Joshua White is one of the most exciting pianists on the planet today. That might sound like sacrilege, or San Diego hype to some, but not to those who have listened carefully to White over the last few years. I say that having logged hundreds of hours absorbing the masters: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Keith Jarrett and Cecil Taylor.
There is something truly special about Mr. White. He draws from the deep well of jazz piano tradition -- but he expands that history exponentially when he plays. He is also extremely adept at combining and blurring the long-held boundaries of "inside" and "outside" performance. White will take the best from both of those extremes and blend them seamlessly into his own aesthetic. He is also an improviser in the truest sense. White looks for a sense of openness to new ideas from each musician he collaborates with.
"That's all you need, you know," says White. "Guys who really know their instruments -- and who are down to do whatever -- you know, no boundaries, no limits. It doesn't work if there are boundaries and limits."
This week, White turns 27, and is set to celebrate with a slew of gigs all over Southern California. Here are a few:
- Aug. 16: The Tommy Holladay Quintet at 98 Bottles
- Aug. 17: The Joshua White-Jeff Denson Project with Walter Smith III at 98 Bottles
- Aug. 18: The Joshua White-Jeff Denson Project with Walter Smith III at the Blue Whale (L.A.)
- Aug. 25: The Marshall Hawkins Quartet (Idyllwild)
- Aug 26: The Russell Bizzett Trio Summer Jazz at Christ Presbyterian Church
"It's always a pleasure to work with Tommy [Holladay]," White said. "He's always got so many great ideas, and he's really enthusiastic to play and explore and try new things."
"The Joshua White-Jeff Denson Project with Walter Smith and the great Dan Schnelle on drums...I'm really looking forward to getting together with this band because, number one, Jeff and I go way back -- to when he first moved to San Diego. He lives in the Bay Area now, but he was coming down and he suggested Walter Smith, who is one of the premier tenor saxophonists of our generation: an incredible musician and composer.
"The Marshall Hawkins Quartet, that will be up in Idyllwild and actually," White said. "Marshall is doing an alternative to the Jazz in the Pines series, for those who might not be able to afford those ticket prices. So, when Marshall gives a call, I'm always going to be there, because it's such a pleasure to play with a cat of his stature.
"On the 26th, I'll be joining [drummer] Russell Bizzett in a trio concert with [bassist] Dave Robaire, and it's kind of a celebration of Russell's CD Dream Street, which features myself and Rob Thorsen. We'll be at the CPC at 7-9 p.m. It's always great to get together with Russell, because you know it's going to be swinging and we've been playing together a long, long time."
As the news about White's monster abilities spread, out-of-town gigs have been more and more regular. I asked him about the reception he's been getting at the Blue Whale in Los Angeles, for instance.
"Actually, it's been great, and it's really cool to see people at the shows that I don't even know, to see new faces and meet new people and to be able to share my music with a growing number of people who want to be able to experience the music and hear what I have to say," White says. "Even though I live in San Diego, I feel that Southern California is one domain, so I think nothing of going up to Los Angeles for jam sessions or concerts."
While he is definitely ready to make a record under his own name, White isn't waiting around for anything.
"That's such a time-consuming and costly process," said the pianist. "I have a lot of opportunities coming up, so I might have to hold off on the record for a while, but it's definitely at the forefront. Even though having a record out is a great thing to mark your development and give something for people to own, it seems like nowadays it's also really important to have a presence on the web. Everyone should definitely check out my webpage at joshuawhitemusic.com. I'll be posting new music clips and performances and stuff until I have the opportunity to do a new record. Also, I'm posting stuff to SoundCloud."
But the best way to experience the Joshua White phenomenon is live. Catch one of his upcoming shows and you'll be a believer, too.
Robert Bush is a freelance jazz writer who has been exploring the San Diego improvised music scene for more than 30 years.