Trombonist and composer David White formed his powerhouse 17-piece ensemble, the David White Jazz Orchestra, in 2007 and introduced them to the jazz world four years later with his well-received debut, Flashpoint. "White clearly knows his jazz history," wrote one reviewer, "and strikes a perfect balance by incorporating his musical influences while defining his own progressive style."
White now returns with a follow-up disc, The Chase, containing six new originals performed by his New York City-based orchestra, many of whose members have been associated with him musically since their high school days in Buffalo, New York two decades ago. The ensemble, while steeped in big-band traditions, takes the music in exciting new directions rife with vibrant voicings and rhythmic variety. White's Mister Shepherd imprint will release the disc on April 8.
"There's a whole palette of orchestral colors within the big band that are not always tapped into," explains the 35-year-old leader. "When you take all the various colors and color combinations that are possible, it's like having a giant box of Crayolas where you can color and draw anything that you can imagine. Contrary to popular opinion, the big band has a rich palette for orchestration. A symphony orchestra has a standard instrumentation, but you wouldn't expect a symphony orchestra to sound a particular way. It's really up to the composer and the orchestrator use those colors in a unique way, and I don't want people to know what to expect when they hear my music."
David White On the new disc, White's robust trombone gets the solo spotlight on "Persistence," a song he says was inspired by minimalist composer Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians. Other highlights include the fast-burning "Mister Shepherd's Misadventures," with solos by tenor saxophonist Sam Dillon and trumpeter Miki Hirose; "The Shakedown," a funky 24-bar composition featuring alto saxophonist Andrew Gould (who's also worked with the Jon Faddis and Wallace Roney big bands); and "Blues for Sally Draper," a medium-tempo 12-bar blues named for the precocious character on Mad Men, White's favorite television show.
Growing up in Buffalo, David White played recorder and trumpet before settling on trombone. He played in both the jazz band and concert band in junior high school and was playing professionally by the time he was 14 with a big band at Buffalo's historic Colored Musicians Club led by baritone saxophonist Macy Favor.
"Macy was an important father figure since I had a single mother and my grandfather had passed," White says. "Music was always something that added discipline in my life. There's the discipline of practicing. There's the discipline of being in bands, which is more responsibility than a lot of 14-year-olds would have had. It let me get a lot of my trial and error out of the way at an early age. It was tuning my ear to blending with other musicians to playing in a trombone section to balancing the trombone section with the rest of the band."
After high school, White spent a year at the University of Buffalo, where he studied with noted classical trombonist Richard Myers, before transferring to the Purchase College Conservatory of Music, from which he would earn Bachelor's and Master's degrees in music. At Purchase he studied with onetime Woody Herman trombonist Jim Pugh and played in the school's big band, small jazz groups, Latin jazz band, trombone choir, symphony orchestra, brass band, and wind ensemble.
White moved to the New York City area in 2003 and currently resides in Queens. He led his own quintet for seven years and has also played with Charli Persip's big band and currently with Valery Ponomarev's big band. Since its inception in 2007, the David White Jazz Orchestra has performed at such New York venues as Symphony Space, Garage Restaurant and Café, Tea Lounge, Somethin' Jazz Club, Saint Peter's Church, and the Full Gospel Assembly of Queens. The orchestra's membership has been, the leader says, "way more stable than I ever anticipated" over the past seven years.
The trombonist cites J.J. Johnson ("the father of us all"), Ray Anderson ("the anti-J.J."), Slide Hampton, Curtis Fuller, and Grachan Moncur III as influences on his playing and Maria Schneider, Steve Reich, Gerald Wilson, and Thad Jones as being among the composer-arrangers who have most inspired him.
As evidenced by 2011's Flashpoint and now The Chase, David White has become a jazz force to be reckoned with. He's a wonderfully innovative composer, the leader of a dynamic orchestra filled with brilliant soloists and section players, and a darn good trombone blower to boot.
The David White Jazz Orchestra will celebrate the release of The Chase with performances at Saint Peter's Church, 619 Lexington Ave. at 54th Street, NYC, Wed. 7/9 at 1:00 pm; and at Harlem School of the Arts, 645 St. Nicholas Ave., NYC, Fri. 7/18, 6:30 pm.