When distinguished pianists Chris White and Lara Driscoll perform as the Firm Roots Duo, they draw on lines of communication that are almost unknowably deep. They’ve developed that bond as spouses, of course, but also as fine independent artists with voices of their own. Based in the Chicago area, they first met as students of pianist John “Chip” Stephens at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. And ever since, they’ve set aside space in their busy respective careers to hone and formalize a concept they’ve documented on Firm Roots, their extraordinary duo debut.
Named for the ebullient Cedar Walton composition “Firm Roots” (which was also the recessional at their wedding), White and Driscoll state in their liner notes: “Roots are often unseen, but their resilience and determination to stabilize the tree above makes them quietly powerful and humbly significant. It is therefore only fitting that Firm Roots is both our title track and the name of our duo. It is, in fact, our mission statement.”
White and Driscoll have performed as the Firm Roots Duo in Boston, Japan and Thailand. They approach their duo work as though they’re actually a band. Their music becomes a beautifully arranged musical journey, rich in orchestration, textural detail and counterpoint, with big bass frequencies and vibrant rhythms, all woven together with a bluesy and lyrical melodic sense. They interpret canonical jazz works by Horace Silver, Ann Ronell and more, drawing on the influences of piano legends on the order of Hank Jones, Art Tatum and Phineas Newborn. In their co-composed original music, they rely on a collaborative process of careful listening, give-and-take and interwoven inspiration, reflecting a growing store of shared life experiences, from transformative or comical travels to serene moments spent together at home. In its way, the music of the Firm Roots Duo serves to “remind us of what is most important: family, health, and interconnectedness.”
About Chris White:
Originally from Toronto, Chris White has gained recognition as a leader with the albums Young at Heart and Tributaries. At home in a host of genres and settings, he has made his name as a go-to freelance pianist, arranger and accompanist in the Chicago area. His performance credits include the Chicago Jazz Festival, The Jazz Showcase, The Green Mill, Winter’s Jazz Club, Cliff Bell’s, Catalina Jazz Club, Feinstein’s/54 Below (NYC) and The Jazz Kitchen, among others. Chris is an in-demand educator as well, teaching piano, theory and ensembles at Lake Forest College, North Park University and North Central College. He earned his Master’s in Jazz Studies at Indiana University’s prestigious Jacobs School of Music, studying with the late renowned educator David Baker, and went on to complete his DMA in Jazz Performance at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He has studied piano with Barry Harris, Joanne Brackeen and Hal Galper among other greats, and performed with Miguel Zenón, Ira Sullivan, Jamey Aebersold, Oliver Nelson, Jr. and many more.
About Lara Driscoll:
A Chicago native of French-American descent, Lara Driscoll has been praised for her “captivating style and uncluttered finesse” (CKVL-FM, Montreal). Downbeat’s Suzanne Lorge noted the “understated arrangements and meltingly delicious voicings” of Lara’s 2020 trio debut Woven Dreams. After earning her Bachelor’s in Jazz Piano from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, she went on to graduate with a Master’s in Jazz Performance from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music on a full-tuition scholarship under the tutelage of Jan Jarcyzk. She taught jazz keyboard and theory while at McGill as well, before going on to her current faculty positions at Loyola University, Harold Washington College and DePaul University (C.M. Division). She has received the Luminarts Graduate Jazz Composition, Performance and People’s Choice awards, and has performed at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Jazz Education Network Conference, The Jazz Showcase, Andy’s Jazz Club, The Rex Jazz and Blues Bar, Upstairs Jazz Bar, the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and more. She is busy as a freelance pianist in the Chicago area, and in addition to her trio and the Firm Roots Duo, she can be heard as pianist and arranger on vocalist Nancy Lane’s Let Me Love You, as well as recordings by the groups Bossa Nuevo and Tango Espejo.