The unique and hipster origin story of how Ellis White’s longtime Jacksonville, FL based contemporary urban jazz ensemble got its name says it all about the veteran guitarist’s dynamic and infectious vibe and approach to contemporary jazz. Back in 2010, the six piece (sometimes more) group was hard at work on songs to incorporate into their increasingly eclectic live set. One day during rehearsal, White called out “Hey, did you catch that groove I just did?” His bandmates, since dubbed Catch The Groove, not only caught it, they shared it nonstop over hundreds of packed shows at popular jazz venues, jazz and arts festivals, corporate functions and private and public events throughout the region for the next decade.
Catch The Groove’s successful run included the release of the independent 2017 EP Smilin’ in Paradise, whose Top 20 Billboard charting single “Shaken Not Stirred” was written and produced by #1 smooth jazz guitarist Nils and featured Nils, Darryl Williams and Oliver C. Brown.
Though the pandemic brought the hard-working band’s non-stop schedule to an abrupt halt, as early as 2019, White was contemplating an eventual breakout as a solo artist – a goal the multi-talented composer/musician achieves powerfully and impactfully with the release of his explosive (and perfectly titled) solo single “Keeping It Real.”
A perfect summer soundtrack tune, the infectious high octane track was produced by Trammell Starks, whose decades-long resume includes legendary R&B vocalists Jennifer Holliday and Patti Labelle, as well as popular smooth jazz saxophonist Michael J. Thomas. While it’s a strong showcase for White’s inventive rhythmic, melodic and improvisational guitar playing, “Keeping It Real” also borrows a bit from the uniquely democratic aesthetic of CTG. White creates a fascinating musical conversation throughout with saxophonist Sam Skelton and there are exciting sections later in the song for Starks’ tropical-tinged keyboard solo and a snappy bass solo by Sam Sims. The White-composed song also features drummer Louis Newsom, percussionist Barbara Martin, with programming by Starks and Ellis White.
“Keeping It Real’ has the kind of energy and guitar centric sound I had always wanted to instill in the music of Catch The Groove, reflecting exactly where I am today as an artist,” says White. “It’s basically me expressing the reality that I’m doing my solo thing and keeping it as real and honest as possible. When I wrote it, I envisioned incorporating the sax and also the underlying percussion throughout. Trammell helped me formalize those ideas and put a flow to them. He brought great ideas for the arrangement and how best to use the horn element. My goal in working with a producer was not just having a yes man but someone who had great ideas who could take my music to the next level – and Trammel truly delivered.”
A native of Portland, ME, White – who cites his chief influences as Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana - has been playing guitar since he was 15 and started a classic rock and blues cover band in 1988. Though he’s lived in Florida for many years, remarkably that group is still going strong. He studied with prominent guitarist John Shaffer and later played in blues and soft rock outfits that opened for renowned artists like John Cafferty and the late Warren Zevon.
Moving to the Sunshine State in 2005, White performed solo and with a duo for several years before catching the contemporary jazz bug later in the decade. His wife, a longtime jazz fan, took him to a smooth jazz festival in 2009, where he saw performances by legends Lee Ritenour and Spyro Gyra. White immediately connected with the funky energy and style of the music, as well as the room to “breathe and improvise.” He also appreciated the compositional freedom to venture away from the tight verse-chorus structure of mainstream pop and rock.
Inspired by a fresh creative epiphany, White decided to expand his musical vision and started advertising for musicians. Through a careful process of auditioning and interviewing, he put together the amazing ensemble that became Catch The Groove. Their serendipitous, evolving chemistry created explosive live shows where each member’s talent was showcased via prominent lead lines, solos and tandem melodies with the others.
Beyond simply writing, recording and performing incredible music blending his favorite genres of contemporary jazz, blues and Latin (sometimes with a classical guitar feeling), the guitarist believes that the talent and persistence that led the band to its years-long run of success will be a major determining factor in launching and sustaining a thriving solo career. He hopes to work with some of his Catch The Groove cohorts in live shows in the future.
“I’m excited about launching this phase of my career with ‘Keeping It Real’,” White says. “I’m currently collaborating and lining up shows with other artists, and it’s great to know there’s a buzz around the music I’m creating now. I’m feeling a great sense of momentum and truly believe I will be catching those grooves for a long, long time.” His democratic approach to performing is in full effect during Ellis's live shows, where he shines the spotlight on the other talent on stage with him.
“It pulled me like a magnet, jazz did, because it was a way that I could express myself. ”
— Herbie Hancock