On Chris White's ('75) new album, there are gifts for the important people in his life. There's "Marce," inspired by his wife, Marcy; "Flo," which is dedicated to his friend and the father of his step-son Zacc; and "Lianna" written for his daughter.
Filled with the sounds of Spain, specifically flamenco and Latin jazz, this new album is a departure from the style of his first solo album "First Principles," released in 2003 with Chris White and the Cayuga Jazz Ensemble. Inspired by his years living in Granada, this new album rings with the heartfelt, soulful sound that is emblematic of the Spanish culture. Cello, guitar and percussion invoke his time in Spain and also reflect the beloved people in his life today.
Above all, this new album is a tribute to his late brother, Rob White '81. The title track "Song for Rob" is one of White's favorites. It is both a reflection and an ode to the memory of his kind, funny and generous brother, who passed away in 2013 at the age of 50 from cancer.
"Rob was very musical," said Chris. "He played the trombone in the public schools and then the acoustic bass, piano and, perhaps his favorite, the drums. He was regretful that he didn't focus on just one instrument, but he could pick up any instrument and make it look and sound like he knew how to play it. He really loved music and, back in the day, we'd make each other mix tapes of our favorite music. We had slightly different yet overlapping tastes, so it was fun."
Rob was, in Chris's words, a great guy and always fun to be around. Chris first performed "Song for Rob" at his brother's memorial service, and he continued to develop the song as the album took shape.
"I didn't think about making a new album until around 2016," he admitted. "But when I turned 60, I resolved to record a bunch of my own tunes, and I reached out to my friends in Spain to see if they'd be willing to collaborate with me." The other musicians on the album include Nono Garcia, Tito Alcedo, Antonio Toledo and Javier Ruibal -- friends he originally made when he lived in Spain.
"When my late wife Susan and I moved to Granada in 1982, I didn't know any Spanish at all, but little by little I started learning the language and meeting musicians," he recalled. "The first guy I met was a guitar player who was playing outside by a fountain. I started listening and then tried talking to him in my broken Spanish. I didn't even know the word for musician! I tried using French with a Spanish accent, but the word for musician in Spanish is músico and in French its musicien, so he didn't understand me."
Despite the initial language barrier, he found friendship with his fellow musicians. He and his wife would live there for three years, and during their time abroad, White would continue to meet fellow performers and music-lovers, play gigs with a wide variety of artists and enjoy Spain's thriving music culture.
"By the end, I was playing with five different groups; singer-songwriters, Celtic, jazz and flamenco groups," he said. "It was really exciting, and I decided then that I wanted to focus on music as my career."
His next step would be to get his masters in cello performance, so he and his wife decided to return to the states so he could pursue his degree at Ithaca College.
His love for performance and collaboration has not wavered over the years, and White has found new avenues for his musical expression. Lately, he has enjoyed playing with Cloud Chamber Orchestra, a trio which creates improvised soundtracks for silent film screenings.
"In this group, I play with two other musicians who are great improvisers," he said. "To prepare, we watch the movie several times, and we improvise while we watch and learn the scene changes, the ups and downs. When we watch the film with the audience, we improvise and every time it's different. It's our way of making these old movies from the early 1900s fresh again."
Outside of teaching privately for over 30 years, being a devoted father and husband, running occasional workshops on cello improvisation, and frequently performing as a classical player in the Binghamton (NY) Philharmonic, White also found the time to establish and direct the New Directors Cello Festival. This annual gathering brings together cellists from all over the world to celebrate, discuss and explore non-classical cello. This has been a tremendous and fruitful undertaking, as he continues to connect with new performers and engage with fellow passionate musicians who inspire him.
"It's so great to be in touch with people who are doing creative and innovative things with the cello," he said. "It's been a big inspiration. I recently put together a list of all the cellists who have played at my festival. 113 different cellists have played over the years. I feel lucky that I've been able to keep it going all this time."
It continues to be an exciting and rewarding musical career for Chris White. He has had incredible experiences over the years – performances in Paris, Madrid, New York, Morocco and Montreal, collaborations with fellow musicians he greatly admires, and young students with promising futures ahead of them. Looking back, he recalls his time at Western Reserve Academy, and a mentor who gave him a well-needed nudge into music.
"Both my mom and Bill Appling were hugely important in my development as a musician," he said. "My mom, Molly White, is the reason I began to play cello. At Reserve, Bill Appling saw that I had some talent, and he pushed me to start taking lessons again and he connected me with a cellist in the Cleveland Symphony, Donald White."
Reserve was a formative time for his music, and also for another passion of his -- woodworking. In fact, one of his favorite memories was working with faculty member Lee Blankenship in the woodshop to build an acoustic guitar from scratch, a guitar he still plays to this day!
"The school was so helpful in that regard," he said. "Reserve kept me involved in music and encouraged me to find a way to combine two things I loved; music and woodworking."
"Song for Rob" and "First Principles" are available on CDBaby, Spotify, Pandora, Amazon and iTunes.