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Ronny Jordan: A pioneer of Acid Jazz, a Staple of Smooth Jazz

Alan Bryson By

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A fan told me the other day, 'Ronny your music is timeless.' I take great pride in that, and I like to think of my music as timeless.
This month marks guitarist Ronny Jordan's 55th birthday. A trailblazer in acid jazz, his debut album The Antidote foreshadowed Miles Davis' embrace of hip hop with the album Doo-Bop by six months. Moreover, Jordan's track "After Hours" also had a profound impact on smooth jazz as you will read in the following interview. This interview was conducted a year before his unexpected passing in January of 2014 at the age of 51, and was published only in an audio format at the time. To honor his birthday, here is a condensed version of the interview in written form.

Ronny Jordan was a winner of Gibson Guitar's award for Best Jazz Guitarist, he was nominated for a Grammy, and was a jazz artist who has made it to the pop charts. He's known as one of the earliest and most successful jazz artists to draw upon the energy and vitality of hip hop. His music is perhaps best described as Urban Jazz, a blend of jazz, hip hop,smooth jazz and R&B—but certainly not limited to that.

His message is positive and spiritually uplifting, his grooves are addictive, and his playing is ingenious. He was completely self-taught, and in addition to his musicianship, he was an accomplished producer, arranger, and composer. He uses the studio as creatively as possible, and on his last album he introduced his fans to midi guitar—doing string, keyboard, and bass parts on a midi guitar.

Ronny was born and raised in London, the son of a Pentecostal preacher with a very interesting life story which he shared in this interview. This wide-ranging interview took place in late January of 2013, Ronny talks about the awakening of his talent, his early career, his big break with Island Records, and his recordings. Gifted, creative, and humbles—he was all- about-the-music.

All About Jazz: I wanted to say thanks for taking time out to talk with us today. I really appreciate it.

Ronny Jordan: Look, I should thank you for considering me with all the many artists who are out there, I appreciate it.

AAJ: Oh no, I wanted to say for myself and on behalf of a lot of fans Ronny, thanks for all the hours and hours of pleasure your music has given us. I really appreciate all the hard work and dedication that went into making that music.

RJ: Well you know, honestly, I don't take credit for that. I give all credit to the Almighty, the Creator, because without Him we're nothing. And so, I can't thank you enough for the appreciation, it's just that I think it behooves every artist to keep his temple pure so that they can continually get inspiration.

Once we start thinking that it's just us—that we came up with all the inspiration and the ideas, that's when it starts getting self indulgent, and you won't be feeling what I'm doing. So I tend to give all praise and credit to the Most High.

AAJ: That's perhaps not a very common thing, but you certainly encounter that with a lot of musicians, going from people like John Coltrane all the way to people like Carlos Santana—they see themselves kind of like a vessel.

RJ: Absolutely, no question about that. You know, I could not have done that all by myself. So this is why it behooves us to keep all the egos out of it. When I think about it, it didn't start with me, it started with the Most High, and He chose me to share this gift with you. And that's just how I always look at it, and how I always will.

AAJ: It pays off to look at it that way, because when you look at it that ways, you're all about the music.

RJ: Absolutely, I'm just all about the music, and sharing it. Everywhere I go to perform there is always someone who's touched, and I love that! That what I'm here for. I don't look at it as if it's all for me, no.

AAJ: Let me tell you about the first time I heard you in 1962. I was in Munich walking around big pedestrian zone and they had this huge record shop, World of Music, with hundreds of headphones hanging around, and each headphone was a different CD—the way it used to be back in the day.

And sure enough I went to the section where they had guitarists like Hiram Bullock and those kind of guys, and I saw your album The Antidote was there. But not just one, there were three copies and people were still standing in line to listen to it.

RJ: Whao

AAJ: So I got in line, and I'll never forget it Ronny, when the music started, the opening bass lines on "Get To Grips" I thought like wow, and then the vibes came in—I was hooked right away.

I don't have all your albums, somehow I managed to miss Off the Record but I do have 8 of your albums, and I've never been disappointed, so I wanted you to know that.

RJ: (Laughing) Oh thank you! You know, Off the Record is a really funky album, it's probably the funkiest album of all my albums. But then again so is my upcoming album Straight Up Street which is kind of like a nod to the past, because it sort of reminds me of an updated answer to The Antidote

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