Home » Jazz Articles » SoCal Jazz » Jeff Richman: Fresh & Formidable Fusion Pioneer


Jeff Richman: Fresh & Formidable Fusion Pioneer

Jeff Richman: Fresh & Formidable Fusion Pioneer

Courtesy John Nesmith


Sign in to view read count
The unknown and the experimentation is all part of the magic, the fun of making music.
—Jeff Richman
When the name Jeff Richman enters the conversation, there is a good chance you have nested deeply into the fusion guitarist rabbit hole. Richman recently released his eighteenth studio album XYZ (Blue Canoe, 2023), to go along with six gorgeously respectful tribute records. Now 71, the Berklee College of Music grad, has etched his name in fusion history. His career, which includes composing, arranging, playing, teaching, and writing for television and movies, dates back to the late 1970's. After cutting his teeth with saxophonist Ronnie Laws and as a member of the Doc Severinsen Orchestra, Richman's career blossomed and continues to be in full bloom some forty-five years later. The accomplished fusion pioneer, is still very much on the cutting edge of today's substantial fusion environment.

Richman has been slowed down a bit the past few years by Parkinson's Disease. Fortunately, not so much that it prohibited him from composing and recording the masterfully fresh sounding XYZ. Lee Ritenour was quoted as saying that the recently released record "is the best record Jeff has ever done." That's a huge statement when you consider the vast amount of truly outstanding work Richman has gifted us with over the years. He was kind enough to open up about the effects of Parkinson's on his life. We didn't dwell on it, however. Much more time was spent on his highly interesting childhood and diving into his musical career, past and present. Our conversation was most upbeat, with some unexpected surprises (that sounds redundant... ha), and more than a few laughs.

All About Jazz: Hello Jeff. How's it going today?

Jeff Richman: Oh, just a quiet day. I had lunch and went out for a nice walk. Thanks for asking. How are you this afternoon?

AAJ: Very nice that you got some fresh air and exercise. I am well. It's been an upbeat day in anticipation of this conversation. I, of course, want to talk about your new record. Which is great by the way.

JR: Thank you, Jim.

AAJ: But first let's go back a year or fifty. Where did you grow up and begin your journey?

JR: I moved around a lot as a kid. My father was a professor. We lived in Los Angeles, Israel for a few years, upstate New York, Then, my high school years were spent in Hawaii.

AAJ: Nice. What a great age to be there.

JR: Yeah that is kind of the most memorable time for me. After that I went to college at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

AAJ: You mentioned Hawaii being particularly memorable. Tell us about that.

JR: Yeah it was very cool. I grew up as part of the local scene, not anything touristy or like that. It was way different than like Waikiki. It was like a separate country. Being part of the Hawaiian culture, the local culture, and all that was really fantastic.

AAJ: This was on the main island?

JR: Yes, Oahu. In Honolulu.

AAJ: You also mentioned Israel. That jumped out at me. How much time did you spend there?

JR: I was a little kid. I was six, seven, and eight years old. I have cousins there. My grandmother lives there. My dad got a job teaching there for a few years. It was a fantastic experience.

AAJ: Mentioning Israel makes me think of something I just heard recently. That being that you and Oz Noy are very good friends. Obviously, with him being born and raised in Israel there is a bit of common ground. Still, he wasn't born until long after you had left.

JR: (laughing) No, not until several years later.

AAJ: So how did you guys get to be friends?

JR: We had a mutual friend who thought that we would connect. So I went with her to see him play at a place called Joe's Pub in New York City. After being introduced we just seemed to like each other right away. We remained in touch and then got to the point where when he was in L.A. he'd stay at my place and when I was in New York I'd stay at his place. We just became buddies. Not really musical buddies, I mean like we don't really play together. We talk about each other's career, but more about other stuff. The fact that we are both Jewish and that I did spend a little time in Israel is kind of cool. Also I lived in New York for a while, so I can relate to that too. Every time I see him play I tell him that I am going to have to give him a citation. You know like "You are playing stuff you're not supposed to be doing." It's just crazy.

AAJ: (laughing) Oh, like that has to be against the law to be playing that far outside the box.

JR: (laughing) That's it man. I go watch him play when he comes out and plays the Baked Potato.

AAJ: Oh yeah, me too. With Jimmy Haslip and usually either Dave Weckl or Dennis Chambers. I believe one time with Keith Carlock as well.

JR: Yeah, those guys are all really great.

AAJ: When did the guitar enter the picture for you? At what age?

JR: I was living in L.A. when I was eleven or twelve. It was a really happening place for the music scene back then. There were all these TV shows like Shindig on every night that had live bands playing. Bands like The Turtles, and, you know, it had only been a few years since The Beatles came out.

AAJ: Wow! Shindig! Now that's a blast from the past.

JR: Yeah, it was pretty exciting seeing all those bands at that age. I ended up going to summer camp when I was eleven. It seems like a lot of guys started playing at that age. I met this other kid the same age and we started playing surf music together. You know, like The Ventures.

AAJ: As it turns out, good timing with the upcoming move to Hawaii.

JR: Exactly. That's kind of funny, huh?

AAJ: It was meant to be. Do you come from a musical family? Parents, grandparents, siblings?

JR: My second cousin is Buddy Rich.

AAJ: Oh my gosh. Not what I was expecting for an answer.

JR: I know, that's always a shocking answer. My mom played folk guitar. She was a housewife and gave guitar lessons on the side. So there was always music around the house. I never really knew Buddy. Met him a few times. He was nice a couple of times and kind of nasty a couple of times as well. We were at a Thanksgiving dinner together one time and he was nice. But I told him that I had just put out my first record. I just wanted him to know. He just says "How many pieces?"

AAJ: That was his first question?

JR: Yeah. I said four. He had no response. He wasn't much interested, being a big band guy.

AAJ: So that was his first and last question?

JR: Yeah, pretty much. Kind of funny really.

AAJ: It is. I'm guessing he didn't know what to say. Generally one is influenced by the music your parents played at home. In your case was that big band or just what?

JR: Oh, Doris Day and commercial pop like that. Everyone loved the song "Volare" back then, sung by Dean Martin. Then my mom played folk melodies from around the world. I heard folk music from Russia, Europe, Japan, from all over the world. When I got older I produced a few albums for her. Under the name Trudie Richmond there are some very nice folk albums.

AAJ: I love hearing that. I will check that out for sure. Then there was the music of your peers. I'm going to go out on a limb and say The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and several other rock artists from that era.

JR: Oh yeah, all of that stuff. Most of the big artists played in Honolulu. So when I was in Hawaii I got to see Hendrix a couple of times. I saw Led Zeppelin on their first tour. That was amazing.

AAJ: I would think so. I saw them on their fourth album tour. They were something else in a live performance.

JR: Oh yeah, incredible. I saw Jethro Tull, Spirit, Steppenwolf, the Steve Miller Band, Santana, The Chambers Brothers, and so many more.

AAJ: There isn't a rock or fusion guitarist on the planet that wasn't influenced by Hendrix. One could likely say the same thing about Jeff Beck. I know that Beck had a profound effect on you. Let's talk about that. What are the specifics of how he impacted your playing and perhaps your listening skills as well?

JR: There is a song called "Mister You're A Better Man Than I" by the Yardbirds on an album called (Having A Rave Up With The Yardbirds (Epic, 1965). Beck did a solo in that song where he just bent the notes and let it ring out. It wasn't so much a technical thing, it was this beautiful note that he let ring out and added this slight bravado to it. He held that note for like fifteen seconds or so going up and then down. That just blew my mind. The tone he had, the finesse, and the courage. It was courageous to do that back then. He had a little bit of an oriental flair in the mix. He was so unique in his touch and his vibrato. He just totally blew my mind.

AAJ: Yeah man, and that was the early sixties before anyone else was doing anything like that. He was ahead of the curve.

JR: You got it, man. That's exactly right, Jim. It was courageous and brilliant. Then he came out with his first solo album Truth (Epic, 1968). Do you remember that?

AAJ With Rod Stewart, yeah. That was like the first real hard rock record. Extraordinary.

JR: Yeah, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood on bass. Every song was like magic to me. I loved the whole thing.

AAJ: Yeah, those first two records with Stewart, (Beck-Ola, Epic, 1969) being the other, were the precursors to Led Zeppelin. A powerful beginning to hard rock.

JR: Absolutely. I never saw Beck in Hawaii, but plenty of times subsequently. I also saw Eric Clapton and Blind Faith. With Zeppelin it was amazing. It was like 1969. I was like ten feet from the stage and my mouth was wide open the whole time!

AAJ: Indeed they were larger than life. I was fortunate to have seen them once in 1972. You paid homage to Beck with a tribute album, Freeway Jam To Beck and Back (Mascot Records, 2007), as well as arranging and recording tributes for five other giants of the industry. How and with whom did all that get started?

JR: Well, the first one was in honor of John Coltrane. Then I did one for Miles Davis. Next was Carlos Santana, followed by Steely Dan, and of course Jeff Beck.

AAJ: I have heard them all. They are all done with such respect and attention to detail.

JR: Thank you for that. Did I name all six?

AAJ: Let's see, Coltrane, Davis, Santana, Steely Dan, Beck, and...

JR: I missed one (laughing). It's ah...

AAJ: That's pretty funny, because (laughing) I can't think of it right now either. [we continued on for about a minute repeating the names over and finally said the heck with it. We knew it would come to us eventually. I considered editing this all out. But it's what really happened and is pretty funny.]

JR: There's a record producer named Mike Varney. It was his idea to do the Coltrane one to start with. He liked my albums. In particular, my arranging and composing. And my concepts. It turned out real well, so I started working on one for Miles Davis. Varney was down to keep going further.

AAJ: Yeah, well as long as they are making some noise, why not?

JR: Yeah, well you know a big part of the concept was to get a big name guitarist on every track.

AAJ: You managed to pull that off big time.

JR:: It was a trip producing all these guys. Cats like Mike Stern, Pat Martino, Steve Lukather, John Scofield and many more. Each one has a story. It was a trip sitting in the control room telling some very famous guitar players what to do.

AAJ: Did the players request to play certain tunes or did you assign them?

JR: Mostly I assigned them. On a few occasions I was able to offer up a choice. But mostly I assigned them.

AAJ: I applaud and appreciate the six artists you chose. All of them have at least one thing in common. That being that they all brought something new to the scene that was revolutionary to the music world. That would seem to be the common denominator in determining your choices.

JR: Yes, all very unique, memorable and very individual. Miles played one note and you knew it was Miles.

AAJ: Absolutely. One of a very long list of traits I love about Miles Davis. Steely Dan (The Royal Dan: A Tribute Shrapnel, 2006), has an instantly recognizable sound. As does Carlos Santana (Viva Carlos! A Super Natural Marathon Celebration Shrapnel, 2006). In addition to all the upper echelon guitarists, you corralled a host of first rate drummers and bassists as well.

JR: I did yeah. For like the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Visions Of An Inner Mounting Apocalypse, Mascot Records, 2006} I... Hey, did I say that one?

AAJ: That's the one! That's the one we left out before.

JR: There it is! That's the one we were missing. Well, for example, I got Jerry Goodman, the original Mahavishnu violinist, to play on the record.

AAJ: Artists like that brought a lot of authenticity to the projects. You mentioned each record having a story. I'm sure there are many over the course of six records. Perhaps you could be so kind as to share a couple.

JR: Sure, yeah. Let me think of a couple of good ones. Do you like Steve Lukather?

AAJ: Of course. Excellent guitarist.

JR: I asked him to come in and play. He said sure. I'm sure he thought it was going to be a standard sixteen bar or eight bar solo. But actually I wanted him to play the melody with changes, a full feature deal from beginning to end. Not just a solo with a one chord vamp, like he was used to. He told me that he was just going to bring his guitar. You know, and not bring his gear if he could use my amp. I had no problem with that. It cost me less money anyways, not having to pay to have his equipment transported to the studio. I had this old amp with a great sound and I had a pedal that I had just bought. A distortion pedal. I thought it would be just great. For some reason I was nervous and I plugged the pedal into the wrong socket. It blew up the pedal! So we had no pedal. So all we had was his guitar and my amp. So Steve turns every knob on the amp up to ten.

AAJ: What, no eleven?

JR: No eleven (laughing). That's funny, Jim. It was amazing because now there was this look in his eyes that was like "holy shit I gotta really think about this one." You could see in his face this look of innocence like a little child and at the same time confidence. He started to play, looking me in the eye with this kind of shit eating smile on his face. He was having fun, but at the same time a little fear crept into his eyes because he had to play over these changes. Amazingly, the solo ended up being absolutely phenomenal!

AAJ: That story is funny and moreover takes you through an array of emotions. What song was he playing on?

JR: Oh, I'm sorry. "Crescent."

AAJ: The Coltrane tribute. (A Guitar Supreme-Giant Steps In Fusion Guitar, Mascot Records, 2004)

JR: Yes. To top it off, a couple of days later he sent me an email thanking me for one of the most interesting and hardest sessions he had ever done.

AAJ: That's cool that he appreciated facing that challenge. I guess you never know what's going to happen when something blows up or something else throws a wrench in your plans.

JR: Sometimes one door closes and another one opens. Another story involves Pat Martino. He walks in looking like a mafia dude. He was wearing this long jacket, and had this very deep voice. Although very quiet. I had this fusiony vamp where the bass alternated from E to G. To me it sounded like maybe an E minor.

AAJ: Which record is this, Jeff?

JR: This is the Miles record, (Fusion For Miles: A Guitar Tribute-A Bitchin' Brew, Tone Center, 2005). A song called "Serpent's Tooth."

AAJ: Oh man, I love that tune.

JR: Yeah it's cool, but here Martino is playing and practicing and it sounds a little bit weird. Like he is playing G minor, and it's more like E to G major. So I told Pat to try playing an E minor. He gave me this look as if to say "what are you telling me? Who are you to be telling me what to play?' But he said he would try it. Now he is playing the E minor and it sounds good. He looks at me as if to say, "here's your E minor, man."

AAJ: Yeah, as if there might have been a stronger adjective in there.

JR: Exactly. He says, "okay, but it's a G blues." I said fine, it's a G blues. Play the G blues.

AAJ: You didn't care what he called it as long as it sounded right.

JR: Yes, exactly. He managed to pull it off. It was still a little weird though, like he was playing the wrong scale. But he made it sound right. It ended up sounding pretty good. So that was kind of quirky. But I will say that he was a very nice man.

AAJ: Well, it's cool that you got to work with so many guitarists. Some for the first time and others that were long time collaborators.

JR: Yeah I had never met Martino, then there's a guy like Mikey (Stern) that I had known since college. He's such a goofball, we are very close friends. He played on all the tribute records and would do anything I asked him to do.

AAJ: The Miles influence on your music, your solo projects, is apparent both from his jazz and later fusion side. Would I be correct that Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) and most everything thereafter made the largest impression on you? Maybe getting caught up on Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959) and the works of his first and second great quintets later?

JR: It's interesting that you say that. When I was living in Hawaii I was getting more in depth with jazz and music in general. The first Miles Davis record I bought was Bitches Brew. So you are very perceptive to make that comment, Jim. It's very true. I didn't even know what I was listening to at first. But I knew I liked it. And yes over the years I have listened to all of his music and have great appreciation and admiration for all of it. When Mike Stern started playing for Miles that was a thrill for me too. You know, because he was/is my buddy. The first album that Miles released with Mike on it was The Man With The Horn (Columbia, 1981). I was honored to be part of it. I did the arrangement for the first song on the record, "Fat Time."

AAJ: For anyone that doesn't know, the name Fat Time was Mile's nickname for Stern. It's also a groovin' tune. As much as I am very familiar with the album, I have to admit that I didn't know that you arranged "Fat Time." That's cool on a lot of levels.

You were very diplomatic in your song selections, choosing "So What" and more from his pure jazz collection. Which brings me to the question of, with so much amazing material to pick from, what was the criteria that made the final cut? Really with all of the tribute records. With Miles it seems that you were intent on encapsulating his long and incredible career.

JR: Miles was so strong in all the many eras he played in. Which was like five or six. I wanted to make sure I covered or represented all of it with my arrangements.

AAJ: I'm glad you mentioned the fact that they are your arrangements. Not just these, but all through the six tribute records. Not a surprise that your arrangements are so fluid, as that is a staple on your many solo records.

JR: Well, thank you for saying that. I must say, Jim, that I really appreciate your recognition of my purpose and intent on the Miles song selections.

AAJ: Jeff, I wish there was a smooth segue to discussing Parkinson's Disease. I'm certainly not wanting to pry or cross a line into your personal life. But it is something your fan base most assuredly cares about. So however much or little you feel comfortable with.

JR: Sure, Jim. It's okay.

AAJ: How long ago now were you first diagnosed with Parkinson's and what were the early signs of awareness?

JR: Well, I first noticed something about ten years ago now. I was in Austria doing a tour with drummer Joel Taylor and an Austrian bassist. During a gig I suddenly noticed that my right hand wasn't quite in sync with my brain. I had always been very strongly connected. So I got scared, nervous, bummed out, all of those things. But nobody noticed any difference in my playing. It was very mild and stayed like that for a few years. I could feel it, notice it, but no one else did. I finally went to a doctor and got diagnosed. But diagnosing Parkinson's is very weird. It was just like ten minutes of moving my hands around and walking. They looked to see if I had any kind of a tremor. It didn't really bother me much for several years.

AAJ: Not until more like the past couple of years?

JR: Yes, it started to affect my walking.

AAJ: So it has been more problematic physically than mentally?

JR: Yes I would say so. I walk with a cane sometimes now. I go out for a walk pretty much every day. I will get tired sometimes and will stop for a break. But then I get back up and keep going. The mental side is in that I don't feel as comfortable as I used to going out to crowded places. It's more difficult when you are shuffling along. So I end up staying home more.

AAJ: Yeah, I could see that. That's kind of a bummer. What about a smaller place, that I know you have been to hundreds of times. Thinking of the Baked Potato.

JR: I love the Baked Potato. As you say, I have played there and been there to catch shows a lot of times. Yes, I still try to get over there quite a bit. They have made some nice upgrades reopening after Covid. I like to stand over in the bar area. It used to get way crowded over there. Now I can stand over there with fewer people.

AAJ: Yes, I love the BP as well. And yes even more so with a few less people. That back patio they created during Covid is pretty cool too. You have accomplished so much in your career. That determination is your ally now to indeed "get up and keep going."

JR: Yes, I still get out. I really enjoy spending time with my friends. Just being around people in general is great. Sometimes I just feel like being home by myself, but If you spend too much time sitting at home by yourself it's easy to just kind of rot. But the more time I am around other people the more confident I get, and that carries over to my playing.

AAJ: I understand and can relate to that. Oftentimes you just don't feel like making the effort to get ready and go out. It's really easy to just blow it off. But most of the time you end up being glad that you went.

JR: That's exactly right, exactly right. You summed that up perfectly, Jim.

AAJ: One last question on Parkinson's and we'll move on. Has it affected your playing?

JR: Probably, but not in the way you might think. I don't think my skill level has changed. However, I don't practice as much as I should, as much as I used to. So I am worse, less sharp in that way.

AAJ: That makes sense. I have had many musicians tell me that if they set their instrument down for even two or three days they can really tell the difference. It's not like you can't be as sharp if you worked on it. How else does one explain the crispness of your new record? (rhetorical) Your eighteenth solo record is significant in many respects. What can you tell us about the recently released XYZ?

JR: Well the first thing I just have to say is that this record would have never happened, never have been finished if it weren't for Jimmy Haslip. I was fortunate to have Jimmy and the amazing Vinnie Colaiuta as my rhythm section. But moreover, Jimmy produced the record. He bugged me constantly. It was always, "did you finish that tune?" or "we just need one more tune" or "what about that other tune?" He was busy with a lot of other projects, but he never forgot about me. He was always staying after me.

AAJ: In a nice way though, right. Because he cared. Cared about you as a friend, as well as caring about the music, your record.

JR: Oh yes, absolutely. In a super nice way.

AAJ: I've listened to it maybe half a dozen times at this point and must say that I am really digging it. You once again have composed beautiful melodies, have cats that are seriously groovin' it, putting yourself in position to light it up with a host of complexities and changes. Great stuff. It's fresh. How do you go about keeping it fresh after all these years?

JR: Thank you for those comments, and also thank you very much for the wonderful review of the record you wrote. I'm very grateful for your words of appreciation. As for keeping it fresh, that's a tough one. Of course the pandemic slowed down and changed everything. Remarkably, I haven't been sick from the Covid. It was a real drag though. I was alone during the pandemic. That was hard. That really bummed me out. You know it was kind of depressing. I had been writing for many years. I was always writing. Then during this period, for the first time, I stopped. That was a very difficult thing to do. Writing a song is a commitment of time. Once you have started you are hooked. You can't just leave it there. I may have a song bouncing around in my head for a long time. I'm still working on it. So there is always a tune in my head. So how do you just stop? (somewhere between rhetorical and philosophical)

AAJ: Wow, that's an enlightening perspective.

JR: Ah, well then, let's take that further. When you start writing a song, at some point you will take a break from it. However, now that it has been started, somewhere out there in the universe the song is completed. It's done, it's finished. I just haven't figured it out yet. I'm over here putting the pieces together. I've taken that on by starting it. It's now my obligation to put together a song that in another universe is already completed. Does that make sense?

AAJ: We have powered up from enlightening to heavy and perhaps trippy. It does make sense if one is free to open minded conceptualization. It's cool too in the sense that I have never heard it put that way before.

JR: It also is an inspiration to keep writing. If you know that the work is complete somewhere out there in the stratosphere, then you just have to fill in the blanks. It has helped me stay motivated to write and record albums over the years. Writing is much more complicated than playing. Playing is fun. I mean you have a setlist, you know all the songs. All you have to do is play them. With writing you have a blank page. Your choices are limitless. The world is your oyster. But having said that, what note do you start with? Then what note makes sense after that?

AAJ: Yeah, and then what note bounces off of that? Even then you only have three notes. Thus those notes and songs floating around in your head for a long period of time, as you said. So within that challenge of songwriting there is, on top of that, the keeping it fresh ideology. It seems that all of your records have that feel. Recently I listened to Trio Loco (Metalimbo Records, 2001). That's an excellent live trio record that still sounds like it could have been recorded yesterday, instead of twenty years ago. If I understand correctly you guys (Danny Gottlieb and Haslip) were pretty much winging it with no rehearsal, but lots of spontaneity at the Baked Potato that night.

JR: Well, there is a song on there I wrote called "Kamaroon."

AAJ: Yes, a very sweet tune.

JR: Well, fortunately a lot of people seemed to like it back then. A lot of students at various schools I was teaching at back then were playing it. But the interesting thing is that toward the end of "Kamaroon," which was played late in the set, we made a little mistake in the moment. The German record company that chose to put it out loved it as it was. We asked about fixing a couple of things. But they had a different mentality towards it, saying that those little things are part of what makes it real. Just as in life, with anything

AAJ: That's interesting because that is part of what I really liked about the record. There is something to be said about the raw feel or earthiness of a live album. As it is, in the moment, not polished like a studio record.

JR: Yes, that was exactly the same kind of reaction to it that the German record company had. There is another song called "Simplexity" that we had to edit down a bit. All it was was this long improv. But that is how you find those special moments

AAJ: A couple of mistakes means nothing if it is part of the path to riches otherwise left undiscovered. The course to uncover buried treasure.

JR: This makes me think of another song called "Dolphinality." There is, of course, the jazz standard "On Green Dolphin Street." "Dolphinality" is a jam of what came after the conclusion of "On Green Dolphin Street."

AAJ: Interesting. I must say that I didn't pick up on that. So it's your perception of what followed "On Green Dolphin Street?"

JR: Yes. But there would be no way for you or anyone to pick up on it because you don't actually hear "On Green Dolphin Street." We did this jam after listening to it. It's our perception of what was to follow or what could follow.

AAJ: Oh, well, that's beyond cool. Very imaginative and cool just to think of that concept, much less the mode of creativity to complete it. As much as there are some people you have played with a lot, you have always mixed it up with personnel, as opposed to having a steady band. Do you compose with certain people in mind, writing to their strengths, or do you focus on the tune and plug in the musicians later?

JR: More like that. Focusing on the tune and plugging in the musicians later. I have been so fortunate to play with musicians that are so talented that they can conquer any style. For instance, I have Vinnie Colaiuta on many records. He can play anything. He is so amazing. He can also look at a chart and have it down just like that. In an instant it's almost like he knows it better than I do.

AAJ: Yes, I have heard many comments about his chart reading skills. That he is like from another planet.

JR: Completely. He can look at a chart that is like five pages long and very complicated and quickly tell you that there is one little thing on the third page that is wrong. And then he'll yell at me like "what's this?" or "why is it like this?" There are a lot of other musicians who can nail my music quickly. Drummer Joel Taylor comes to mind. Another great chart reader.

AAJ: Oh yeah, he's also a monster behind the kit. I saw him just last year playing with Scott Henderson. Getting back to XYZ, you paid tribute to Ray Barretto, with a song indeed entitled "Ray Barretto." What can you tell us about the time you spent playing with the incredible conga player all those years ago? How did it come about?

JR: First I'll tell you how that song got titled, then I'll tell you about playing with Ray. I was having lunch with Jimmy (Haslip) and I told him what I am about to tell you, about playing with Ray. We had recorded a Latin sounding song for the album. Jimmy, who is of course Latin himself, and liked my story, says "Why don't you name the song Ray Barretto? It's perfect." So the story itself is that I was playing in Ray Barretto's band in New York City at a club named McHales's. It was on the upper west side and we would play until like three-thirty in the morning. It was cool, a lot of fun. I wrote five songs for him that he really liked. He was a very cool guy. I would stand right in back of him and his congas and just loving being in the band. Then one day I heard that I was going to be fired.

AAJ: Uh-oh.

JR: Exactly. I was like Holy Jesus what's going on! I didn't know what to do. We played a few more gigs and then Ray called for a band meeting. The plan was to record an album in about a month after a short West Coast tour. Now I don't know what's going on. I'm sure he thought about this and how to handle it. Many people I have worked with if they don't like something that you do they just fire you right away. Instead he got us all together and told us that he needed to tell each and every one of us what I like and what I don't like about your playing. The first guy he picked was me. He says, "Jeff, you're using this volume pedal thing. It's driving me frickin' crazy. It sounds like Hawaian music or some shit. Get that pedal and throw it away. I don't ever want to hear it again." Then he told me that there was "a lot of sound in my solos. I want to hear some space. Get some space into your solos." Well, I was so grateful to hear that. Thank you. I needed to hear that. Then the other thing that he said was "to play my solos off of the changes. I don't want to hear just some rock and roll stuff. Listen to the chord changes and play off of them." Three things. All very doable. I was so grateful. After that I paid a lot of attention to that and oftentimes after a solo Ray would look back and say "Yeah."



For the Love of Jazz
Get the Jazz Near You newsletter All About Jazz has been a pillar of jazz since 1995, championing it as an art form and, more importantly, supporting the musicians who create it. Our enduring commitment has made "AAJ" one of the most culturally important websites of its kind, read by hundreds of thousands of fans, musicians and industry figures every month.

You Can Help
To expand our coverage even further and develop new means to foster jazz discovery and connectivity we need your help. You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky ads plus provide access to future articles for a full year. This winning combination will vastly improve your AAJ experience and allow us to vigorously build on the pioneering work we first started in 1995. So enjoy an ad-free AAJ experience and help us remain a positive beacon for jazz by making a donation today.




Get more of a good thing!

Our weekly newsletter highlights our top stories, our special offers, and upcoming jazz events near you.