Saxophonist Andrew White is a tall man in short pants. He and his trademark highwaters celebrated what would have been the 73rd birthday of John Coltrane Wednesday at the French Embassy in the first performance of its new jazz concert program.
Series host Davey Yarborough, director of jazz studies at Duke Ellington School of the Arts, began the opening set by walking unannounced from the back of the auditorium and performing solo on his tenor saxophone. When he reached the stage, the band--pianist Wayne Beach, bassist Steve Novosel and drummer Howard Curtis--joined him in performing Coltrane's "Equinox" and a Hoagy Carmichael homage. Both tunes were beautiful, but when White took the stage to perform McCoy Tyner's "Inner Glimpse," the energy level exploded.
White plays with a screaming verve and features a thick, grainy tone and extraordinarily speedy solos. The song ended in a jackhammer duet between White and longtime drummer Curtis in which the high-ceilinged auditorium reverberated with the wildly winding sax lines and wicked drum syncopations. The two then segued into a duet of Coltrane's "Naima" and wrung its classic melody dry before the entire band rejoined for another tribute to 'Trane.
White stands tall in the pantheon of great saxophonists, floods and all.