Lauren White is a name that you should probably commit to memory, because the twenty-one year old jazz singer from Dallas, Texas, possesses an abundance of talent, a great attitude, and is one of the most polite people you will ever talk to, qualities which will serve her well in the music industry. Earlier this year White released her debut CD, At Last, an album that has three original tunes, several standards that were popular, long before she was born, and tunes by more modern songwriters such as Lee Ann Womack. Recently, White took time to speak to me about her album and her career.
Lauren White attended the music program at the University of North Texas, a school that has gained a strong reputation for honing the talents of jazz recording artists such as saxophonist Bob Belden, Jeff Antoniuk and Jason Tipp, from Under The Lake. Rosana Eckert, a professor at the University of North Texas, and vocal coach to Norah Jones, has also worked with White in the same capacity.
Peppering her conversation, with polite, "Yes sir," and flashing her southern charm, White says, "She (Eckert) has helped me out so much. She helped me to get out of my comfort zone with scatting, and to expand my knowledge of songs, as well as increase my music knowledge in general."
Considering her tender age, White possesses a vast musical vocabulary, that on this CD includes Ira Gershwin’s "My One And Only," her softer, non-swing interpretation of "Mack The Knife," Roy Orbison’s "Blue Bayou," Karen Carpenter’s "Superstar," and Richard Rodgers and Lorenzo Hart’s, "My Funny Valentine."
Talking about "Mack The Knife," White says, "We didn’t (set out) to do it differently than everyone else, this is just what we thought would work the best for this album, after having tried it (in a number) of different ways. Bill Cunliffe (pianist and arranger), just slowed it down, and changed it up a little bit. I think that it was surprising for people to not hear it as a swing tune. I like things to be changed, but not changed so much that you don’t know what it is, especially since I had done so many songs that had been around for so long. I didn’t want everyone to think, ‘She’s just another singer.’"
When it came time for White to select songs for the CD At Last there were many influences that came into play, including her father, who has a fondness for the music of the Carpenters. "My dad is a huge, huge Karen Carpenter fan. We have been fans of the Carpenters for as long as I can remember. My dad would have us singing their songs when I was little. When I picked the songs that I wanted to sing, and sent them to the executive producer Ying Tan and producer Joe Harley, "Superstar," was one of the ones that they chose from my long list of songs. Karen Carpenter has a lot of lower tones, which is one of the things that I love about her," says White.
It is White’s ability to deliver deep, alto vocals, as she does with the opening track, "My One and Only," that have you checking the liner notes, in the belief that the pretty young woman adorning the cover of this album must be a model or someone other than the singer. It is her vocal performance for songs such as "My One And Only," and the emotive, "All I Do Is Cry," a gentle love song, co-written with her father, that belie her age and suggest a well seasoned artist, rather than one closer to the beginning of her career.
As one would expect, White demonstrates a much deeper connection to songs that she co-wrote with her father, and that may account for her smoky, sensual vocals on "Do You Remember." Ricky Woodward turns in a solid saxophone performance that contributes to the ambience.
A song that White originally, was not that excited about recording, Roy Orbison’s "Blue Bayou," may in fact turn out to be one of the best songs that White recorded on At Last. It just happens that "Blue Bayou," is one of Ying Tan’s favorite tunes, and White was persuaded to give the song a try.
"Blue Bayou," was definitely the most challenging song on that whole album, and I love a challenge," says the singer.
Singing standards is far removed from the musical journey that Lauren White began as a thirteen year old, and a year later, when she began recording demos. "I started off singing classical music, and then when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, I got into country (music) which is easy for a Texan. At the time, there were a lot of really young country artists, so I thought maybe I would get a shot at country," she says, before chronicling her demo history, "I started off by making a country CD, and then I made some jazz CDs. I made one that (consisted) more of show tunes, Broadway and stuff like that. I think (in total) I made four demos," she says.
"At one of my performances (as a teenager), they were trying to teach me to sing "Cry Me A River," and I fell in love with that song. I loved the whole genre. There was something about it that was fun, comfortable and different. Everybody in Texas was doing country, but I fell in love with jazz," says White in explaining her connection to jazz.
It was at that point that White, who had been singing in the lower registry as a soprano, hooked up with her first vocal coach, who taught her how to find her alto voice. "Now I am a lot more comfortable in the lower tones. I love singing songs that are lower and richer. To me it sounds more soulful. It took a long time to get there, but I am there now," she says.
White’s lower tones are evident on Cole Porter’s "Love For Sale," a song in which she teamed up with Anthony Wilson, a man whom she describes as "amazing," an opinion shared by many in the music industry. Wilson wrote new arrangements for "Love For Sale."
"I had heard "Love For Sale," when I was younger, but of course had no idea what it meant, because it is a pretty adult song. Then I heard the version of the song that starts off like mine. It is not what people usually hear. People go, ‘Wow that’s "Love For Sale? I didn’t know it had that verse in it.’ We (Wilson and her) talked about it one or two times before going into the studio. He said that he had some really good ideas. When we got into the studio, it just all came together. The Hammond B-3 organ (by Joe Bagg), is amazing. To me the song sounds different than people are used to hearing," says White.
Jazz vocalist Lauren White’s music is not what people are accustomed to hearing from a twenty-one year old, and you would do well to give her music a listen.
You cannot help but hope that White’s star rises quickly. Not only is she a gifted vocalist but she is sweet and grateful. She says, "I love music more than anything else in the world. I feel so fortunate that I am getting to do what I love. I am not a Norah Jones yet, but I am luckier than a lot of people, because I get to do what I love."