White survives trial by fire in European debut. Next up: 31 books in 31 days!
  • White survives trial by fire in European debut. Next up: 31 books in 31 days!
  • Image by Manuel Cruces Camberos
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Pianist Joshua White’s year has been a whirlwind of opportunities, which began when he was drafted into a European tour with award-winning saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa last October and concluded last week when he finished his first experience as a faculty member for the Stanford Jazz Workshop. White is looking forward to L.A. performances with Mahanthappa and his own ensemble, (((Codes))), at the Angel City Jazz Festival in October, and a new European tour with the saxophonist in November.

Video:

Rudresh Mahanthappa Quintet

...live at Belgrade Jazz Festival (2015)

...live at Belgrade Jazz Festival (2015)

White scored the gig based on word-of-mouth without an audition or rehearsal, and his debut performance was headlining a sold-out house at the Belgrade Jazz Festival performing Mahanthappa’s complex music.

“It was my first gig in Europe and my first time meeting the band,” White recalled. “I flew to Serbia separately and didn’t meet any of the band members until the morning of the first concert. Mind you, the other musicians had already recorded the album [Bird Calls] and they had been touring with [original pianist] Matt Mitchell, so they all knew the tunes. The music was challenging, so it was a steep learning curve. But I try to embrace the challenge — new music, new band, new country, and the piano was not that great, but the hall was completely packed, so I just decided to be myself and be present. We just went for it and had a ball. It turns out that somebody was recording it, so my very first moment with that band is on YouTube! Everyone went wild, and it was really exhilarating.”

The classically trained musician learned how to deal with the instrument each venue provided. “It varied from hall to hall, but I’m not a stickler about a piano. I mean it’s nice if they’re in tune, but I believe every piano has their own characteristics and I embrace whatever those are. I try to cultivate a sound on any instrument.”

White turns 31 this month and is celebrating that milestone with a challenge to himself: read 31 books in 31 days. “As much as I love music, at this point in my life I find even more inspiration from literature. I’m even more engaged when I’m reading a book. If I’m on a gig, any break time, I’ve got a book. I have 6 or 7 books in my gym bag right now.” And what’s he reading these days? “Plays, poetry, a book on physics, a book on number theory, some James Baldwin, some Ida B. Wells...”

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