Guitarist Peter White at the Schuster Center
Your most recent album, Here We Go (2012), is considered a polished work of smooth jazz. Still, when some people hear the words “smooth jazz” – especially in relation to the words “acoustic guitar” – they might get a false impression, a wrong idea. How hard is it for you to transcend genre connotations and categorizations?
“Smooth Jazz” is a radio format … a term that was coined around 1995 by radio programmers who wanted to brand their stations. Around the time the term was first being used, I had been playing guitar for more than 30 years and already released four solo CDs, so I didn’t really take much notice of it. (Laughs) I still don’t! I really don’t know what people think when they hear “smooth jazz” followed by “acoustic guitar.” It’s all beyond my control. And being a musician, I just go about making the best music I can and let the radio stations and journalists like yourself try to describe it! (laughs) -Peter White
What is the present state of jazz, smooth or otherwise?
It’s very healthy, and many young people are playing instrumental jazz – I meet them all the time. The only thing is, recorded music has much less value today then when I started as a professional musician, almost 40 years ago. YouTube has changed everything … you can listen to just about any music for free. This means that many of the young musicians I meet are not going to be able to make a living playing music. As soon as you release a CD or play a live concert, someone puts it on YouTube for the entire world to enjoy. I’m really quite glad that I came up playing music when music had value. -PW
You toured and recorded with singer-songwriter Al Stewart, and co-wrote his 1978 hit, “Time Passages.” Speaking of time: have your thoughts and feelings about that song, and its significance, changed or evolved over the years?
That song changed my life, of course. It was the first time that I had written a song with Al Stewart and it became the most successful song we ever wrote together. It has become a calling card for me over the years, as most people around my age know the song and remember hearing it on the radio, and I can say, “Yes, I co-wrote that!” -PW
You also opened for Queen, correct?
That was in 1975. I had just started playing with Al Stewart. It was all new to me – on that tour I stayed in a hotel for the first time in my life and flew on a commercial jet plane for the first time. It was all very exciting and I felt I was on a roller coaster. All I remember about that night was meeting Queen in their dressing room after the show and not knowing what to say. They were rock stars, and I was a 20-year-old newcomer. -PW
How does one transition from being a rock guitarist to a jazz guitarist? What was the journey like for you?
I starting appreciating acoustic guitar in my late teens, and when I met Al Stewart at the age of 20, he didn’t know I could play guitar. He hired me to play keyboards, which I did for a whole tour. When it became time to start recording [1976 album] Year of the Cat, Stewart had realized that I could play guitar, so he put a nylon string acoustic guitar in my hand and said, “Play this!” When I recorded my first solo CD, I chose to use a nylon string acoustic guitar because it had become my signature sound through my years with Al. I actually don’t hear a transition to what I am doing now. I don’t play any differently now than I did; it’s just that I am now playing the melody more, as there is little or no singing [in my music]. Oh, and I don’t consider myself a jazz guitarist. Never did! -PW
So what can we expect from your performance on June 28?
An energetic, entertaining show with some surprises and many songs that people know and love – not just songs I have written. I always play some my favorite songs from the 1970’s, which I consider the best time for music. -PW
The Summer Breeze Jazz Tour featuring Joe Sample, Alex Bugnon and Peter White will be held on Friday, June 28 at the Schuster Center, 1 W. Second St. Doors at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $48, $42, or $36. For tickets, call 937.228.3630, or visit ticketcenterstage.com. For more information, visit peterwhite.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Benjamin Smith at BenjaminSmith@DaytonCityPaper.com.