With a heavy heart, the jazz world says farewell to multi-instrumentalist, musicologist, and publisher Andrew White, who passed on November 11, 2020 at the age of 78 in a Washington, D.C. assisted-living facility from the late-term effects of two strokes. White was a larger-than-life character in Washington’s jazz circles and was often on the scene at clubs and concerts in his longtime hometown to show support, express encouragement, and check on the latest waves and ripples in the music stream.
As a saxophonist (both alto and tenor) and bandleader, White displayed astonishing prowess on nearly 50 recordings that he issued on his own label, Andrew’s Music, and he was known for legendary marathon concerts in DC clubs. He played electric bass with Stevie Wonder and the Fifth Dimension, recorded on oboe and bass with Weather Report for their 1973 album Sweetnighter, and appeared as a sideman with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Lloyd McNeill, among others. He also co-led the JFK Quintet, which recorded twice for Riverside and was in residence at the fabled DC venue Bohemian Caverns in the early 1960s.
Born on September 6, 1942, Andrew Nathaniel White III grew up in a musical family in Nashville, Tenn.; his father, Andrew Jr., was the executive director for music education for the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Classically trained, he majored in music theory and oboe at Howard University beginning in 1960, and later continued his studies at the Paris Conservatory.
In the classical world, White won two Rockefeller Foundation grants, played principal oboe in the American Ballet Theater, and composed for chamber ensembles at Tanglewood and Dartmouth. As a scholar, he transcribed and published hundreds of John Coltrane and Eric Dolphy solos; in 1980 he wrote a memorable book on the former’s music, Trane ’n Me. He also taught and led workshops and seminars, and lectured at music schools and conservatories around the world.
In 2001 he self-published his 840-page, five-pound autobiography Everybody Loves the Sugar, in which he described his career amid “the pastures, pleasures and pain of racism, religion, love, sex and music, all complete with my perennial, suggestive prurience, total political incorrectness and fiendishly pious irreverence. … Laff yo a– off!” (The preceding quotation offers just a small sense of the author’s extroverted personality.)
Sixteen years later, White appeared in his capacity as a jazz scholar at the Library of Congress, where he gave a talk on Coltrane, wrote a blog post, and sat for a rare oral-history interview webcast.
Although he leaves no immediate survivors—his wife of 41 years, the former Jocelyne Uhl, predeceased him—White’s personal and professional legacy is formidable.