Stuart White switches gears all the time. The in-demand, 26-year-old Charleston drummer jumps from one musical genre to another with ease. In a single week, he can fill in on swingin' jazz gigs at local restaurants and bars, jam out at casual funk/rock shows at clubs, and participate in formal orchestral work with serious-minded academics. He has the right chops, smarts, and attitude to slide in and contribute positively in each situation.
White makes the rounds in the local jazz scene and beyond. He's like most of Charleston's jazz-leaning musicians who aim for a variety of styles — from funk-rock and soul to experimental gigs and ambient collaborations. Improvisation is often a major part of their routine, but it's not all traditional swing, be-bop, and instrumental jams.
"I guess you could call it the jazz community," White says. "It's a group of well-educated musicians who can really read well and improvise well. You'll always get something good out of any combination. It's great to be working within that environment. That's why I'm still here."
White grew up in Atlanta. He started playing drums at age 12, taking a keen interest in traditional and progressive styles of rock, funk, and hip-hop early on. After a stint at Appalachian State University studying classical percussion, he transferred to the College of Charleston to focus on jazz studies.
"After my first semester at Appalachian State, I realized I wanted to focus on drum kit and jazz," White says. "The College of Charleston's program was more jazz-oriented, and I'd heard about how amazing [faculty member] Quentin Baxter was, so I transferred.
"When I was a student, my friends and I would go to watch Quentin's band and other jazz shows," he adds. "To us, it was just as important as going to class. They guided me toward better listening skills and playing musically, rather than gymnastically."
White earned degrees in music and arts management before going pro in 2008. He quickly immersed himself in the local scene, picking up fill-in work, taking part in studio sessions, and networking with musicians.
"A lot of us who studied music and graduated from the college continue to perform in town with each other — and with some of the professors we had," says White.
White handles a double-duty show at the Pour House on Saturday, keeping time with Faces for Radio and the Entropy Ensemble. Both instrumental groups pull from roots that span the music spectrum.
Pianist Andrew Walker and violinist Javier Orman formed the Entropy Ensemble in Charleston as a tribute project that reinterpreted the music of Radiohead. White, bassist Ben Wells, and cellist Lonnie Root were among the core players.
Wells and White are a tight team. They attended the CofC jazz program together in the mid 2000s. Playing a variety of genres together with a wild assortment of local projects, they developed a unique chemistry. In recent years, they have kept time and created rhythmic texture for a handful of projects, including the Entropy Ensemble and the Pulse Trio, their combo with keyboardist Sam Sfirri.
"We're kind of a package rhythm section, whether we play with Lindsay Holler [in the Western Polaroids] or at local jazz gigs," White says of Wells. "We've played together a lot, so we always know what we're going to do in any situation."
As Faces for Radio, White, Wells, keyboardist Gerald Gregory, and guitarist Tyler Ross prefer heavy grooves and looser interaction over formal, charted arrangements. The music moves with sudden starts and stops, syncopated accents, and a cool sparseness. There's a pronounced funk flavor in all of their original material.
"It's a jazz-funk-fusion thing, for sure" says White. "It's hard to come up with a neat genre name for it, but I guess 'groove-based jazz' or 'jazz-funk' would work. It's kind of more along the lines of John Scofield's stuff, or Medeski, Martin and Wood."
Faces for Radio first kicked up in the spring of 2010. At one of their first shows, they covered legendary jazz guitarist John Scofield's 1998 album A Go Go (a collaboration between Scofield and Medeski, Martin and Wood). Things clicked on stage with ideal musical magnetism between the players. The early performances went so well, they decided to continue as a serious band.
The chemistry is apparent. White and Wells lock in nicely and drive the playful call-and-response interplay between Tyler's electric guitar work and Gregory's fluid organ runs. Whether going nuts on a hook or laying back with just a few biting licks from the guitar and organ, they manage to avoid the witless flashiness of typical jam bands. They already sound seasoned and confident.