Lenny White and RTF IV: Switzerland, France and Italy

Lenny White and RTF IV: Switzerland, France and Italy
Carl L. Hager By

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[Editor's Note: Lenny White and his fellow jazz/rockers have already returned home to the States, and picked up an opening act, Dweezil Zappa and his crack outfit, Zappa Plays Zappa. After touring the East Coast and Midwest, they have been lighting up the Left Coast. Today's installment was filed as RTF IV were wrapping up in Europe. There's big news here of a DVD-in-progress, plus White's interesting take on the current state of the music industry. Stay tuned for the next editions, covering their recent travels on the West Coast as they revisited the band's original '70s home territory and stomping grounds—and after that, the much-anticipated return to the enthusiastic fans of Japan.]

"While we were in Montreux we did some filming for a DVD we're making. Part of the problem that I have with recording a live performance, at a festival like Montreux, is that their cameras and lights are set up and everybody looks the same. All the videos and DVDs from there look the same. That isn't necessarily what we would like to do, and if you want a video with your own personal textures to it, you really can't do that. When we recorded the performance and did the video, there were parts of it we didn't like, so we told the audience after the performance, "We're going to come back and redo parts of it. If you want to stay, you can stay," and almost everybody stayed. It was like being at a movie shoot where we'd have a take, and then the director would say 'Cut! Cut! That's good, but this time let's try it a little different,' and we would do it that way. That's what we did with the audience, and that, for me, was more special than the actual concert. During the breaks between shots, while the band was having conversations about what they were doing, I'd have a conversation with the audience. It was really cool. Montreux was good. Patti Austin was there. Esperanza Spalding opened up for us."

Lenny White and Esperanza Spalding at Montreux

"After that we went to Sete, France, an absolutely beautiful setting with a full moon rising over the Mediterranean. The festival was packed with people who were so enthused, so emotionally moved that people were crying, including a lady who was with the festival—she had been there, had heard bands for seven weeks, and she started to cry. She said the music that we played touched people so deeply. It was a beautiful setting, a great concert.

"We played in Aosta, Italy, and then we did Pescara, both outdoor festivals, and the audiences were great. What's very interesting is that Return To Forever is not a fusion band. It's a jazz-rock band. Part of the reason I say that is that we have two distinctly different but authentic musical styles that we play on any given night. Every night we play jazz, and we play rock. It's very obvious when I see it from the stage. In certain parts of the concert people will be sitting with their arms crossed, their legs crossed, enjoying the acoustic bass, the piano, the acoustic guitar, the violin, almost maybe like they'd listen to classical improvising... and then we come back for an encore and play "School Daze," and everybody is on their feet, jumping up, clapping their hands, like at a rock concert. For the same band! It's really remarkable to see, and it's a testament to the musicians who are playing. I see it happen every night. At the classical music festival that we played in Germany, there were people in jackets and ties, and dresses, standing up and rocking. It's really deep! Stanley Clarke says, 'There's a rocker in everyone,' and it's been proven every night."

Return to Forever onstage at Aosta, Italy
From left: Chick Corea, Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke, Frank Gambale and Lenny White

"Not just this version of Return To Forever, but all the versions, there has been this virtuosity enclosed in some common music and also within the complexities of the virtuoso music. When you go see a jazz virtuoso play, you go see Return To Forever, that's what you expect. You don't go jumping up out of your seat, because that wouldn't be appropriate. But when that group of musicians starts playing something that makes you move, makes you abandon your composure somewhat, you give it up. If you're in a club with 150 people, that's what you'd expect, but when it's a concert hall with 3,000 in the audience, the effect is quite different.


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