson. White exudes confidence and swings with abandon through nine originals. The poetry . . . is as heartfelt as the music.
Chip White has been one of the most in-demand drummers on the scene since the '70s and as a result he has played with some of the best musicians in the business, like Carmen McRae, Jaki Byard, John Abercrombie, Frank Wess, Frank Foster, John Faddis, Chet Baker, Claudio Roditi, Dave Liebman, James Moody, Tom Waits, Jimmy McGriff, Gary Bartz, Benny Powell, Houston Person and Etta Jones. And through these experiences, he got to know many other musicians as well. His literary mind transformed his experiences into the book entitled I'm Just the Drummer in the Band, which included more than 100 poems for famous jazz musicians. This new album, More Dedications, includes all original musical tributes on the first CD and poetic dedications read by White on the second CD.
Each tune corresponds to a poem, and the poems are named by whom they are dedicated to. While the poems are read, the songs from CD 1 play in the background. The first poem is "Bags," and the corresponding tune is "Bag O' Blues." The second poem is for Clifford Brown, and tune is entitled "A Rhythm Round for Clifford Brown." Following this is "Booker's Little Leaps" and then "Slow Mo for Joe" for Joe Henderson. "A Touch of Hutch" is for none other than Bobby Hutcherson," "Dolphy's Mood" is for Eric, "Celebration for Tony" is Tony Williams' tribute, and "The Contessa" is written for Vanessa Davis, the original singer in Chip's ensemble. Last but not least is his tribute to Miles with a song entitled "The Continuing Saga of Miles." It is composed to clever words read as so: "To be in the vanguard, to be jet black, to be the prince of darkness, to be never held back, to find Bird, Dizzy, Monk, and Gil, to always seek musical change, to dress to kill, to set all the trends and all of the styles, to be with the attitude and the trumpet, that be Miles."
Throughout these original tunes that truly reflect the moods and styles of those that they are dedicated to, are many amazing moments of playing from this incredible band -- Steve Nelson, Wycliffe Gordon, Duane Eubanks, Patience Higgins, Mulgrew Miller, and Peter Washington!
A versatile drummer busy on the New York area scene for four decades, including a long association with Houston Person, Chip White has published a book of his poems about jazz musicians, I'm Just the Drummer in the Band. Each is a concise, rhymed bio-celebration of the jazz musician, a poetic jazz encyclopedia entry if you will, often incorporating album titles and/or prominent stylistic characteristics of the musician. More Dedications is his second album to use some of them as launching points for compositions dedicatied to their subjects.
One of the strengths here lies in White's choice of ensemble mates, a formidable septet, anchored by Peter Washington's bass and the estimable piano of Mulgrew Miller. The frontline is equally impressive, with Duane Eubanks (trumpet scion of the prominent Eubanks jazz family), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Patience Higgins (flute, alto and soprano saxes), and Steve Nelson (vibes). The tunes salute and reference the playing or compositional styles of eight musicians who emerged in the bop or hardbop eras, as well as the singer Vanessa Davis. White's arrangements are much more than heads, changing up solo sequences and even soloists from track to track, making for appealing variety.
Higgins' flute is used cogently as a lead and solo voice on "Bag o' Blues," a blues with a bridge salute to Milt Jackson; "A Touch of Hutch," a fleet Bobby Hutcherson tribute; and the sumptuous "Dolphy's Mood," a flute feature wrapped in diaphanous ensemble colors. Other memorable tunes include "Booker's Little Leaps," a Booker Little celebration alternating a rolling waltz with swing time; "A Rhythm Round for Clifford Brown" that captures the spirit of hardbop swing exuberance; and "The Contessa," for Vanessa Davis, a pearly ballad with a Modern Jazz Quartet instrumentation. And don't miss Gordon's solos, each one a different kind of tour de force, many with startling, unexpected entrances.
We give the drummer some in thisi month's Winning Spins, focusing on two albums from veteran percussionists, a decade apart in age, as leaders. The older and more renowned is Louis Hayes . . .Chip White, his junior in terms of years, has toiled mostly as a sideman for the last forty years, including a long association with tenor saxophonist Houston Person. On their new albums, both drummers lead impressive groups, Hayes in a varied program of originals (his own and band members'), White with original compositions and charts dedicated to prominent jazz musicians.
. . .
More Dedications, Volume II (Dark Colors) by the Chip White All-Star Ensemble pays tribute to nine more of the musicians White has celebrated in his book of one hundred poems about jazz figures, I'm Just the Drummer in the Band. A short second CD features White reciting the relevant poems. The All-Star Ensemble is a formidable septet anchored by a rhythm section of White, bassist Peter Washington, and pianist Mulgrew Miller. On the front line are trumpeter Duane Eubanks, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, saxophonist and flute player Patience Higgins, and vibist [Steve] Nelson. White makes full use of the instrumentation in charts that are fully fleshed out and resonant.
Higgins' flute blends nicely with vibes and muted brass on "Bag O' Blues," a Milt Jackson tribute (also notable for Gordon's bleating "shiver-my-timbers' solo entrance). He's an effective voice on a salute to Bobby Hutcherson and is spotlighted on an atmospheric "Dolphy's Mood." White favors a limber, rolling style beat with big splashing cymbals, but also references Max Roach crispness on "A Rhythm Round for Clifford Brown" and the chattering, roiling thunder of Tony Williams on "Celebration for Tony." he captures the harmonic adventurousness of trumpeter Booker Little, with a big assist from Eubanks, on a brightly fast-waltzing "Booker's Little Leaps," which features another of Gordon's dazzling, sweeping solo turns. Fhs one salute to a singer, the lesser known Vanessa Cavis, turns out to be a pearly, MJQ-like quartet ballad spotlighting White's brushes.
Though Chip White’s More Dedications (1) is not led by a trombonist as are the other three in this collection, it does feature Wycliffe Gordon who is, for my money (O.K., that’s not all that much) the most complete trombonist out there. Since he arrived on the scene as part of Wynton Marsalis’ entourage, he’s steadily developed blending the doodle-tongue pyrotechnics of contemporary Bop with a deep appreciation and command of earlier styles. All that is amply demonstrated here. He solos on all but two of these nine tracks. On each track, he grabs the listener’s attention with a rip and a roar, crisply articulated 16th note-lines and melodies redolent of the Blues. Gordon puts to rest the canard that those “rip-wah” players (to use Conrad Herwig’s felicitous phrase) employ those techniques because they aren’t able to execute the more sanitized, sax-like style of Bop trombone. Gordon should be a model not because all trombonists should sound like him, but because he shows the way for each trombonist to sound like him- or herself.
Though he’s the most distinctive soloist on the date, Gordon is not the only interesting element. White celebrates musical heroes and colleagues both in tone and word. The first disc has the musical tributes and the second has [White] reciting his own poems backed by excerpts of the performances from the first disc. The poems are standard Jazz hagiography, compact bios in verse that make generous use of song and album titles. The rhyme is more conservative than White’s tunes, which in most cases capture the characteristics of those to whom they are dedicated. “Booker’s Little Leaps,” for example, has that trumpeter’s distinctive angular yet warm melodic sense. White’s structures are often adventurous. Despite its title, the opening, “Bag O’Blues,” does not follow the 12-bar structure instead taking on a 20-bar form that elicits fine blowing from vibraphonist Nelson and Gordon. Mulgrew Miller, trumpeter Duane Eubanks and Patience Higgins also account for themselves well. The leader’s own opening solo on “Celebration for Tony” exposes his debt to Max Roach, more than the dedicatee. The charts (by White, I assume) do justice to the compositions featuring tightly voiced horns, often with flute in the lead. A solid session both for the writing and blowing, especially by Gordon.
Reviews of Double Dedication
Jazz and Poetry. Now here are two terms that are innocent enough when taken separately but, when combined, stir a myriad of emotions in arts enthusiasts. In many cases it becomes an unhealthy blend concocted by a poet and a musician that refuses to jell because of individual personality differences. Drummer Chip White has solved that split on ["Double Dedication"] since he is both a poet and a practicing player. This two-disc presentation gives us a chance to listen to both sides of his creative persona. When he decided to call his accompanying unit the All-Star Ensemble, White was not exaggerating in the least—as one glance at the personnel listings will show. Of course singer Gail Allen will be a newcomer to most but she only appears on four tracks: the finger popper “Lester’s Blues,” the aptly-titled “Bossa For Lee,” the bopping “Mr. P. C. Blues,” and azure walker “Etta Jones” and shows no fear among the heavy traffic. The front line of trumpet, alto, and trombone is voiced nicely and although it is evident they are reading relatively new charts (the session is listed as only taking up one day) these guys have everything thoroughly covered. And what more can one say of the veteran team of Kenny Barron and Ray Drummond? They have fit together as snugly as right and left hand gloves as long as this writer can remember. As for the second disc, the leader reads his poems in a rather flat, unemotional voice but it is clear that White definitely has some talent as a wordsmith and taken in measured doses rather than trying to listen to all thirteen poems in a single setting, it is all rather painless and, at times, even inspiring if one loves the subject matter as deeply as Mr. White. All told, a successful pairing of two idioms that, while sometimes don’t quite go together, here fit like red beans and rice.
Veteran drummer-composer Chip White leads an all-star band (pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeter Randy Brecker, saxophonist Steve Wilson, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, bassist Ray Drummond) on a collection of swinging dedications to jazz royalty, including "Lester's Blue," "Three for Mr. Ellington," "Bird in the Yard," "Ode to Max," "Mellow Works for John Birks," and "Something About Mingus." A bonus CD features White reading brief, hip poems about each jazz icon from his book, I'm Just the Drummer in the Band.
With "Double Dedication," Chip White presents a program of entirely original music, performed by a truly all-star band. The music swings hard from the first note and keeps on swingin’ throughout the disc. This would surely be reason enough to praise the CD.
There’s more to "Double Dedication," however. Each tune pays tribute to a jazz master. The titles (as well as the lyrics of vocal tracks) let you know who each tune is dedicated to. What’s even more fascinating about this concept is the way in which White and the band conjure up the images of the masters to which they pay tribute. White displays outstanding compositional skills in writing and arranging each tune “in the style of…” yet keeping an individual compositional voice. With the help of such talented musicians as those on "Double Dedication" the tributes come to life through stylistic nuance.
The program begins with a tribute to Lester Young, entitled “Lester’s Blue.” This medium swinger features vocalist Gail Allen and Steve Wilson on alto saxophone. The next tune honors Duke Ellington and is entitled “Three for Mr. Ellington.” The piano (as
played by Kenny Barron) is of course featured on this number which alternates Latin and jazz feels. “Bird in the Yard,” Charlie Parker’s number, is an appropriately fast and bop-flavored tune. Solos follow from the front line of Wilson, Randy Brecker and Wycliffe Gordon as well as from Barron. White himself is also featured in a round of furiously traded eights. Dizzy Gillespie’s track, “Mellow Works for John Birks” is set in a Latin style and features Randy Brecker on flugelhorn. White plays much of this tune with mallets—a nice touch. “Strays” pays tribute to Billy Strayhorn. It is a gentle ballad which features Wilson on flute and Brecker on muted trumpet. White honors trumpet master, Lee Morgan, whose life was tragically cut short in 1972 at the New York jazz club Slugs [what an irony], with “Bossa for Lee.” This tune is set in one of those quasi-bossa feels which Morgan was so fond of. Randy Brecker does a wonderful job on trumpet, as does Gail Allen with the vocal. “Etta Jones” is an oozingly slow swing number which again features Allen as well as a sultry trombone solo from Wycliffe Gordon.
Another vocal tune continues the program. This one, entitled “Mr. P.C.’s Blues,” is an up-tempo swinger which honors bass legend Paul Chambers. Allen’s scatting is worth noting, as is bassist Ray Drummond’s extended solo. “One For Monk” is set in a relaxed medium tempo and has a decidedly “Monkish” feel. “Ballad for Bu” is a feature for saxophone, with horn backgrounds. “Bu” is short for Buhania, also known as Art Blakey. “Minor Blues for Coltrane” has the feel of Coltrane’s classic quartet, complete with a section featuring sax and drums only. “Ode to Max,” is a gentle ballad dedicated to drummer Max Roach, which again features Brecker on flugelhorn. It is a tribute to Max Roach’s musicality and total musicianship that White chose this type of tune to represent the drumming legend. The disc closes with an eclectic and eccentric tune entitled “Something About Mingus.” The tune is full of stops and starts and a free avant-garde feel pervades.
There is a second disc included with "Double Dedication." This one features poetry, also written by White. Each poem tributes the jazz masters from the songs. White reads each poem over a backdrop of the music from the first CD. This is an ambitious idea, as is the entire CD. Chip White honors his heroes while at the same time struts his stuff as composer, bandleader and poet. The material is fresh, while always bringing to mind the musician for which it was written. The players are all first rate and do a magnificent job. In the liner notes, White dedicates the album to Max Roach, Etta Jones and John Coltrane.
Since 1970, Chip White has played drums with a long list of jazz greats, including Carmen McRae, Jaki Byard, John Faddis, Chet Baker, Junior Cook, Dave Liebman, James Moody, Jimmy McGriff, Gary Bartz, Al Grey and Teddy Edwards. he was also a member of the Houston Person-Etta Jones [band] for nine years. A solid and swinging drummer, White always gives the soloists stimulating support.
On the two-CD "Double Dedication," White leads a superior all-star group consisting of trumpeter Randy Brecker, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, altoist Steve Wilson, pianist Kenny Barron, and bassist Ray Drummond. On the first CD, they perform White's tributes to 13 major and inspiring musicians: Lester Young, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Billy Strayhorn, Lee Morgan, Etta Jones, Paul Chambers, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, John Coltrane, Max Roach and Charles Mingus. The drummer proves to be a skilled composer, for each of these numbers brings back the spirit and style of one of the musicians. While a few (such as "Bird in the Yard") are based closely on an earlier tune ("Confirmation"), most are more original, and also convey the personality of the subject. Gail Allen sings White's lyrics to four of the pieces, and each of the musicians has their solo spots, with Wycliffe Gordon's exuberant outbursts stealing the show.
The second disc, which totals just under 14 minutes, has White reciting a short poem for each of the 13 musicians over an excerpt of the music. Chip White manages to sum up each musician's life in just a few words, showing that he is as skilled at words as he is at music.
This very good set is available from www.chipwhitejazz.com.
Dedicated to the Ones He Loves
Drummer Chip White writes and performs songs paying tribute to other musicians
Earlier this month, drummer Chip White's animated percussion lent a vital spark to tenor saxophonist Houston Person's afternoon performance at the Newark Museum.
White, a New York native and resident, has added similar rhythmic juice in outings with many noted jazz artists, among them singer Etta Jones, pianist Jaki Byard, and saxophonists Person and James Moody. He has also toured with singer and songwriter Tom Waits.
A leader when he has the opportunity, White, 61, appears with a quintet Friday and Saturday at Cecil's in West Orange. The performance will spotlight other aspects of this multitalented artist: his compositions, and maybe his poems.
"With writing, you have your own voice, you're making your own contribution," says White, whose website is www.chipwhitejazz.com.
White's new 2-CD package, "Double Dedication" (Dark Colors), contains 13 of his compositions, most about musicians he has heard -- often in person -- and one about Jones, simply called "Etta Jones."
The tunes reflect their honorees. "Bird in the Yard" is White's own melody on top of the chord changes Charlie Parker wrote for his "Confirmation." "Lester's Blue" has a relaxed swing feel, Ã la Lester Young." "Etta Jones" is slow, with blues feeling, the kind of song Jones could nail. "Bossa for Lee" percolates over the bossa nova beat trumpeter Lee Morgan loved to play.
"I've been around, have heard these people, hope to do justice to their memory," says White, who has been writing seriously for 30 years. "I'm starting to get recognition as a composer. These are not just tunes with drum solos. I write and I play drums. I've written about 60 tunes, enough for a bunch of CDs."
Some of the selections, like "Lester's Blue" and "Bossa for Lee," feature White as lyricist as well, a role he fell into by accident.
"One night I was listening to one of my tunes, and I started singing words," he recalls. "I'd never thought of doing that, though later I wondered if the time I spent with Tom Waits, from 1976 to 1979, subliminally had an effect, hearing songs he wrote."
"So I wrote some words down, finished a song, then wrote more," he says. "Then I got together with a couple of singers, and they liked what I'd done."
On his CD, White employs an all-star cast that includes pianist Kenny Barron, trumpeter Randy Brecker and others, plus singer Gail Allen.
The rich-voiced Allen will be at Cecil's, along with another top-drawer crew: saxophonist and flutist Patience Higgins, pianist Cecilia Coleman and bassist Don Moore. On tap will be mostly White's originals, plus maybe a standard to two. And if he feels the audience is in the mood, he may read some of his poems, as he does on disc two of his release.
"I've been writing poetry since the early 1990s," White says of his straight-forward prose poems, many of which he has self-published in "I'm Just the Drummer in the Band" (Bright Colors Music). "I wrote a few, and just felt like keeping on doing it."
White knows he's fortunate making his living playing music. "It's something I love to do, and when people come to gigs, they leave feeling a lot better," he says.
(From the Spotlight section of Hot House)
BAHA'I CENTER/MARCH 27
In addition to drummer White's sextet, you'll likely hear singer Gail Allen do a song or two. Ask Chip for a copy of his self-produced Music and Lyrics CD, which features Allen plus tenor saxist Houston Person on eight [of] White's songs, ranging from blues and bossa to shapely romantic ballads. White's also a songwriter with a fine ear for melody and lyrics. In addition to this Baha'i Center gig, he'll also be part of the rhythm section backing Person for two nights (March 16-17) at Trumpets - and join pianist Sayuri Goto's quintet on March 31 at the Hell's Kitchen event cited in our Hot Flashes section. GK
(Excerpts from review of Music and Lyrics)
Chip White is a composer who has a good sense of melody. The instrumentals on this CD are strikingly beautiful. “Blues for Cousin Alice” is melodic with easily repeatable catchy phrasing and lilts along at a moderate tempo. The next tune is quite pleasurable to the ear. Like the first original composition, “The Luckiest Girl” has a good strong melody. . . . Vocalist Allen displays shades of Jazz chanteuse, Dakota Staton, with her similar tone and vocal style. Allen’s voice seems appropriately fitted to singing Chip White’s lovely melodies. White is a drummer who has performed or recorded with such diverse artists as Carmen McCrae, Irene Reid, John Abercrombie, John Faddis, Junior Cook, Mulgrew Miller, Gary Bartz, and John Hicks to list a few. The liner notes certainly sing his impressive credentials. . . .“Time Stood Still” showcases the magic tenor saxophone distinction of Houston Person. He certainly makes time stand still on this song, while adding color and beauty. In fact, all the musicians on this session are more than competent. Pianist, Lafayette Harris, makes each composition a work of art. His performance on “The Contessa” is breathtakingly beautiful! Harris has a simple, understated way of playing with harmonics, using just enough improvisation to support White’s original melodies. “I Never Knew” could easily become a standard instrumental tune. . . .There is a sensitivity in his arrangements and a beauty to his melodies that intoxicates the ear. He also exhibits the attitude of a seasoned veteran behind his drum set. On every number, White locks in with bassist, George Kaye. Together they create a strong foundation for a well performed CD.
New Review of Harlem Sunset
All About Jazz Publisher's Pick
Chip White has a hell of a band here, but the fact that he provided it with almost an entire programme of stimulating material is what makes this a disc worth frequently returning to. Additionally, the quartet of White, Gary Bartz, Steve Nelson and Buster Williams offers such a captivating reading of “I Want To Talk About You” that the overall effect is one of enduring pleasure, and that's only enhanced by the presence of Claudio Roditi's “We (To Kristen And Me)”; those are the only two tracks not composed by White.
There's been much discussion over the years regarding the benefits or otherwise of digital recording. Here there is clarity and depth of a rare order. Every musician is caught in what might be called his natural musical state, and the likes of White's “The Wizard” seems somehow only enhanced by this quality.
It might be more than coincidence that two members of the current incarnation of Dave Holland's quintet are present here, especially when their contributions are so telling. Robin Eubanks has arguably his best outing on “The Wizard,” working well within the comparatively difficult rhythmic makeup of the piece, while Nelson generally does his cause no harm at all as both an economical accompanist and a soloist, especially on “Circle Dance,” where Bartz proves his work on soprano sax is every bit as distinctive as his alto sax playing.
The engine room of White and Buster Williams is both propulsive and complementary. At every turn they nail a groove and provide a propulsive beat, as per their work behind Roditi on “Circle Dance.” Additionally, White's solos have such an organic feel that they complement the flow of the music, rather than impede it.
It's clear from the first minute that this music and this band came together, and the result is almost an hour of stimulating music that avoids all the clichés in making its time-honoured point.
Reviews of Music and Lyrics
Composer/drummer Chip White and his quartet feature the vocals of Gail Allen on White’s latest, Music and Lyrics. Both elements of the title are supplied by White himself; each tune is an original. White’s tunes are lively and entertaining; his lyrics whimsical at times and poignant at others. He showcases the band and Allen’s vocals in several different assemblages, keeping things fresh and interesting. The material is well written and well performed.
Music and Lyrics begins with “Blues for Cousin Alice,” a medium tempo blues performed by the trio of White, pianist Lafayette Harris, and bassist George Kaye. White plays the head with brushes and stays with them for the bass solo, which is placed first, in an unorthodox manner. After a piano solo during which White switches to sticks, the band trades sixes over the twelve-bar blues form. “The Luckiest Girl” is the first of many beautiful ballads to feature Gail Allen’s vocals, delivered in a fitting and unique manner. Houston Person also joins the band, on tenor sax. Allen also sings “Bossa de Bahia,” a medium/up bossa nova, which begins with a scat solo. Fine tenor and piano solos on this one. “Drums on the Riverside” is a short solo drum composition. It fades in and out on a funky groove, with energetic and technical soloing in between.
The program continues with another ballad, with Allen’s vocals again in the forefront, “Rain.” The tune is set in a very slow tempo and a very laid-back feel. Following this is “October Song,” a bouncy waltz, again with a lyric by White and vocals by Allen. “Club 609” again features vocals, this time in a medium shuffle/swing feel with band hits echoing the vocals. The band is scaled down again to the trio for “The Contessa,” a ballad which serves as a showcase for pianist Lafayette Harris. “28 Drums” is another short drum solo, this time with an Art Blakey Latin tom-tom flavor. Gail Allen delivers another tender ballad with “I Never Knew.” She is backed only by the trio on the light waltz “Circle Dance.” The CD closes with “Time Stood Still,” a ballad-esque funk tune. Person blows a particularly nice solo on this track.
Music and Lyrics is a unique CD with enough twists and turns to hold your interest. There is a light, airy feel to the tunes and the band interprets them appropriately. White is a fine composer as well as a supportive drummer. Allen is a vocalist perfectly matched for White’s light and relaxed compositional style.. The tight rhythm section and the impressive sound of Houston Person at the tenor round out the CD, making it one definitely worth adding to your collection.
As the title hints, the focus of drummer/composer Chip White’s Music and Lyrics is the batch of original songs White came up with for the album. Unlike the standard material that tends to appear on a majority of new jazz vocal albums, White also penned lyrics for eight of the twelve tunes, sung here by Gail Allen. It is indeed refreshing to hear a vocal album featuring new songs, rather than some overworked standards. Of course, that novelty would amount to little if White’s songs were sub par. Luckily, the new songs are musically and lyrically accomplished, very much in the style of the Great American Songbook, with nods to bossa nova.
”Rain” is languorous, with dramatic work from Allen and a fine, delicate piano solo by Lafayette Harris. “October Song” is sprightlier, helped along by a quick, witty rhyme scheme devised by White. As on the other performances, the sense that Allen is not the “star” of the album leads to a fine integration of vocals and instruments. The other musicians are given an equal opportunity to make their own statements. The results are delightfully retro performances that hearken back to the era when singers were simply parts of bands, and not the featured attraction. The songs have a real flow—they do not stop for solos merely so the singer can catch her breath.
Music and Lyrics is a real joy that's admirably eloquent in both music and lyrics, and White and his band mates pull off this ambitious effort with aplomb.
"Making jazz swing in
Seventeen syllables AIN'T
No square poet's job"
-- Etheridge Knight
Chip White, a jazz drummer and composer who will bring his working unit to the Kleinert/James Art Center in Woodstock this Saturday, December 11 , by his very nature provides ample evidence that drummers can be groundbreaking composers. White, who has released a book of poetry dedicated to the history of jazz and its prime practitioners, jokingly titled I'm Just the Drummer in the Band, is among those players and writers who strive for jazz's full-bodied swingingness, its danciness, its range of allusion, its trick bag of quicksilver improvisational impulses.
Aside from touring with Houston Person on a regular basis, White is fronting his own group, which includes bassist Marcus McLaurine -- on loan from Clark Terry's band -- alto sxophonist and flautist Brad Leali, pianist Keith Saunders, and vocalist Gail Allen. According to White, Allen, who will perform for half the gig and sing a number of the drummer's compositions, will remind listeners of an early Sarah Vaughan and the more contemporary Diane Reeves.
Playing with a unique vocal craftsperson is nothing new for him. After all, this is the drummer who occupied that chair with Tom Waits for a few years, and is part of the classic rhythm section that makes Nighthawks at the Diner an absolute masterpiece. That record is really a blend of uber-hipster jazzy spoken word placed over a deeply in-the-pocket swinging groove.
"Hey, Max did it, Tony Williams did it, Blackey did it, Jack DeJohnette does it and Joe Chambers did it." White is referring to the number of drummers who have also penned jazz composititions that are far from a barely concealed excuse for a drum solo. It turns out that White, like many of those just listed, also plays the piano and vibes. In 1994, White released Harlem Sunset (Postcards 1006), his first effort as a leader. Talk about a band! Gary Bartz, a tragically underrated reedman is on the gig, as is Buster Williams.
White explained his overarching process: "Music, for me, is a liberating force, and I want to write and play music that will make people feel better by opening them up to their own thoughts as well as to mine." In the near future, White plans to make a record of his compositions, featuring Ms. Allen and his spoken-word pieces. On Saturday's gig, he will open the show with a sampling of his prose pieces.
Get there early; for the best jazz-steeped poetry has an earthy lively quality that one hears in the music. This is literature whose words want to dance, to worry and capture the electrifying notes and lines of Monk's music, or that of Mingus and Coltrane.
Performances/Recordings with Other Musicians
Excerpt from review of Houston Person's All Soul
Chip White's compositional contribution to the session, "Time Stood Still," has a unique quality among the rest of the tunes. It has a modern, straight-eighth feel similar to some of Roy Hargrove's tunes. After Person and [Eddie] Allen state the closing melody, the two horns take some time to converse among themselves in some wonderfully interactive dialog, as the rest of the band vamps on the infectiously danceable groove.
From a review of Houston Person's "All Soul"
[Person is] joined by his touring rhythm section of pianist Stan hope, bassist Per-Ola Gadd, and drummer Chip White . . .
Person's own "Why Not" and "Put it Right There" serve as bookends for the date. In between, we are treated to Hank Mobley's "Bossa for Baby" and Benny Carter's "Wonderland," featuring Person with a swagger, with White riding high hat in ringing tones . . .
. . . White's soulful "Time Stood Still" begs for lyrics, which Person provides instrumentally by seeming to tell a tale to a woman about they first time they met and fell in love.
From "Personality," about Houston Person and a live performance of the Houston Person Quartet at the Jazz Standard in New York City
The peak of the set, following a fast "Secret Love," was a slow and squally "Since I Fell For You," Buddy Johnson's signature tune. Riding the backbeat with every kind of blues lick and kicking up a storm in the upper register, [Person] raged and caressed, then settled into a quick coda and out. And so it went, ending with a breakneck blues parsed by fastidious cymbal-slashing -- Chip White is a drummer to watch -- a chorus of "Happy Birthday" to his doctor and Mother's Day wishes.
From "With Etta Gone, the Applause Sounds Only Half So Sweet," a profile of Houston Person and review of a Houston Person Quartet performance
There was only one familiar element missing. Etta Jones, the vocalist who ahd worked with Mr. Person for more than 30 years in perhaps the most productive such partnership in jazz history, had died five months earlier. On the wall, behind Mr. Person's quartet, next to some fabric cutouts of half-notes and treble clefs, hung photographs of Jones and Mr. Person min misong, she in in satin and pearls, he biting down on his horn. At one point late in the first set, Mr. Person's drummer, Chip White, punctuated a solo by shouting out, "Etta Jones!"
Reviews of Harlem Sunset
Progressive drummer/composer Chip White's auspicious debut as a leader is a sharp sextet date featuring saxman Gary Bartz and a brass section of Robin Eubanks and Claudio Roditi. This smart, swinging set flies high with the taut pulse of the opening overture of "Another Planet," the entrancing beauty of "Circle Dance," the languid modal blues of "Excuse Me Now," and the powerful, propulsive theme of "The Wizard." The title track recalls Miles Davis's acoustic '60s tonalities, and the lyrical interplay between Bartz and vibist Steve Nelson embellishes his take on Bill Eckstine's "I Want to Talk About You."
For his first album as a leader, drummer White summoned several well-known players, including vibist Steve Nelson, trumpeter, Claudio Roditi, trombonist Robin Eubanks, and bassist Buster Williams. Although everyone demonstrates a level of professionalism, the disc would be worth the cost if only White's fresh-sounding, hardbop/modal-derived tunes and the resourceful improvising of altoist Gary Bartz.