The many faces of Matt Whiteby Russell Alston
Matt White has a lot on his plate these days. As assistant professor of music at Coastal Carolina University, he is responsible for all things trumpet. He tutors all nine trumpet music majors at CCU, including one-on-one weekly private lessons and academic advising. He also manages the recording studio, in addition to teaching recording technology.
So how does White spend his free time? He recently completed a small tour in conjunction with the release of his first CD, “Matt White, the Super Villain Jazz Band,” beginning in Atlanta on Sept. 12 and ending at CCU’s Wheelwright Auditorium on Sept. 16. On Oct. 1, White appeared at Nashville’s Jazz Cave for a celebration as well.
Recording for his debut album began in the summer of 2012. The Super Villain Jazz Band name is inspired by the “evil and dark” ideas that form some of White’s compositions, as well as a more playful inspirational source.
“It started off as an ongoing joke between friends,” he says. “Imagine a jazz club where they announce: “On bass, Darth Vader, and on keyboards, Sauron.”
The album features a collective of White’s “super villain” friends with whom he has collaborated over the years: tenor saxophonist Evan Cobb, alto saxophonist Don Aliquo, pianist Joe Davidian, bassist Jonathan Wires and drummer Jim White (no relation).
“We had two rehearsals, then went into the studio for two days and recorded a lot of music, sometimes doing three takes of each tune,” he says.
Three months passed before White flew down to Nashville to mix the 80-minute album in three days. “You got to record it, mix it and master it,” he says. “You hire a publicist to get the word out, you get a label, decide a release date. It’s a very long process.”
Juggling multiple obligations is not unusual for White. His first paying gigs, at 14 years old, were church functions. Later, while earning his bachelor’s degree in jazz studies at the University of North Florida, White was hitting the road at night “on a decrepit bus with musicians 20 years my senior” as a member of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra.
He still wasn’t certain that playing the trumpet would be a viable career. The idea of teaching came to him during his years at the University of Miami Frost School of Music where White earned a master’s and doctorate in studio music and jazz.
While he was a teaching assistant, White’s daytime duties included teaching one class a week, private tutoring and being responsible for all the university’s jazz trumpet majors. Also add directing the university’s Big Band ensemble to the list.
“I always had a knack for explaining things,” he says. “So that led me to the Ph.D. program. I also wanted to have a family, but the musician’s lifestyle doesn’t necessarily jibe with that.” That musician’s lifestyle often included performing three shows a week. He also freelanced in Miami’s commercial music scene, performing on Rihanna’s first album and on the Spanish television station Telemundo.
After Miami came Nashville, where White taught commercial music, recording technology and jazz ensemble for two years at Belmont University and one year at Vanderbilt. When he wasn’t teaching, he was involved with the city’s jazz scene.
The Grand Ole Opry, the Country Music Association Awards and a Country Music Television Christmas special are just a few of the commercial gigs White performed. He also began forming bonds with the city’s musicians. One relationship would prove to be very fruitful.
“At one of my shows I met Jozef Nuyens, owner of Castle Studios,” says White.
Castle Studios in Franklin, Tenn., was the hideout for gangster Al Capone in the 1930s. Nuyens transformed it into a music studio where White added his name to a list of artists to record there, names such as Brad Paisley, Neil Young and Snoop Dogg. White was keenly interested in maintaining the rights to his publishing, which played a role in choosing a label. He decided on Artists Recording Collective after hearing “some really good offers and some really horrible offers.”
“Matt White Super Villain Jazz Band” has been described as “a lively and compelling debut that goes beyond the usual formulas with its restless sense of invention in through-composed settings” by allaboutjazz.com. Some of the songs were inspired by actual events, such as “The Yankee Poured Out the Bacon Grease.” The track refers to an incident in which White mistakenly disposed of his Mississippi mother-in-law’s cooking grease. It features “differing solo sections and transitional interludes.” Multiple listens to his album will reveal theme music from movies, such as the “Emperor’s Theme” from Star Wars. He also reconstructed parts of pop songs, such as Brittney Spear’s “Toxic” and Tom Wait’s ballad “Alice.”
Upcoming showcases at CCU are also on White’s plate. He directs CCU’s 18-piece big jazz band, Jazz After Hours, which, as a response to increased student interest, had to form two smaller bands: a quintet consisting of two horns and a rhythm section, and a septet.
“This year was the first year we had to audition the jazz band, which is a good thing,” he says. “We actually had to turn people away, thus the need for the two smaller groups.”
White also had a hand in designing the Department of Music’s new commercial music minor. Classes include two levels of recording technology, careers in music and an improvisational writing course.
“This course of study will allow students to focus on more industry-oriented work,” he says.
Currently, White is working with Eric Crawford on a joint research project, “The St. Helena Island Spiritual Project,” which was selected as the initiative for CCU’s Edwards College Athenaeum Experiential Press. The project focuses on the spirituals and culture of the Gullah people and will be presented as an interactive experience, songbook and various media projects.