The late saxophonist, multi-instrumentalist and polymath Andrew White was a D.C. jazz legend. At once a musician ahead of his time and an authoritative scholar on the music of John Coltrane, he also played bass for Stevie Wonder, the 5th Dimension and Weather Report (with whom he also featured on French horn); earned accolades from Trane and Cannonball Adderley; and built and independent jazz and publishing label with a prolificacy that may have been dwarfed only by Sun Ra’s El Saturn Music.
Still, though he was respected by fellow musicians, neither national jazz critics nor the general public gave him the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.
The one big exception may be at Howard University, his alma mater, where White was honored in 2007 with the Benny Golson Jazz Master Award and gave a feature performance with the Howard University Jazz Ensemble.
Now the HUJE has offered up another glowing celebration of White’s legacy, in the form of its most recent album. HUJE 2022: A Tribute to Andrew White leads off with a gorgeous arrangement by pianist Kevin Toney of White’s “Mes Hommes (My Women),” from his 1974 album, Songs For A French Lady (Dedicated to Jocelyne); you can listen to that track below, in an exclusive stream available only on CapitalBop.
Toney, perhaps best known as one of the original Blackbyrds, formed part of the core of White’s regular band for years, alongside fellow Blackbyrds drummer Keith Killgo and bassist Steve Novosel. “To know Andrew was to encounter a man who exuded warmth, kindness, sharing wisdom and love,” Toney writes in the liner notes to the album. “As a friend and bandmate, he was nurturing, inspiring and encouraging.”
Toney pours that sentiment into the arrangement itself. While the HUJE’s performance of “My Women” is under three minutes, a lot is packed into that small space. The intro, layered with cascading horns and twinkling vibraphones, gives way to a lead saxophone – played by rising star Langston Hughes II – that embodies White’s warmth, constantly ascending skyward in flight.
The CD is not available on streaming services, but it can be ordered directly by emailing Prof. Irby. It comes with a booklet that contains a series of archival photographs: of a 22-year-old White performing his senior oboe recital (the CD’s cover photo); candid moments in the studio with fellow sax pioneer Julius Hemphill; a snapshot of White’s JFK Quintet gigging in the early ‘60s; and a picture of him with President Lyndon Johnson in 1963.