Professional jazz musician and musical director Tony White is a multi-instrumentalist who plays the tenor, alto, and soprano saxophone. His first teaching job ended up being at his old high school, Fremont. Utilizing his contacts and mentors (including famed jazz artist great, Buddy Collette), White was able to build a comprehensive program that included a marching band, jazz band, jazz combo and drum line.
His student musicians gained exposure and experience performing at such storied venues as the Playboy Jazz Festival, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, and the Pantages Theater. Under White’s direction, they have been able to perform with Lionel Hampton, Plas Johnson, Poncho Sanchez and Justo Almario among others.
White continues to fight for music appreciation in all its forms. For the past 22 years, he has served as head director for the Los Angeles Unified School District All City Marching Band. White currently is a coordinator of Visual and Performing Arts for the district’s Beyond the Bell arts program.
Tony is currently working with former Tonight Show front-man, Kevin Eubanks, to help develop stronger morals and values in music education. In 2003, White recorded his first CD, The Tony White Project, a CD of jazz saxophone stylings accompanied by Minority Report and produced by jazz impresario Billy Mitchell. His next CD is scheduled for 2013.
ZS: Why did you choose the saxophone?
TW: When I first started getting involved in music was when I entered middle school. I really wanted to play the bass when joining band but my school did not have one. Since I could not play the bass, I was looking for another instrument which ended up being the tenor saxophone. I first started playing on the clarinet and then moved right to the tenor saxophone. Most saxophonists usually start on the alto and then move to the tenor saxophone. Why I gravitated towards the tenor saxophone was I really liked the bass and as the tenor saxophonist you had the opportunity to play bass lines which I really enjoyed.
ZS: What musicians helped you progress as a saxophonist?
TW: When I was growing up, a woman by the name of Mrs. Herman got me exposed to the instrument. In terms of professional saxophonists whom I listen to and try to incorporate their ideas would be Ernie Watts, Grover Washington Junior, Michael Brecker, and Keith Jarrett. When I decided to pursue music as my major in college, a musician named Frank Chase gave me a reality check in terms of how to play the saxophone correctly in regards to phrasing, sound production, intonation, and developing a more focused practice routine. I found that playing along with records to be the most beneficial way to practice the areas that Frank Chase recommend I focus on. Funny enough, I did not know about Charlie Parker until I reached college. In addition to playing saxophone, I played bass clarinet in concert band as well as baritone sax while attending college at UC Riverside which helped expand my understanding of other instruments.
ZS: How do you develop a good sound?
TW: Sound is a personal thing. Listen to guys who have a strong sound: Ernie Watts, Michael Brecker, Stanley Turrentine. Through trying to sound like a certain musician you will develop your own sound and I can’t stress enough the importance on working on developing a good sound. Some players feel that when someone says “you sound like Michael Brecker” that you are copying Michael Brecker, but I feel that more players should understand this compliment as “You embody many of the great characteristics that many players associate with Michael Brecker.”
ZS: What material do you find yourself practicing the most these days?
TW: I typically work on developing a more focused practice routine. What I mean by this is, for instance, taking a part a standard such as Confirmation. What I would do is play the head, and then just focus on the ‘A’ section. If I am having difficulty playing through certain chords, I condense my focus to just those two chords or even one chord to see what riffs would work over that chord. This is a great way to expand on ideas you have under your fingers. I will continue to play along with records because the great saxophonist, Bob Sheppard, reinforced this idea in me. Bob told me, “You need to hear and feel it to play Jazz”.
ZS: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve been given over the course of your playing career?
TW: When I met Michael Brecker, he told me that “nothing is impossible” and that you must enjoy the moment.
ZS: Do you believe Music Education has changed over the past few years?
TW: I have been in this business for over 28 years and many things have changed. There are many music educators who are not equipped with demonstrating their passion for music and passing this passion and dedication to music on to their students. Many music teachers must cooperate with math, science, etc in terms of students’ schedules and the requirements the school board has decided that they must follow. The music director has to be passionate about the music and not allow the band to play average. The quality of music is the most important. Good equipment and bringing in teachers and clinicians into middle school and high schools will help motivate and enhance the students overall music experience. Even though there seems to be a lack of funding to some extent, there are grants out there to receive funding to purchase instruments. Besides the school’s efforts to support music, parental involvement is essential to enhance the band program at their child’s school, and the schools with better organized parent programs are the one’s that have not experienced the severe cuts that other music programs have seen due to a lack of support and interest.
ZS: What’s your saxophone equipment setup?
- I play the Eastman 52nd Street saxophones exclusively. These horns have a great sound and the overall build quality and value help me focus on crafting my own sound.
- Soprano- standard gold lacquer soprano
- Alto- 52nd street saxophone
- Tenor- 52nd street saxophone
- Soprano- Drake Ceramic Dave Leibman model- large opening
- Alto- Beechler jazz custom-7 tip opening
- Tenor- ted klum focus tone metal-8 tip opening
I use the Francois Louis ligature for soprano, alto, and tenor saxophone.
I primarily use Roberto’s Reeds because I like the cut as well as consistency I get from every box.