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Tim Ries: It's Only Rock n' Roll, But He Likes It

R.J. DeLuke By

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I'm not thinking of myself so much as a jazz musician, but just trying to be creative in whatever music I play and (the Stones) are allowing me to do that.
Saxophonist Tim Ries knows what its like to play with a big band. His first gig out of college was with Maynard Ferguson. More recently, he's been a part of Maria Schneider's critically acclaimed orchestra, including the recording of the multiple award-winning Concert in the Garden. But the big band he's with now has nothing to do with an orchestra or the number of members in the aggregation.

The "big" in this gig is two-syllable big. Bih-Igg.

Ries is out on tour with the Rolling Stones, the blues-based rock group that, along with the Beatles, was the biggest part of the British Invasion of the 1960s that changed the music scene in America for good. Legendary big, far beyond the scope of anything that exists in jazz today. The Stones is supporting its new album, A Bigger Bang, on a tour that will take it across the U.S., to Europe and South America. The mere announcement of it caused a stir in the music world.

Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Charlie Watts will bring backup singers and a horn section, of which Ries is a part. Even though it's a whole different world, Ries is no stranger. This will be his third tour with the Brits. He's done the last two —in 1999 and 2002—and was in rehearsals in Toronto for more than a month preparing for this one.

Making this one more special, perhaps, is the recent release of Ries latest CD, The Rolling Stones Project in which Ries, also a composer and arranger, has put together jazz treatments of 10 Stones songs and one original. It includes the likes of Bill Charlap, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, John Patitucci, Larry Goldings and Luciana Souza. But also participating were Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, and three guys named Richards, Wood and Watts.

The cover art is a painting Wood did in the late 1960s, which he titled "Abstract #1."

Yup. Ries is in the bloody band, all right.

"They are very serious about their music and very serious musicians," says Ries, who was excited about the impending tour and not the least ruffled by a rigorous rehearsal routine that had the gang thoroughly going through 80 to 90 songs before working a final list a of about 50—new and old—that will be used during the tour.

"They get through a lot of stuff. We rehearse probably about eight hours a day. They go through a lot of music, somewhere between 15 and 20 tunes a night. Our first day of rehearsal was 14 songs. On the average maybe 12 to 15 songs every night. That's a lot of music."

"We'll have about 40 songs, maybe more," he says. "But that's what they will generally do is have that, and then alternate songs in a set. About 20 songs in a set list. They'll switch that up every night and we'll have 40 or 50 ready to go. Its cool. It's not like they do the same show every night. It's not like there's choreography. They do their thing."

Anticipation in the rock world is huge for the event and high-priced tickets are selling wildly. Naturally, the remuneration for such a gig is slightly more than a jazz gig. Ummm. Slightly.

"We're treated like royalty," he said. Ries joined as a pinch-hitter in 1999 and has remained, albeit the "new guy" because the Stones continue to use the people they're comfortable with, like Darryl Jones on bass, who made his bones in the jazz world with people like Miles Davis.

"They're great. We're all friends. They invite you to their homes for dinner. It's great. There are 90 trucks and two different stages. We travel on a private jet. We stay in five-star hotels. It's first class all the way. Not that jazz can't be first class. But this is a whole other thing. It's a production unlike like any other thing possible.

"There's nothing in jazz like it. Maybe Pat Metheny, and he has one truck with sound and lights, but it's a single truck. Weather Report years ago, but nothing like this. Rock and roll is a whole other ballgame. Stadiums are not lending themselves to a jazz quartet."

Ries, 45, has played with jazz luminaries like Tom Harrell, Phil Woods, Bob Belden, Al Foster—even a gig as a young man with Red Garland. And he has done pop work with the likes of Sheryl Crow, Blood Sweat & Tears, Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder and Lyle Lovett. But the Stones are a different strata with the public. Be that as it may, and regardless of how one might feel about the music, Ries says it is not so far afield as one might think and the Stones—jazz fans are hip.

"It's not exactly like a jazz gig, but there is no set way of playing the tunes. It's different every night. Mick will let things open up a little bit. If a solo's going, he'll let it go a little longer if it's your groove and the audience gets into it. He certainly is one of the greatest entertainers and he knows how to make the audience stay up, keep up the intensity level.


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