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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" The Rippingtons

russ freemanSmitty:  My next guest has enjoyed a remarkable 20 years of making great music along with one of the most celebrated bands in the format. I have been a fan from day one. When this band first came on the scene in 1987, they literally changed the face of the format. They have a great new record that is about to be released and it is a strong statement of this bands 20 year history. They’re known for their ultrasonic rhythms and seismic grooves, and this latest record is testimony to that, and this project comes with a fantastic “Retrospective” DVD. Please welcome monster guitarist, a great songwriter, representing The Rippingtons, Peak recording artist Russ Freeman.  Russ, how ya doin’?

Russ Freeman (RF):  Smitty, great to be back. How you been?

Smitty:  I’m cool, man. I must say that I’m stoked about this great new record!

RF:  Well, thank you.

Smitty:  Wow! Congratulations on 20 years of great music, my friend.

RF:  Thank you so much. It’s been such a joy to be able to meet people like you and our great fans and, you know, Houston is where it all started for us.

Smitty:  You’re right, how ‘bout that?  I still remember those magical nights at Rockefeller’s in the 80’s and 90’s. We had some kickin’ good times. That was so cool and memorable.

RF:  (Laughs)

Smitty: On the DVD you talked about a lot of the past musicians and some of the ones that were a part of the group in the beginning and along the way. It was great to see Mark Portmann on there, Tony Morales, and Jeff Kashiwa, it brought back a lot of those fond memories.

RF:  You know what was so great is getting Tony to play on the new CD because he has been out of the picture, actually, and the music business for about ten years, so it was great to have him come back and be part of it again.

Smitty:  I can imagine. That must have been such a chill thrill. This has to be just a classic reunion for you and the rest of the band to invite some of those guys back. I’m not gonna give away everything on the DVD. I think people should see this for themselves. We’ll talk a little about it, but the great guests that you have on there speaking about their time of making music with you cats, like Dave Koz,Jeffrey Osborne, and Kirk Whalum, I think that is just a beautiful thing.  This must be a classic reunion for you.  How are you reflecting on this?

RF:  Well, I was amazed how receptive all the people were that I called. It’s basically the friends that we’ve been working with over the past 20 years, but when I called the people for the reunion CD, I think that maybe they were nostalgic for the great fun that we’ve had in the past as well because nobody said no.  Everybody wanted to be a part of it.  That just made it more fun.  It was fun to get back together, fun to see the friends that I hadn’t seen in a while, and it was fun to make music with them again and see how they’ve progressed as players.

Smitty:  Yeah, absolutely, man.  Talk about what your thoughts were as you were putting this whole thing together and actually seeing them.  Did you have some reflective thoughts of your own as you were putting this together?

RF:  Well, I just really wanted to incorporate as many of the people from the past as I could and I was debating whether we wanted more newer or more older music, and I really thought that the fans always want new music.

Smitty:  Yes! We love new music!

RF:  But I also wanted to make a nod to the past and that’s how we came up with the medley, the idea of the medley being some of the really popular title tracks throughout the years.  It really clicked for me when I figured out that I could get the musicians that had originally played on it to play on the medley, on the newer version of it, so it would be the same players 20 years later.  (Laughs)

Smitty:  Yeah! How cool is that! I can remember you incorporating a medley in your live performance about 10-12 years ago and thought even back then that it was cool. Please tell me that you will be doing that on your upcoming tour.

RF: We will be doing a few medleys in the show, actually, to try and play as many songs as possible!

Smitty: Very cool, thank you!

RF:  It was intriguing to see how the players would approach it, how they would play, and it was interesting.

Smitty: It is and it sounds just as good on this project or better than it was back then.

RF:  Well, again, I’m not surprised that all the players sound better, they have 20 years more experience.  I mean, we were just kids when we started.

Smitty:  Yeah and that’s sort of reflected in the DVD. You could see the change in the photographs and just the live performances and then how it came forward. You could see the change in everybody.

RF:  Yeah. (Laughs)

Smitty:  But it’s cool, you know?  And I thought about people like Steve Reid, who is just an amazing percussionist, and what he contributed to the band. He really helped to bring a whole new appreciation to percussionists around the world. I was reflecting myself as I watched the DVD, thinking about when I first met Steve and some of the descriptions that people have made about him, and I remember your colorful descriptions about that on stage and I think that’s what people enjoyed, are the musicians and their great talents. You cats always had fun while you were making music, be it live or studio. You always had fun and I can see why they all said yes to this project.

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