Russ Freeman and The
Rippingtons have not only set musical standards in smooth jazz, but their
creative and commercial success perfectly parallels the growth of the genre over
the past fifteen years. Freeman and his revolving cast of musicians have helped
define and redefine the genre during that time.
A native of Nashville who came to Los Angeles at 18 to study music at Cal Arts
and later UCLA, Freeman had just released his solo debut Nocturnal Playground
(1985) when he envisioned Moonlighting as a one time project for all his L.A.
studio pals to play on. Jazziz Magazine would later declare this 1986
masterpiece as the most influential contemporary jazz recording of all time.
Twelve years later, their Peak/Windham Hill debut Black Diamond hit #1 on the
Billboard contemporary jazz chart its first week, unseating none other than
Kenny G--who, just pre-stardom, played sax on that first project. Freeman kept
the core band of Steve Reid, Brandon Fields and Tony Morales together for 1988’s
equally popular Kilimanjaro. Soon the band became a big live attraction which
lived up to its whimsical namesake--as in "That band rips!" That live experience
was chronicled on 1993’s Live in L.A., and a new live recording is expected in
the spring of 2001.
The Rippingtons signed with GRP in 1989 and enjoyed an extraordinary and
prolific run throughout most of the 90s with their albums Tourist in Paradise
(1989), Welcome to the St. James Club (1990), Curves Ahead (1991), Weekend in
Monaco (1992), Sahara (1994) and the fanciful ode to the emergence of cyberspace,
Brave New World (1996). These latter two marked the first releases on Freeman’s
own imprint label, Peak Records.
During his GRP days, Freeman recorded two very popular outside projects, 1993’s
The Benoit/Freeman Project (which reunited him with original Ripps pianist David
Benoit) and 1995’s popular seasonal offering, Holiday. He also produced albums
for saxman Nelson Rangell, singer Carl Anderson and Japanese fusion band T
Square. When Peak Records moved to Windham Hill Jazz in 1997, The Rippingtons
had two of their biggest hits with Black Diamond and Topaz. During this time,
Freeman also recorded the successful duet album From the Redwoods to the Rockies
with guitarist Craig Chaquico. In 2000, Freeman and The Rippingtons released
Life In The Tropics, the first Peak Records release under a new distribution
deal with Concord Records.