Members: Scott Breadman, percussion; Russell Freeman, guitar, keyboards, programmer, arranger, composer, producer (born Nashville, Tennessee, 11 February 1960); Bill Heller, keyboards (born Long Island, New York); Dave Karasony, drums (born California); Eric Marienthal, saxophone (born Sacramento, California, 19 December 1957); Kim Stone, bass. Former members and featured guests: David Benoit, piano, keyboards (born Bakersfield, California, 1953); Brandon Fields, saxophones (born Marion, Indiana, 26 December 1957); Kenny G, saxophones (born Seattle, Washington, 6 July 1956); Tom Gannaway, guitar; Dave Grusin, keyboards (born Denver, Colorado, 26 June 1934); Omar Hakim, bass (born New York, New York, 12 June 1959); Howard Hewitt, vocals; Bob James, keyboards (born Marshall, Montana, 25 December 1939); Jimmy Johnson, bass; Gregg Karukas, keyboards; Jeff Kashiwa, saxophone; Dave Kochanski, keyboards; Dave Koz, saxophone, Electric Wind Instrument (born Los Angeles, California, 27 March 1963); Tony Morales, drums; Mark Portmann, keyboards; Nelson Rangell, saxophone (born Denver, Colorado); Steve Reid, percussion; Kirk Whalum, saxophone (born Memphis, Tennessee, 11 July 1958); Peter White, guitar.
Best-selling album since 1990: Black Diamond (1997)
The Rippingtons are less a standing ensemble than a musical unit assembled on a per-project recording and/or touring basis to realize the arrangements of founder Russ Freeman (not to be confused with a West Coast-based cool jazz pianist of the same name, born in 1926). Freeman first convened a group of well-known pop-jazz musicians—including David Benoit, Brandon Fields, and Kenny G—under the name the Rippingtons for a recording commissioned by the Japanese Alfa label. Released in the United States as Moonlighting (1987) on the label Passport, the album enjoyed considerable radio airplay and such gratifying sales as to necessitate the institution of a band to follow up its success.
Freeman has played guitar since age ten, professionally since age fifteen, and studied twentieth century music at California Institute for the Arts in Valencia, California, from 1978 to 1979. He recorded Nocturnal Playground (1985), featuring Brandon Fields, in a style that foreshadowed the Rippingtons, though the Rippingtons' style is often regarded as "genre-defining" for its glossy mix of piquant guitar phrases, perky electronic and synthesized keyboard backdrops, and surging saxophone statements, supported by steady, rock-pop drum patterns and quasi-Afro-Caribbean percussion accents. In its employment of technically adept if impersonal studio session players and complex studio production techniques, the Rippingtons are comparable to such other highly produced and enduring pop-instrumental outfits as Spyro Gyra (founded in 1974).
What most characterizes these bands is the interchangeability of the musicians who participate in them—and indeed, the Rippingtons and Spyro Gyra have had members in common. Whereas most traditional forms of jazz value strong personal contributions from ensemble members, even avid, expert listeners are challenged to denote changes in the personnel of the Rippingtons. Perhaps this is the derivation of the genre term "smooth jazz": Quirks of individuality are smoothed out. Kim Stone has been in the Rippingtons since 1989 (after four years in Spyro Gyra), and Scott Breadman, who began his association as a substitute keyboardist in 1987, claims he is the only member of the Rippingtons besides Russ Freeman who has worked with every other member of the Rippingtons. However, one is hard-pressed to isolate either Stone's or Breadman's unique contributions to the band's sound, as every instrumental part is sanded to fit the overall design.
Freeman himself demonstrates considerable deftness in guitar fingerings, an ear for the selection of electric keyboard voicings, and a seemingly natural knack for the kaleidoscopic arrangement of diverse instruments emerging from then receding back into multilayered, often anthem-like arrangements. The Rippingtons' percussionist performances are frequently lauded; the band's rhythms tend to be sprightly, rather than heavy-handed. Still, there is little of significance in terms of thematic material, emotional content, or improvisational variation to distinguish one track by the Rippingtons from another. Several of the ensemble's dozen albums are titled after real or imagined destinations: Kilimanjaro, paradise, Monaco, "across America," the tropics. The albums' music affords these locales little more depth or distinction than a postcard.
The Oasis Awards, which recognize excellence in smooth jazz/crossover instrumental music categories, named the Rippingtons Group of the Year in 2001 and 2002, and awarded them for Achievement in Video in 1999. Jazziz magazine called the Rippingtons' debut Moonlighting "the number one most influential contemporary jazz album of all time." Besides the Rippingtons, Russ Freeman recorded Drive (2002) and the Christmas album Holiday (1995) under his own name, though with musicians from the Rippingtons. In 1994 he and Brandon Fields established their own record company, Peak, as a subsidiary of GRP, which released the first eight albums by the Rippingtons.
Welcome to the St. James's Club (GRP, 1990); Curves Ahead (GRP, 1991); Weekend in Monaco (GRP, 1992); Live in
L.A. (GRP, 1992); The Best of the Rippingtons 1987–1993 (GRP, 1993); Black Diamond (Windham Hill, 1997); Live! Across America (Windham Hill, 1999); Topaz (Windham Hill, 1999); Life in the Tropics (Peak, 2000).
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