Chris Whiter is a jazz saxophonist and prominent composer & arranger. He is currently the bandleader for the NYJO Nonet, having been NYJO’s Baritone Sax chairholder from 2011-2013.
His portfolio is hugely diverse; he has arranged for the Metropole Orchestra, Dee Dee Bridgewater and the National Youth Orchestra, orchestrated for the top films and composers, and his music has been featured on ITV, E4 (Coach Trip) and the BBC (Watchdog, Top Gear). As a performer he has played with the likes of Jack Jones, Guy Barker, Tim Garland and even Queen legend Brian May, among others, as well as at many international festivals including Montreux, Vienne and North Sea.
Here, Chris tells us about leading the NYJO Nonet, his time at NYJO, and his blossoming career as a performer, composer and arranger:
- What does being bandleader for the NYJO Nonet involve? Can you tell us a bit about the Nonet?
The main role of the bandleader is to effectively act as Musical Director (MD) for the Nonet. Currently this includes choosing the repertoire for upcoming gigs, as well as leading the rehearsals and performances.
The Nonet is made up of both alumni and current NYJO members. The modern arrangements are written especially for the ensemble and the general focus is more on small-group improvisation, allowing the soloists more freedom to explore the music.
- How did you first get involved with NYJO?
I was actually quite a late-comer to NYJO and only started playing with the band when I was 23. Mark Armstrong was in need of a bari sax player for the Jazz Orchestra and happened to be judging a big band competition that I was involved in, so it was a case of right place, right time for me!
- During your time in NYJO you wrote a lot of compositions and arrangements for the band, including your piece The Change which became the title track of our 2012 Album (and performed at our 2012 BBC Prom). Can you tell us a bit about the inspiration behind that piece?
The basic concept of The Change looks to convey a journey from a rainforest into an urban city-scape. The layering of instrumental textures and rhythmic patterns is an approach I have come to use in a number of my works, and the opening sections use the wind and brass sections to re-create bird calls and sounds of the rainforest, before settling into developing grooves and melodies.
Having the opportunity to arrange the work for NYJO taught me a huge amount about how to (and how not to!) fully utilise each section of the big band and I was very grateful to have it both recorded and performed by the band.
- Is there anything you hope to see the NYJO Nonet do (or do more of) in the near future?
I would really like to see the Nonet featuring and performing more original compositions. In my time in NYJO I found one of its greatest assets to be the production of works from within the band. For me, having such an outlet is a key role that the institution plays in encouraging and producing such great composers and arrangers. There are some extremely talented musicians in the group and I feel that the Nonet can really be a showcase for their own material, and I believe this would be a new and exciting direction in which to lead the Nonet.
- What’s the biggest highlight of your career so far?
There are two that really stand out for me. In 2014 I won a place on the Arrangers Workshop with the Metropole Orchestra in Holland, working with renowned composer and conductor Vince Mendoza, and Grammy award-winning Gregory Porter. I gained so much from the experience and have since been fortunate enough to work with the orchestra on other projects.
More recently, as an orchestrator I have been working on a number of film scores of the world-renowned Academy Award-winning A R Rahman. This included co-orchestrating his commissioned work ‘The Flying Lotus’, which was performed by the Seattle Symphony and received critical international acclaim.
- Do you have any projects or ideas in the pipeline that you are looking forward to working on in the near future?
I recently embarked on a new venture called the Emanations Project that blends an acoustic trio with live electronic effects, combining their freely improvised material with live electronics to produce serene and expansive atmospheric soundworlds in real time. The trio is given only the most fundamental of fragments and concepts from which to create the soundscape, allowing them the freedom to shape the direction in which the work will grow.
I first explored the combination of jazz with studio electronics on the debut album of my quintet (The Borderline Suite), before introducing live electronics on two live studio albums (Emanations and Encapsulation) that were the inspiration for this project. I’m really looking forward to expanding the project, and am currently planning a number of performances in the near future.
The NYJO Nonet perform on the last Sunday of every other month at The Bulls Head in Barnes – catch them at their next performance on Sunday 31 March 2019 at 8pm.
For details about other upcoming performances for the NYJO Nonet, visit our gig calendar.