Peter White

Performing Sunday, July 1

Like so many millions of us, guitarist Peter White still feels closest to the music he absorbed while growing up. As a British teen in the ’60s, he kept his ears glued to the radio—soaking up the exciting new sounds of rock bands like the Beatles and soul giants like Stevie Wonder—and tried to learn how to play those songs on the acoustic guitar his dad had given him. It didn’t take him long to get the hang of it, and now, after more than four decades as both a leader and sideman, he’s returning to those tunes that impacted him so forcefully in his youth.

Groovin’, set for release on October 28, 2016 via Heads Up, a division of Concord Music Group, is White’s third collection of guitar-centric interpretations of timeless compositions from those halcyon years of the 1950s to the ’80s. Taking up where his previous all-covers albums Reflections (1994) and Playin’ Favorites (2006) left off, Groovin’ finds White not only nostalgic but adventurous and playful, injecting vocal shadings and bold horn charts into the mix, and even some tougher guitar sounds than he’s generally known for.

“I always gravitate toward this era,” says White about the songs he chooses to cover. “At that time the music meant more to me than at any other time in my life.”

Groovin’ takes its title from the Rascals’ tropical-hued ballad hit of 1967, and also includes, from that heady decade, the Beatles’ “Here, There and Everywhere.” From the same era, the R&B classic “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” a hit for both Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight, gets a distinctive new reading here by White, as does Otis Redding’s timeless “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay.” The oldest tune, “Sleep Walk,” was a number one instrumental hit in 1959 by Santo and Johnny in the United States, but White actually heard it first by the Shadows, a British guitar combo massively popular in the U.K. that never really caught on in the States. For White, the challenge in interpreting such familiar music is in putting his own stamp on a number while retaining the characteristics that make it instantly recognizable.
“I like playing covers because if you can take a song that people know, by a well-known artist, and make it your own, then you have defined yourself as an artist,” he says. “Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley did that and no one complained. One of the purposes in my making these cover albums is that I want to be very faithful to the melody. But I ask myself, if I had just come up with this idea and it had never been recorded before, how would I record this song? Do I need to use any part of the original arrangement, and if I don’t then let’s not. On at least half the songs on this album, if you took my melody off, you would not recognize the song.”
Several songs on Groovin’ originated in the 1970s and ’80s, the decade that White considers his “cutoff point.” The Stevie Wonder track that follows “Groovin’” on the album is “Do I Do,” from 1982, and “Never Knew Love Like This Before,” originally recorded by Stephanie Mills, is also an ’80s-vintage track. “I Can See Clearly Now,” the classic reggae chart-topper by Johnny Nash, the Three Degrees’ Gamble and Huff-penned “When Will I See You Again” and “How Long,” the Paul Carrack-written hit by Ace, all stem from the first half of the ’70s. Once White narrowed down the material he wanted to include, he got to work on the arrangements. “You have to forget the original version,” he says. “I start with a beat and then I start playing the piano—most of these arrangements come from the piano.” Self-producing, White then worked out his guitar parts and fine-tuned the roles that the various musicians would play. Among them was drummer Ricky Lawson, a friend of White’s who passed away shortly after contributing to the album and to whom he dedicates Groovin’.

“A lot of the ideas on Groovin’ were left over from my last two cover songs albums,” White says. “I make song lists and go through them—‘Does this work? Does that work? Oh, that works.’ I had this list of songs and said, ‘Let’s see what happens.’”

In a way, “Let’s see what happens” has been White’s modus operandi since he first picked up a guitar. Influenced at first by folk music, he learned fingerstyle picking by listening to Simon and Garfunkel and Joni Mitchell recordings. An introduction to the revolutionary rock of Jimi Hendrix sent him scampering toward the electric guitar, but when his first model was destroyed in a fire he returned to the acoustic. He fell for the British blues of bands such as (early) Fleetwood Mac and was introduced to jazz by a friend. It was his ability to adapt his playing to multiple styles of music that got White noticed by British singer-songwriter Al Stewart—first as a pianist, then as a guitarist. White played on Stewart’s top 10 album Year of the Cat in 1976 and co-wrote the hit title track of the singer’s next album, “Time Passages.” White spent 20 years in all accompanying Stewart, and performed sideman duties for many other artists, but by 1990 he was ready to go out on his own.

“I was listening to the radio,” he recalls, “and they played a song I’d recorded with Al Stewart, ‘Ghostly Horses of the Plain,’ which was pretty much a guitar instrumental. The DJ comes on and says, ‘That was Al Stewart.’ I said, ‘No, that was me!’” From that point on, White began concentrating on his own music, composing and recording under his own name. His 1996 Caravan of Dreams album sold over 300,000 copies and by the early 2000s his shelf was bulging with awards for his virtuosic musicianship. “I never thought I’d be in the position of having a career playing my instrumental music,” White says. “When I started out, that wasn’t a road that was open to me. Then it worked.”

It’s still working. “I throw my net far and wide,” he says, “and don’t label it. It’s just instrumental music. I like to play nice songs on the guitar and I hope people like it.” Based on his stellar four-decade track record, and the instantly contagious grooves he’s created on Groovin’, that’s not going to be a problem.

Brian Culbertson

Performing Saturday, July 30

Brian Culbertson is an award-winning multi-instrumentalist, songwriter and producer known for his distinct brand of genre-crossing contemporary jazz, R&B and funk. Mining the urban sounds of musically-rich Chicago, he began his musical studies on piano at age eight and quickly picked up several other instruments by the time he was twelve, including drums, trombone, bass and euphonium. Inspired by the iconic R&B-jazz-pop artists of the 1970s like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, Chicago, David Sanborn and others, Culbertson started composing original music for his seventh grade piano recital and hasn’t stopped since, amassing 30 Billboard No. 1 singles (and counting!) and a deep catalogue of 18 albums, most of which have topped the Billboard contemporary jazz charts.

Having worked and performed with countless industry all-stars such as Michael McDonald, Chris Botti, Ledisi, Barry Manilow, Herb Alpert, Natalie Cole, Maurice White (EWF), Chuck Brown and Bootsy Collins just to name a few, Culbertson has won numerous awards and accolades along with nominations from the NAACP Image Awards and Soul Train Awards. In 2012, he founded the Napa Valley Jazz Getaway, a flourishing wine, music and lifestyle experience for which he also serves as artistic director.

With love, romance and his recent twentieth wedding anniversary serving as his inspiration, Culbertson crafted thirteen new songs that will be released as “Colors of Love” on Valentine’s Day. The seduction begins with the first single, the amorous title track, which is a sensual R&B groove illuminated by lyrical acoustic piano melodies typical of the collection’s contents. A nearly three-month-long U.S. concert tour will bring “Colors of Love” to life in a vivid theatrical production, incorporating video elements in a major way.

Regardless of his success and numerous accomplishments, fans can rest assured that Culbertson always brings his very best – and brings the very best out of others – in all of his broad-ranging musical and creative endeavors.

Eric Darius

Performing Saturday June 30

Saxophonist, composer, producer, and vocalist Eric Darius likes to play by his own rules. Fearlessly pushing all musical boundaries, he is one of the most exciting musicians to enter the Contemporary Jazz scene in the last decade. His explosive arrival as a recording artist at the age of 17 caused a frenzy worldwide! Now, with six critically acclaimed albums under his belt, a Number One hit single, and Seven Top 10 radio hits on Nielsen’s R&R/Billboard Contemporary Jazz Charts, international recording artist, Eric Darius’ star continues to rise straight to the top. Prophetically hailed Debut Artist of the Year by Smooth Jazz News in 2004, Eric has shared the stage with innumerable world renown, Grammy Award-winning artists, such as Prince, Jamie Foxx, Mary J. Blige, David Foster, Carlos Santana, Babyface, Wynton Marsalis & George Benson, just to name a few. His music innovatively crosses over all music boundaries from Jazz, R&B, Hip-Hop, to Pop, creating a very distinctive, fresh sound and approach that is uniquely his own.

“Artists such as Prince, Herbie Hancock, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, and Miles Davis have always inspired me because of their fearlessness to express themselves freely from a musical standpoint and allow their music to evolve with each album,” states Eric Darius. Hailing from a musical family with rich traditions in Caribbean music (his father is from Haiti and his mother is from Jamaica), Eric realized his calling for music at an early age. “I remember being nine years old and hearing a saxophonist play at my church. I instantly loved the sound…I remember being blown away by the soul and emotion of the instrument. It was as if I could almost hear the words and lyrics with each note being played…it was at that point that I fell in love with the instrument. The saxophone has a way of connecting with people in a way that no other instrument does. To me, its expressions are closest to the human voice.” Darius is one of those musicians who was fortunate to benefit from music programs in the school system. As a result, the young musician has made it a mission to pay it forward and has spent a considerable amount of time exposing young students to music in the public school system with his On A Mission in the Schools campaign. He shares, “It is important to me that these types of music programs remain available for children. One of my goals is to expose young kids to music with substance and to help make them aware that music can be an outlet for their emotions…that it can be a positive influence in their lives. By age eleven—after only playing for one year—Eric was chosen to be in Sonny LaRosa and America’s Youngest Jazz Band, which consisted of young musicians, ages five to twelve. The group toured the country and even played at the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland.

Throughout Eric’s young but already dynamic career, he’s had the tremendous opportunity to travel and perform worldwide with numerous groups. Even as a high school student at Blake High School of the Performing Arts and college student at the University of South Florida in Tampa, he had the fortune to travel internationally at such a young age. “My goal is to really help bridge the generational gap and make music that has infinite possibilities,” concludes Eric Darius.

With the release of Retro Forward, Eric Darius is building bridges, forging new paths and ensuring that his heartfelt, organic and honest approach to the music will stand the test of time. Whether he’s being featured on FOX’s hit TV show, The X Factor, or TNT’s hit drama series, Mob City, Eric’s presence is definitely being felt in the entertainment world. He continues to be an artist that knows no boundaries and a force that is unequalled in today’s musical landscape.

Monty Seward

Performing on Friday, June 29

Monty Seward, a California native, was born and raised in the Los Angeles county. He has been performing since the early age of 5 years old, singing solos in church, performing for special events, dignitaries and school assemblies all while developing his talent as a singersongwriter and performer. His first professional recording session was at the age of 9 when he recorded a single along with his mother, Evangeline Seward, and family for the legendary, Pat Boone’s record label. Hearing his voice on the radio for the first time left an indelible mark on him and it was this moment in his childhood that stirred the passion in him for the music business.

Monty learned to play several instruments at an early age, starting with the drums, then he ventured to piano and flute and eventually the guitar. But it was his singing and songwriting that would ultimately cause the industry to take notice. Though passionate and committed to music, his practical sensibilities took precedence when initially deciding on his college career path. Monty chose to major in electronic engineering and minor in jazz at Southern University Baton Rouge Louisiana, and was fortunate to be mentored by the New Orleans-born jazz legend, Alvin Baptiste who also mentored the likes of Branford Marsalis and many more. A milestone in his early pursuit to becoming a professional musician and singer was his appearance at the New
Orleans Jazz Festival at the age of 19 where he intrigued the crowd with a rendition of the late Al Jarreau’s “Spain”.

By the mid 80’s, Monty developed into a multi-faceted, producer, keyboardist, songwriter and vocalist and was soon noticed by the legendary Quincy Jones who signed him a staff songwriter exposing him to great writing and producing opportunities. He temporarily placed his aspirations as a solo artist on the back burner to pursue those opportunities which lead him to write, produce or perform with such notables as Kelly Clarkson, Tyrese Gibson, Oleta Adams, James Ingram, El DeBarge, Ingram, Lakeside, Deniece Williams, Diana Ross, Michael Bolton, Kashif, Randy Travis, The Jacksons, New Kids On The Block as well smooth jazz legends Hiroshima, Paul Jackson Jr., George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Gerald Albright and many more. Amongst the many singles of Monty’s to hit the billboard charts is the classic soulful gospel tune “Say Amen”, sung and co-written by his long-time writing partner, Howard Hewett. He recently shared the stage with Larry Graham at the Cancun Jazz Festival and with Adam Hawley who happens to be featured on his cd. His talents as a music producer and songwriter have awarded him many top ten singles and tens of millions of cd’s sold with many awards to follow including an Emmy nomination, ASCAP awards, Annie nominations and many film and television credits as a writer and producer.

But now… following years of working with so many gifted artists, Monty has been enthusiastically romancing his first love….being the artist. In 2013 Monty released first single and EP “ Only You”. In 2016 he released another EP “All The Time”. Monty has been performing at music festivals and venues from Bally’s Vegas to the Newport Beach Jazz Festival and abroad. Sharing his heart through his soulful urban-edged smooth jazz music is still his passion and his versatility and creativity are masterfully displayed on his cd which is scheduled to be released summer 2017. The time is right because he is well-seasoned and ready for the main stage.