Go and do

WHO: Pianist/songwriter Kenny White

WHAT: L/A Arts concert

WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27

WHERE: Franco-American Heritage Center, 46 Cedar St., Lewiston

TICKETS: $24/$19 for students and seniors; call 782-7228 or visit www.laarts.org

‘Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?’ L/A Arts bring piano-player and songwriter Kenny White to Franco center

You know the music is good when you listen to it, and you want to hear more.

Piano-player, songwriter Kenny White has that sound. And, fortunately, he’s been busy in the recording studio lately and is heading to Lewiston before he hits headline gigs in New York and the Northwest coast.

“A lot of people after they hear me play ask me why they’ve never heard of me,” said White, during a recording session in Boston that promises about 15 new songs for release later this year.

At age 55, White has long been in the music business but in an obscure fashion. Working as a session musician and a behind-the-scenes songwriter for corporate advertising, he finally decided to break out on his own about eight years ago.

White said he’s proud of his commercial work and gives credit to the hundreds of songs he’s written for Coca-Cola and GE and other companies for buying him the freedom to explore his own music.

His music carries an industry label of contemporary folk, but pop in his “symphony in 16 bars” CD and his current Wildflower Records label founder Joni Mitchell doesn’t exactly come to mind. It’s more like Elvis Costello’s voice meets Tom Waits’ lyrics in a bar. The music oozes into you like distant after-hours smoke. Your foot taps absent-mindedly while your brain drifts to images and memories conjured by starkly honest and poetically phrased lines.

White quotes Louis Armstrong on his liner notes. “All music is folk music. I ain’t never heard no horse sing a song.” He admits that audiences have a hard time finding him because the folk fans love his lyrics, but his music appeals to more of a jazz crowd. He has frequently opened for folk headliners like Cheryl Wheeler and Jonathan Edwards and recalls those performances as sometimes being the longest 40 minutes of his life.

“I don’t know, does the world really need another acoustic guitar player?” asked White. He noted that his current recording project leans more toward a standard jazz sound. For “symphony,” White said he tried to write the music to stay out of the way of the lyrics.

“For a while, I tried to be clever and it was too contrived,” said White. He noted that one of his most requested songs, “5 girls,” was an unexpected moment of honesty. “I had no idea that it was going in that direction. But I realized that these girls that I was poking fun of with their rebellious tattoos that had become total acts of conformity were from a hundred real moments when I actually wanted those girls.”

Now that White has embraced his own sound, he said he loves touring on his own. He does as much live music as possible, with about 70 shows last year and about 100 the year before. He keeps his hand in the studio as a producer, recently connected with Peter Wolf’s huge rock success, “Sleepless.” While he still spends a good deal of time with Wheeler and Wolf, both personal friends, he prefers creating his own music these days.

So what can the audience at the Franco expect? Expect to be amazed and surprised, White said. He may perform with a trio; it may be just him on the piano.

But after listening to White, you’ll ask yourself, “Why haven’t I heard of this guy before?” and you’ll leave wanting to hear more.


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