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Brought to you by FUNKNSTUFF.NET and hosted by Scott Goldfine — musicologist and author of “Everything Is on THE ONE: The First Guide of Funk” ― “TRUTH IN RHYTHM” is the interview show that gets DEEP into the pocket with contemporary music’s foremost masters of the groove.
Featured in TIR Episode 89 (Part 1 of 2): A giant of jazz, fusion and funk drumming — Mr. Lenny White. His career got off to a spectacular start as in his late teens he followed in the footsteps of jazz drumming legends Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette as first part of Jackie MacLean’s band and then Miles Davis. While still a teen, White’s first recording sessions wound up being Davis’ landmark jazz-fusion album, Bitches Brew. He then was also featured along with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Joe Henderson on trumpeter Freddie Hubbard’s highly recorded Red Clay album. At the same time in the early 1970s, he was working studio sessions with a who’s who of the jazz world during that time, including Woody Shaw, Gil Evans, Gato Barbieri and even Santana.
White’s penchant for Latin-flavored jazz took him to becoming a member of the famed fusion band Azteca, which was formed by the Escovedo family and also included guitarist Neal Schon, later of Journey, and bassist Paul Jackson, who would soon become a member of Hancock’s Headhunters. White then joined the group for which he is best known, Return to Forever, the seminal groundbreaking jazz fusion band that also included Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke and Al DiMeola. RTF toured the world and recorded touchstone albums, while at the same time its members produced solo albums. While White debuted under his own name in 1975 with Venusian Summer, and contributed to his bandmate Clarke’s 1970s albums including the superlative School Days.
RTF soon broke up and White continued to expand his playing, composing and production horizons both through his own albums and with others that included Jimmy Smith, Jaco Pastorius, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, The Brecker Brothers and Steve Grossman. In the latter half of the 1970s, White unleashed a string of albums and that included his new band Twentynine and focused more on vocals, funk and R&B but also included jazz and fusion elements. The formula brought him his first black radio hits with funk songs like “P-Nut Butter” and “Kid Stuff.” He also released a great update of the Beatles’ “Lady Madonna,” featuring Chaka Khan. He would produce Khan, as well as Nancy Wilson, Diane Reeves, Rachelle Ferelle and Marlena Shaw, among others like Pieces of a Dream, Grover Washington, Wayne Shorter and even rapper Big Daddy Kane. White teamed with Marcus Miller to score the music for the cult comedy classic “House Party,” and also had a hand in the music for Spike Lee’s “School Daze.”
In this in-depth interview, White goes deep on his start with Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard, being part of the lauded Return to Forever, his solo albums and other key collaborations, the most unforgettable memories from his 50-year career, and what he has been up to more recently, including lecturing at the Harvard Law School and Columbia University, hosting a podcast and putting together several recording projects. A central theme was no matter what the style is keep the music authentic and moving forward. White continues to shine as a bright beacon of musical light upon us all.
RECORDED MARCH 2019