Lee Ritenour “is a chopmeister from way back,” penned Bill Milkowski in Down Beat, describing the versatile studio musician, producer, arranger, composer, and guitarist. “They don’t call him Captain Fingers for nothing.” An ace studio player in Los Angeles, Ritenour has provided guitar back-up for such artists as Sergio Mendes, Herbie Hancock, Peggy Lee, Carly Simon, Pink Floyd, Stevie Wonder, and Cher. His original fusing of Latin music, jazz, soul, and rock has produced albums that have crossed over several music charts regularly since Ritenour began his solo career in 1976. An innovator who brought state-of-the-art technology to the fusion movement, Captain Fingers is one of electric jazz’s finest guitarists.
Ritenour was born January 11, 1952, in Los Angeles. Musically precocious, he began playing the guitar when he was five years old. At eight, his interest in the instrument went beyond the ordinary. “I’d study hit records and listen to the licks the studio guitarists were playing,” Ritenour recalled to Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone. “‘I can play that,’ I’d say. What I didn’t realize then—and a lot of young guitarists don’t realize—is that the hard part is inventing the licks.” His parents supported Lee, often finding him new and better instructors; at the age of 12, Ritenour was under the tutelage of Duke Miller, future head of the guitar department at the University of Southern California and purported at the time to be the finest guitar teacher in Los Angeles.
As an adolescent, Ritenour played in his first group, the Esquires, a precursor of a series of teenage bands. He was only 15 years old when John Phillips, leader of the rock and roll group the Mamas and the Papas, heard one of his bands and then hired Ritenour to play in a studio session. Talented enough to be hired by studios at the age of 18, Ritenour instead made the choice to continue his education. He entered the University of Southern California, where he studied classical guitar with another musician first in his field, Christopher Parkening. Ritenour remained at the university for two and a half years, until he got the opportunity to play with Brazilian pop-jazz musician Sergio Mendes.
Touring with Mendes was Ritenour’s introduction to Latin music and to prestigious musicians, including jazz pianist and producer Dave Grusin. Highly recommended on the studio circuit by Grusin and others, Ritenour was working 15 to 20 sessions a week in a lucrative business during the early seventies. “When I started working studio dates,” Ritenour recounted to Palmer, “they asked me to sound like all the other guitar players. But I had some sort of spunk in me that made
For the Record…
Born January 11, 1952 (one source says November 1, 1952), in Los Angeles, CA. Education: Attended University of Southern California.
Studio musician, electric guitarist, composer, arranger, and producer. Taught classical guitar at University of Southern California; toured with Sergio Mendes; provided back-up for major musicians, including Cher, Steely Dan, and Olivia Newton-John; made solo recording debut with album First Course, 1976. Played guitar with bands Friendship, late 1970s, and Fourplay, beginning in 1991.
Addresses: Record company —Rhino Records, 2225 Colorado Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90404.
me want to go beyond that. There’s a lot of session players who always sound just like everyone else; it’s real hard for a studio musician to find an identity. But I started reaching for mine, and eventually I found it.
Three thousand sessions later, having backed such stars as George Benson, Steely Dan, Olivia Newton-John, and the Bee Gees, Ritenour earned the nickname Captain Fingers. His noteworthy output was profitable, but Ritenour grew fidgety. “I’ve always liked to keep moving,” he admitted in Down Beat. “That’s the most important thing for me. That’s what keeps me fresh.” In 1976 he made his solo debut with the album First Cause and experimented with group work. The make-up of his band Friendship—formed in the late 1970s—was transitory, but the guitarist continued working with highly successful studio session artists. “Ritenour is an especially distinctive musician,” wrote Palmer in 1980, reviewing a Friendship performance. “He has one of the cleanest tones you’ll ever hear from an electric guitar.”
A commercial success, Ritenour has toured and recorded as a leader and a sideman beginning in the early 1970s. He moves easily back and forth between rock and jazz, incorporating his love for the Brazilian music he discovered while on tour with Sergio Mendes in 1974. Ritenour helped define the West Coast fusion sound with the 1977 release Captain Fingers, on which he introduced the guitar synthesizer. A pioneer in the use of synthaxes, computers, and controllers, he extolled music technology in Down Beat: “It’s unbelievable what’s happening in the music world with the innovations in equipment. It’s revolutionary, and there’s a lot of great music being made on these devices.”
In 1981 Ritenour’s album titled Rit put him in the pop music spotlight and crossed over seven different music charts, including rhythm and blues, disco, adult contemporary, and jazz. And Festival, his highly successful 1988 LP, took the Number One position on seven music charts. The album, which featured outstanding Brazilian artists Joao Bosco and Caetano Veloso as well as various New York studio musicians, prompted David Hiltbrand in People to cite Ritenour as “the first among equals, smoothing and fusing.” Phyl Garland in Stereo Review stated that “Ritenour’s ever-impeccable technique applied to this superior material” makes the album “one of his best recorded efforts.”
“I think there’s a certain maturity level among some musicians that, maybe they feel the limitations of the contemporary thing a little bit,” Ritenour mused to James Jones IV in a 1990 Down Beat interview, after the release of his straightlaced jazz album, Stolen Moments. “Maybe we need a breath of fresh air, a little bit of a break.” Critics were caught off guard by the record, which lacks the technology and Brazilian influence prevalent on his previous albums. “Mouths are dropping” wrote Jones, but Stereo Review affirmed Ritenour’s purpose: “This is real jazz, performed in a high style that knows no time frame.” Stolen Moments reflects Ritenour’s departure from the cloning process he sees beginning in fusion—the tendency of record labels to consistently market a repetitive type of album. Jim Ferguson in Guitar Player commended the musician for his originality: “Much more than a derivative rehashing of old styles, the album sparkles with the freshness of a player eager to try out new ideas in a freer setting.”
Further extending his talents in the music industry, Ritenour joined keyboardist Bob James, drummer Harvey Mason, and Bassist Nathan East to form the pop-jazz group Fourplay in 1991. Their self-titled, debut album contains songs that Entertainment Weekly contributor Josef Woodward called “perfectly hummable” and “perfectly polished.” Ever willing to take on new projects, Ritenour reflected in Down Beat, “There’s really so much to learn aside from learning your instrument.… You really never stop learning, not if you’re gonna last and have a good career.”
First Course, Epic, 1976.
Guitar Player, MCA Coral, 1976.
Gentle Thought, JVC, 1977.
Captain Fingers, Epic, 1977.
The Captain’s Journey, Elektra, 1978.
(With Friendship) Friendship, Elektra, 1978.
Feel the Night, Elektra, 1979.
Rit (includes “Is It You”), Elektra, 1981.
Rit/2, Elektra, 1982.
Banded Together, Elektra, 1984.
Best of Lee Ritenour, Epic.
Color Rit, GRP.
Stolen Moments, GRP.
(With Fourplay) Fourplay, Warner Bros., 1991
(With Raul Julia) The Monkey People, Rhino, 1992.
With Dave Grusin
Harlequin, GRP, 1985.
Festival, GRP, 1989.
On the Line, Elektra/Musician.
Earth Run, GRP.
Down Beat, February 1982; March 1987; March 1988; May 1989; February 1990; May, 1990.
Entertainment Weekly, December 6, 1991.
Guitar Player, August 1990; September 1990.
People, November 21, 1988.
Rolling Stone, May 29, 1980; July 10, 1980.
Stereo Review, March 1989; July 1990.
"Ritenour, Lee." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ritenour-lee
"Ritenour, Lee." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/ritenour-lee
Genre: Jazz, Funk, Fusion
Best-selling album since 1990: Between the Sheets (1993)
Hit songs since 1990: "Get Up, Stand Up"
Lee Ritenour is a native Californian at the center of Los Angeles contemporary jazz, rock, pop, fusion, and studio activities. A flexible guitarist with an identifiable sound, he has contributed to some 2,000 jazz and pop recording sessions, and is a first-call instrumentalist for artists seeking support or collaboration in their high-profile Los Angeles concerts at venues such as the Hollywood Bowl or the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.
Ritenour is a breezy, melodic improviser who enjoys rhythmic but not heavy-handed material from the 1960s to the 2000s. He has produced all-star tribute albums for Jamaican singer/songwriter Bob Marley and Brazilian bossa nova songwriter/pianist Antonio Carlos Jobim on the i.e. music imprint he established in 1997, in association with GRP Records. He has also recorded several homages to his guitar hero Wes Montgomery. These three stylistically dissimilar musicians, and most of those with whom Ritenour has worked in a variety of genres, are proponents of noticeably propulsive though not loud or domineering beats.
Ritenour started playing guitar as a child, becoming good enough to record with the Mamas and the Papas singing group when he was sixteen years old. He studied privately with guitarists Joe Pass and Howard Roberts at Hollywood's Guitar Center and attended the University of Southern California School of Music (which promoted him from student to guitar instructor when he was twenty-one and has honored him as Alumnus of the Year). Ritenour's father encouraged him to pursue music, and he was impressed at an early age by jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell as well as Montgomery, Los Angeles–based rock bands such as the Byrds, Canned Heat, and the Flying Burrito Brothers, and rock icons Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
Though classically trained, Ritenour was equally drawn to playing jazz, rock, and pop, and has said, "Fusion was, for me, the best of both worlds." He claims to have listened closely not only to soloists, but also to their orchestral backgrounds, and says his pursuit of sophisticated melodies, harmonies, and rhythms led him to Brazilian music. This type of music was among his chief musical interests in the 1980s, when Brazilian stars Caetano Veloso, Ivan Lins, Joao Bosco, and Djavan made guest appearances on his albums Portrait (1987), Festival (1988), and the Grammy Award–winning Harlequin (1994).
Ritenour's crossover accomplishments are unique. His classical collaboration with Grusin, Two Worlds (2000), in which he and the pianist perform works by Johann Sebastian Bach, Bela Bartók, and Heitor Villa-Lobos besides originals and American folk standards such as "Shenandoah," was at the top of Billboard 's classical music chart for fifty-one weeks. That album's popularity is matched by the sales histories of the four 1990s releases by the jazz/classical/soft fusion ensemble he co-founded, Fourplay. The quartet's eponymous debut (1991) held first place on Billboard 's contemporary jazz chart for thirty-three weeks, and, like its second and third efforts, Between the Sheets (1993) and Elixer (1995), went gold. Upon establishing i.e. music, his record company, Ritenour turned his Fourplay chair over to Larry Carlton. Ritenour has fleet fingers and seems to use light-gauge strings on the thin, hollow-bodied Gibson model ES-335 electric guitar he favors, for a well-articulated, sometimes feathery sound. His setup is comparable to that of Carlton, who also prefers the Gibson ES-335, as heard on their duet album Larry & Lee (1994).
Ritenour also has collaborated on record and onstage with pianists Dave Grusin and Bob James, saxophonists Gato Barbieri, Tom Scott, and Ernie Watts, fellow guitarists Larry Carlton, George Benson, B.B. King, and Earl Klugh, pianist Herbie Hancock, drummers Harvey Mason and Alphonse Mouzon, vocalists Patti Austin, Al Jarreau, and Will Downing, and producer Quincy Jones, among many others. In rock, he has been a stalwart of Steely Dan, Seals and Crofts, and Leo Sayer. He has recorded multiple albums with Aretha Franklin, the Four Tops, the Pointer Sisters, Barbra Streisand, Melissa Manchester, and Barry White.
Recording under his own name, with Grusin, or in James's quartet Fourplay, Ritenour has earned multiple Grammy Award nominations, gold and platinum sales for several of his albums, frequent top placement in polls, and high marks for radio airplay, especially on New Adult Contemporary (NAC)–formatted stations. His version of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up" was a number one track added to NAC playlists in 2001, according to Radio & Records, a weekly newspaper covering those industries.
Given the sum of Ritenour's interests—classic technique attached to modern melodies and understated rhythms that are informed by contemporary popular idioms—Brazilian music seemed a promising vehicle for his future music. Indeed, Ritenour was prominently featured on two volumes of guitarist/harmonica player Toots Thielemans's Brazil Project (1992 and 1993); and on Alive in L.A. (1997), the one in-concert album in his catalog, Ritenour performs his original tune "Rio Funk." However, there is no sure prediction of the music he will develop, as he apparently abandons no music that he has ever studied or performed; rather, he mixes every idea and all available elements into his personal fusion.
First Course (Epic, 1976); Captain Fingers (Epic, 1977); Rio (GRP, 1979); The Best of Lee Ritenour (Epic, 1980); Harlequin (GRP, 1984); Rit, Vol. 1 (Elektra, 1985); Stolen Moments (GRP, 1990); Fourplay (Warner Bros., 1991); Collection (GRP, 1991); Wes Bound (GRP 1993); Between the Sheets (Warner Bros., 1993); Elixir (Warner Bros., 1995); Larry and Lee (GRP, 1995); The Best of Fourplay (Warner Bros., 1997); A Twist of Jobim (i.e. music, 1997); Alive in
L.A. (GRP, 1997); This Is Love (i.e. music, 1998); Two Worlds (Decca, 1999); A Twist of Marley (GRP, 2001); Rit's House (GRP, 2002); The Very Best of Lee Ritenour (GRP, 2003).
"Ritenour, Lee." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Encyclopedia.com. (June 24, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ritenour-lee
"Ritenour, Lee." Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Popular Musicians Since 1990. . Retrieved June 24, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/ritenour-lee