by Marc Minsker
Anyone who’s ever seen Andrew White perform knows why he’s called the “Keeper of the Trane.” His mastery of the John Coltrane canon and the dexterity with which he plays demonstrate the depths of White’s understanding and his appreciation of the master. Couple that with White’s legendary transcriptions of some 650 Coltrane compositions and it makes sense to call him one of the successors of Coltrane’s legacy.
It’s no exaggeration to say that White has been playing on D.C. bandstands for over 50 years. His first performances in 1960 at Bohemian Caverns, with the legendary JFK Quintet, led to a record deal with Riverside, and his presence on the U Street scene in those days afforded him opportunities to meet Cannonball Adderley, Eric Dolphy and his spiritual mentor, John Coltrane. After touring the world with jazz groups as well as rock and R&B bands throughout the 1970s and early ’80s, White primarily performed in and around D.C. during the last three decades, often appearing at the now-defunct One Step Down club. It was there that I first saw him, in 1998, performing alongside bassist Steve Novosel, pianist Allyn Johnson and drummer T. Howard Curtis. Their first set was enthralling: White led the band effortlessly through original compositions and a few standards, prefacing each tune with jokes and pithy aphorisms about life. After a break, White and his bandmates commenced the second set with a fiery rendition of Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” before moving on to equally stirring versions of “Naima” and “Afro Blue.” His phrasing, his fluid runs, his compelling tone – I was being introduced to the hallmarks of Andrew White’s playing, all of which closely align him with Coltrane’s approach.
Deep as White’s admiration is for Coltrane and his music, there was still a greater influence in his life: his wife, Jocelyne. After meeting White in France during his tenure at the Paris Conservatory, Jocelyne (to her husband, just “Joces,” or “Jo-Jo”) became his biggest fan, lover and eventual wife. They were married in 1970, and from all accounts, they truly dedicated their lives to one another: Andrew encouraged Jocelyne’s interest in painting; she encouraged him to start his own music company. Together they founded Andrew’s Music on September 23, 1971, and worked as business partners throughout their life together. Although Jocelyne was a schoolteacher for many years, she also helped her husband manage the business, with which he published over 40 of his records and a number of books.
After an aneurysm in 2008, Jocelyne suffered a series of setbacks in her health, culminating with a stroke in fall 2010. Moving her into an assisted living home was a painful step for White, but he visited her practically every day, putting his music on hold and focusing on the “love of his life.” This is the primary reason why White has not performed in over two-and-a-half years. Jocelyne tragically passed away on May 24, 2011, and shortly thereafter, White released a book remembering his life with his wife, Hello Jo Jo and Welcome to Your New Life.
In celebration of her life, the 40th anniversary of Andrew’s Music’s founding, and the 85th anniversary of John Coltrane’s birth, Andrew White has assembled a promising evening of music that will take place at Blues Alley this Monday, November 14. Wade Beach will be accompanying on piano, James King on bass and Nasar Abadey on drums. And although Jocelyne won’t be running the Andrew’s Music merchandise table, as she did at White’s shows for over three decades, her spirit will certainly be present. Knowing White, there won’t be any dirges – only hard bop, swingin’ covers and commentary that will have you laughing away the blues.