Pianist Joshua White seeks the history of the music he loves and layers it into his own sound. His confident delivery and endlessly engaging approach have attracted a fair amount of attention including a second-place finish at the Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition in 2011 and constant appearances anywhere between San Diego and Los Angeles on any given night. Tonight, he'll be appearing at the Aliso Creek Inn with bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith. He spoke with us about five of those history-makers who have influenced him the most.
Richard Davis "Number Two" on Booker Ervin's Space Book (1964) I became aware of his work through a Booker Ervin record entitled Space Book which also features Jaki Byard on piano and Alan Dawson on drums. Overall, I find his playing very stimulating. His rhythmic choices and how he would break things up into different groupings. He's obviously well aware of the whole tradition. He's well aware of all sorts of music traditions not just Black American music. There's an overall guiding aesthetic with most great players that lead you into finding directions that are most positive in terms of the music. When I hear him play, it always inspires me to keep pushing forward, to think and to learn.
Geri Allen "Blues In Motian" from Etudes (1988) I find her music always interesting, always stimulating, always intriguing. There is a light that shines through when she is in the band. Lately, I've been going back and investigating her recordings with a wonderful trio featuring bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Paul Motian. There is always something wonderful happening. There isn't really too much to explain. You just have to listen to the dialogue because that's where I find the music is always found. Sometimes I think there is too much emphasis on arranging and setting up the music. I'm more interested in hearing things develop in the moment instead of having a super developed framework.
Steve Coleman "Respiratory Flow" from Functional Arrhythmias (2013) The first Steve Coleman album I picked up was 2011's The Mancy of Sound. I've been playing it at least once a week since I bought it. The compositions are brilliant, the playing is fantastic, the sound of the band is incredible. Having the opportunity to meet with him and talk with him really shed some light upon how things are developed within his language and within his band, his whole environment. I've definitely been embracing his work. I've been getting every record I can get my hands on. Enough can't be said about his work and his dedication and his constant development and his constant need to learn new information.
Andrew Hill "Dedication" from Point of Departure (1964) I would say he's a pianist and composer who just kind of turned me around and had my head spinning for quite some time now. To be honest, when I first heard Point of Departure I was super heavy into Tony Williams at the time but I was like "Who's this cat on the piano?" I really couldn't dig it. Some older cats were like "Go back and listen to him." I go back and start listening again and I guess I was just listening to him solo. I was listening to his last works with his trio and listening to his music and the way he played the piano and the command that he had in that environment just knocked me out. His approach to improvisation and his approach developing melodic content really opened a new world to me that I was never really aware of or really took the time to listen to and investigate. The thing that really strikes me about his playing is his compositions are so tethered to how he plays as an improviser. You are hearing him even when cats are soloing on his compositions. He has the ability to translate his language if the musicians are open into any vessel that's available.
Herbie Nichols "Love Gloom Cash Love" from Love Gloom Cash Love (1957)
Nichols doesn't have a large recorded output but he does have a substantial body of work in a tight, compact package. Some of the same ideas that I hear with Herbie Nichols are present in what I hear with Andrew Hill but they are two completely different individuals. To listen to Herbie Nichols as a soloist and how he weaves lines using different rhythmic groupings outside of the perceived tradition of the music commonly referred to as bebop and his sense of swing and his feel for lines is something totally unique but equally as satisfying as any other player I hear from that period. It's wonderful to hear a fresh approach to a language that's constantly being developed as opposed to having some sort of definitive answer to what is right and wrong.