Listen to five San Diego musicians whose works have impacted jazz pianist Joshua White.
Influential is a KPBS music series in which we ask notable San Diego musicians to make us a playlist and talk about the music that shaped their careers. Rather than go way back into his influences, jazz pianist Joshua White wanted to talk about five San Diego musicians who are important to him and brought him to the style of jazz and performance he loves now.
White thrives on improvising and working out music with other musicians during performances. During the pandemic, he had to shift gears a little and look internally for inspiration and even embrace virtual platforms. But as performers are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel, White is looking forward to the thrill and ephemeral essence of live jazz. We asked White about his approach to music in the pandemic, and what these five impactful local musicians mean to him, to his work and to the jazz scene in San Diego and beyond.
Here's Joshua White, in his own words:
Since the pandemic began, there's been a drastic change in my practice in terms of performance, because a lot of what I did as a musician was live performance based. So not only working on my music and writing and arranging, but actually performing in front of live audiences and testing out new material and new arrangements with my fellow musicians.
And thankfully, things are starting to open back up. So we're getting a chance as musicians to try out all these ideas that have been at this sort of gestation for this past year.
Outside of a musical collaboration, I'm always interested in working with people who have a interesting perspective and a way of communicating that perspective, and who are interested in collaboration but also have an interesting way of putting their ideas together in the moment and have the capacity to respond to any given piece of information, any given stimuli at any given time — you know, exploring the ideas in the moment.
'Suddenly (Live At The Five-Spot)' By Charles McPherson
I think I met Charles McPherson back in 2003 at the inaugural year of the UCSD Jazz Camp.
And just so happens at that program, I got to meet some of the greatest internationally touring artists who also live here in San Diego. And one of those individuals was the great Charles McPherson. And it was truly an honor to meet him and to hear him live in person at that formative time in my development. So in meeting Charles McPherson and learning more about him, his history and his music, I immediately went to the record store. And I would say this particular recording of "Suddenly" was the first recording that I purchased by Charles McPherson.
And the record blew me away. I mean, just hearing him in person is amazing as well as getting the records. And thankfully, over the years I've had a chance to collaborate with him on many different occasions. And it's always been a great and wonderful learning experience to be next to a real master of this musical tradition that, you know, it's most commonly referred to as jazz.
'Further Adventures' By Holly Hofmann
I first met Holly Hofmann at that same music program at UCSD in 2003. And I would say that our connection was through the flute because at that time I was playing the flute as well. But over the years, I would count Holly as being a major mentor to me, as setting an example of how to carry yourself with integrity through the music industry, and having that sort of relationship with her. I've also admired all of her recorded work.
And thankfully I have the honor of working with her on April 17th, we're playing a livestream concert of her music, and she allowed me the opportunity to pick my favorite recorded material. And we will be playing that music at the livestream concert, which includes one of my favorites, "Further Adventures." What I like about "Further Adventures" is that it has an interesting musical form and it has a lot of fun sections to play over. And that's really what — in jazz or improvised music, it's not only: do we enjoy the melodies and the chords and things like that, but they present an interesting area from which we can improvise and create from that framework.
'Para Waltz' By Mark Dresser
I always equate working with Mark Dresser and his music and his bands as sort of my college level experience in music theory and composition, because in my personal experience, he's been one of my favorite composers and he writes these such interesting melodies and harmonies and everything. He's been one of the musicians I would say has opened up a new world to me in terms of what I thought was possible in music and improvisation and in composition.
And this particular song, "Para Waltz," we've played this many, many times together. I've always told him that this particular composition of his is my favorite melody by far that he's written. I love the chords and I love the harmony and how everything, you know, just works together in, like, a harmonious fashion. And I'm always grateful to have the opportunity to collaborate and work with Mark on any project. Like, if he has a recording project and he asked me if I'm available or a live performance, I'm there. And if I have a project, I know he's going to bring something remarkable and truly special to the occasion.
'Scorpion' By Johnaye Kendrick
I first met Johnaye Kendrick — so it's an interesting story. I was playing with Gilbert Castellanos at a jam session, I believe it might have been on Thursdays or Wednesday nights. Many years ago, it was at Seven Grand in North Park. So I had been playing there for a few years already. And at a jam session it's customary that musicians or whomever would like to sit in, you know, once invited, they're able to sit in and join the house band.
So I had never met Johnaye and she came up to the bandstand and said, "I'm a vocalist. I would like to sit in," so she told me just to start wherever I would like to start, and I just started in my natural abstract space and I wanted to see where she would go with that. And she just jumped right in and just floored me. And I knew from then if I had a vocalist position or if there is something that I wanted to do with vocals, she would always be my first call.
And we had the opportunity to present more of her music a couple of years ago at the Copley Symphony Hall. And that was the first time that I really got to be able to explore her music, including her original composition entitled "Scorpion." She just floors me every time that we've worked together because not only is she a brilliant musician, but she's just a wonderful person. And she had such a great energy and a great spirit to every ensemble that we're able to work together.
'My Old Flame (Live At The Athenaeum)' By Mike Wofford
I also met Mike Wofford that first year at the UCSD Jazz Camp in 2003. And anyone who knows Mike Wofford knows that he's a musical arranger, composer extraordinaire. I mean, he's worked with practically everyone in the business. And upon first hearing him, you can hear the years of experience and just the expertise and every note that he chooses to play. And really, you can pick any recording from Mike Wofford and you're going to get a world of knowledge from his playing.
But I think that his "Live at the Atheneum" CD recorded here in San Diego and more specifically, his arrangement of the old standard "My Old Flame" just is characteristic of his grace and nuance in terms of his playing and approach at the piano. He's just in a class all of his own, and he's truly a special musician.
I don't know that I can see into the future in terms of where live performance is going post-pandemic with the introduction of more virtual performances, because quite honestly, I prefer just performing live as to performing virtually because the virtual performances have a tendency to feel like recording sessions.
And when we're in live performance in front of a live audience, I feel like there's more of an opportunity for us to experiment and try things without necessarily being documented for eternity. It's like everything goes straight onto the record and then it's blasted out onto the World Wide Web. So I'm open to the opportunity of both experiences, the virtual as well as the live. But I will always be in favor of the live performances and letting it just live in that moment.
And then once it's gone, it's gone.
— Joshua White, April 2021.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length. You can find a playlist of Joshua White's musical selections on Spotify here. And you can catch White perform in the Anthology Series livestreamed jazz program honoring the music of Holly Hofmann, alongside Hofmann herself, Gilbert Castellanos and more. The performance takes place on Twitch or YouTube on Saturday at 7 p.m.