D.C. native Andrew White III boasts an eclectic, multi-disciplinary career that saw him wear the hats of saxophonist, oboist, bassist, composer, producer, author, transcriber, Coltrane expert, and entrepreneur. White established himself in the jazz world in 1961 playing saxophone in D.C.’s J.F.K. Quintet produced by Cannonball Adderley, and his style has been compared to that of Eric Dolphy’s. As a saxophonist, White has since appeared with the likes of Otis Redding, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and his own group “Andrew White’s ZORROSAX ALLSTARS.” White also led two overlapping decade-long careers in the ’60s and ’70s: one as an oboist that featured a stint with American Ballet Theatre and the other as an electric bassist, including efforts with Stevie Wonder, The 5th Dimension, and Weather Report. Despite all of that, White may actually be best known for his transcriptions of John Coltrane’s solos—he has reportedly transcribed just about every Coltrane solo ever recorded. Since 1971, White has run “Andrew’s Music,” a self-run operation out of his own basement that has nearly 3000 items in its catalogue for sale: almost 1000 Coltrane transcriptions, numerous vinyl records, CDs, books, essays, and even an 800-page autobiography, Everybody Loves the Sugar. White is also known for his sense of humor: some descriptions he has given himself include: “‘the ultimate bad-assed-Zorro-Super-sax,’ ‘Jaws White,’ and ‘Mr. Musical Achiever of the ’70’s and ’80’s.'”
This Saturday, April 26th, White returns to play his first show as a leader in New York in almost 20 years. The Jazz Gallery warmly presents Andrew White III on saxophone, Wade Beach on piano, Steve Novosel on bass, and Nasar Abadey on drums. We caught up with Andrew by phone to discuss the gig and to see what he’s been up to.
The Jazz Gallery: The upcoming gig at The Jazz Gallery is your first appearance in New York City as a leader in about 20 years. What brings you up from Washington D.C. for the occasion?
Andrew White: I am very happy to do it! I’d like to thank my producer Anthony Radice who approached me about the opportunity and helped set it up. My general itinerary is very restrictive in terms of allowing time for playing gigs as my publishing business “Andrew’s Music” is a full-time job. I’m usually only available to book shows two months or less in advance which presents challenges with the way the rest of the industry tends to work. As a self-producer of Andrew’s Music, which is now 42 ½ years young, I can’t afford to jeopardize that business. Elvin Jones once said in passing, “Never exceed your ambitions.”
TJG: Can you speak briefly about the musicians you’ll be playing with? How have these relationships developed over the years?
AW: This is a mature band. I started playing with both Wade Beach and Nasar Abadey around 2000 or so, but I’ve been playing with Steve Novosel for about 52 years. Steve is a household name with respect to “Andrew’s Music,” as he’s been making records with me since 1973. Steve was actually the bass player on my last New York performance in 1995 at Lincoln Center: a tribute to John Coltrane and Julius Hemphill, who had recently passed at that time. As to the evolution of our relationship, it’s hard to articulate as it’s a symbiotic thing that happens on the bandstand. I’ve been playing a lot of different music over the years and he’s been the bass player for just about all of it so there’s certainly a strong symbiosis that exists between us. I’m very happy that he’s been able to stick with me and put up with me all of these years.
TJG: Can you contextualize the material that you’re going to play for the show?
AW: I’ll be using my standard repertoire format, selecting music from across the jazz spectrum. There will definitely be some Coltrane tunes, but I will also look to source my own repertoire that I’ve been plugging all of these years. I think the “Andrew’s Music” fans will be happy to hear that some things have changed, but the context remains fresh and invigorating.
TJG: Where does the Coltrane catalogue stand these days? Is it still a work in progress?
AW: I’ve never quite thought of it as a work in progress because I only work from material as it is submitted to me. Therefore, my catalogue is not laid out chronologically in terms of when Coltrane played everything. Back in September 23rd, 2013, we released Trane 15, our fifteenth volume of John Coltrane transcriptions. It’s a series of a 133 new Coltrane transcriptions that came out along with a book, Trane 15: The Book, which serves as a companion to the transcriptions. Volume 15 is primarily non-commercial music but it does offer tremendous musicological significance and with the other 14 volumes serves to round out Coltrane’s legacy in terms of his recorded output and linguistic contributions. My volumes have largely recognized Coltrane’s commercial recordings and, starting with volumes 6–10, introduced a lot of live performances, airchecks, the European concerts, etc. We also gave a pre-release for a book that’s coming out in September, 2014: Resolution. This book is based on the resolution by the Washington D.C. city council to make April 23rd “Andrew White Day” in the district. A large portion of the book deals with that experience and then there are 34 or so more essays on a broad range of topics. We have a lot of other things in the fold as well but I can’t speak about them at the moment.
TJG: Do you keep up with all three of your instruments: saxophone, oboe, and the electric bass?
AW: I don’t perform on the bass or the oboe anymore. I retired as an oboe player in 1970 with my last performance being at Lincoln Center with the American Ballet Theatre. Additionally, I retired as an electric bass player in November, 1976 after leaving The 5th Dimension as an “on-the-scene” bass player. I did do some bass work again starting in 1984 for about 10 years or so: low-key, union type of work, things like that. As I have three basses and two amplifiers, I pick them up from time-to-time for maintenance purposes. Who knows?! I might change my mind and decide I want to come out and do something with it.
TJG: How do you feel about the present state of the D.C. music scene?
AW: While the jazz music scene might be small down here in terms of its contribution to the local economy, we do have a lot going on in terms of jazz education programs. In terms of clubs, I’ve been hearing about some new spots but my mainstay down here has traditionally been Blues Alley. I’ve worked Blues Alley for the past three years, twice a year. I’ll be playing there this April and September.
TJG: What’s your relationship to newer music?
AW: Since I’m putting this anthology together, I’ve actually been listening to a lot of my own material recently. It’s been nice both personally and artistically to revisit a lot of that material and relive a lot of those musical experiences. I’m 71 years old now and my first recording was with the JFK Quintet produced by Cannonball Adderley. I survey newer artists but I have a harder time relating to them as they’re approaching music from a different experience and different background than what I am accustomed to. The scene has changed tremendously. I’ve spoken to a lot of older people my age and I think we struggle with trying to reconcile that we can’t “tap our feet” the way we used to. It’s just different.
TJG: Are you still composing these days?
AW: Yes! Actually, this would be a great opportunity to preview an upcoming release that has yet to be publicized. Back in December, 2013, Brian Perez presented five of my compositions at the University of Maryland with the University of Maryland Eastern Shore Choir. It was a unique work because choirs typically serve as the meat of an orchestration, but in this case the solo alto saxophone played a larger role. Bryan did such a stellar job that I was inspired to create a demonstration anthology of 150 selections, spread out over 50 categories of my own compositions from 1961 until present. It will be a series of eight CDs. That will be coming out later this year as well.
Andrew White Quartet will perform at The Jazz Gallery this Saturday, April 26th, 2014. This performance features Andrew White III on saxophone, Wade Beach on piano, Steve Novosel on bass, and Nasar Abadey on drums. Sets are at 9 and 11 p.m. $22 general admission and $10 for members. Purchase tickets here.