Guitarist Russ Freeman had no idea of the impact his group, The Rippingtons, would have on a new radio format called "smooth jazz", when they released their first album in 1987. The Rippingtons can celebrate their 20th anniversary knowing they opened the door for other "smooth" artists on their way up.
"Smooth jazz" was still in its infancy when The Rippingtons debuted with an album voted by Jazziz magazine as the most-influential contemporary jazz album of all time, Moonlighting. Special guests are a Rippingtons tradition. That first release, which featured then-unknowns Kenny G, Dave Koz and David Benoit, was no exception.
Dave Koz and David Benoit appear with more than a dozen other smooth jazz greats on the Rippingtons' new album, 20th Anniversary. They are noted soloists in their own right, who according to founder Russ Freeman, all wanted to be a part of the group's milestone celebration.
"What was so interesting was to have these people that were in the embryo and the beginning stages come back after 20 years with more expertise, and add their flavors, and to see how each player has really developed," he says.
Being the ringleader of an all-star band might be an overwhelming task for some, but not for Russ Freeman who describes his role as more behind-the-scenes.
"The way I look at it is that the players in the band are really the driving talent," he says, " and my job is to corral the energy and gifts of all the people involved, and try to follow them through the songs. So, I'm always looking to take the energy of the players and feed off of that energy.
"To last any length of time in this business, I feel like you have to evolve and change and grow," adds Freeman. "Anything that's kind of static, you have to be aware. So, having personnel changes has been a very natural evolution for our band. The players that have come in have offered so much musically that I've actually looked forward sometimes to the fresh energy, and learning to pick the brain and the expertise of all the musicians involved."
The Rippingtons' 20th Anniversary CD comes with a commemorative DVD which traces the band's 20-year history. A two-month tour of the U.S. begins August 2 in San Diego, California.