Andrew White’s music career was a six-decade-spanning blur of shape-shifting brilliance. White was a prolific composer and bandleader, and like local contemporaries Lloyd McNeill and Jimmy Gray, a self-empowered Black entrepreneur. He earned his first recording contract as a bandleader at age 18, and would later release 42 albums on his own DC-based Andrew’s Music label.
He was probably the most devoted student of John Coltrane who ever lived. He played the saxophone, English horn, oboe, piano, and bass as though he had a hand in their invention. He toured the capitals of the world as a composer and performer of classical, jazz, fusion, funk, soul, and rock music. And rather than move from one thing to the other, White seems to have been doing all of these things, all the time.
Even with all that, White was direct in performance. If he was going to throw down some melodic, crowd-pleasing funk, or if he was going to indulge that inner monologue a bit, he was going to let you know either way. Sometimes he’d do both at once; on "Superfly Blues", his group fuses Mayfield and Miles into a freaky-yet-familiar hybrid organism. It's a testament to White’s instrumental skill and vocabulary, sense of humor, and deep appreciation for the classics.
In hindsight, it’s plain that other musicians in DC were paying attention, and in so many ways Andrew White both personified and helped shape DC’s artistic identity. Sadly, Andrew White passed away in November 2020. In September 2021, he was honored with a memorial performance during DC Jazzfest. Hopefully the city will continue to remember and pay tribute to this singular local legend.