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Richard Elliot: Summer Madness [interview]

Photographer: Lori Stoll/Used by permission

Sam: Hello, Richard. Greetings from the East Coast. Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me today. Richard: Hello, Sam. Thank you for having me! Sam: So, let's jump right in. I first remember seeing you perform years back on the Arsenio Hall show. Richard: Oh, my gosh! Really? Sam: Yes! I looked you up online to check out your discography, yet I haven’t counted. How many albums projects have you completed including your latest one? Richard: I think I’m right around album twenty-three releases now. Sam: Wow. That’s amazing! How long have you been a recording artist? Richard: Last year I celebrated my thirtieth year as a recording saxophonist. I tend to complete projects every one to two years. Sam: What was the concept for your current project? Richard: The concept was to take a slightly different approach than what I’ve done with my last few records. One of the approaches was to kind of go back to my influences and defining moments for me as a young man who was striving to be a professional musician. The kind of music that I was really into at that time, which was around the mid to late 70’s, was all about Funk and R&B music. Most of that music was horn-based music. Another thing that was significant about that period of time was that you would frequently hear instrumental songs make it on to pop radio, which you never hear nowadays. Back then it was common to hear a Bob James song or a Ronnie Laws or David Sanborn featured in those situations. I wanted to pay tribute to that day and time because in many ways that’s how what we call Smooth Jazz today started. I leaned more toward the fun and aggressive side of music which was Funk which is all about horns. I knew that if I was going to make a record like that, it would really have to be a joyful process. The way I did that was to bring in my band that I tour with year after year. We just went into the studio and we wrote, arranged and recorded the music live. We didn’t have rehearsals or writing sessions. We went into the studio and just let the music come out of us, recording as we wrote. I thought that was important because I wanted to recreate that feeling and joy of playing live and the spontaneity. I wanted to capture that in this project. Sam: That’s interesting because you go back to the era of Kool And The Gang, Earth Wind and Fire and The Commodores. You had a lot of bands back then who really went in on the horns. Did the title of this project have anything to do with the Summer Horns project that you did a few years ago with Mindi[Abair], Gerald [Albright], and [Dave] Koz? Richard: Honestly there wasn’t a conscious connection. Summer Horns was all about horn-based music but the title is truly coincidental. The song "Summer Madness," was such a pivotal song for me back when I was in school. I wanted to name the record Summer Madness. I knew that people might pick up on the connection with the horn music titles but really I can’t say that it was deliberate. Sam: What was special about this record versus the previous one? Richard: The last record I did called “Lip Service” was a more common approach to how records are made today. You would sit down with the Producer, layer instruments one on top of the other and kind of put the songs together instead of just putting everyone in a room and just playing live. There’s nothing wrong with the typical approach and quite often you wind up recording with people that you don’t normally play with. The significant difference between these two projects is that Summer Madness was recorded live and not so structured or orchestrated. Sam: That’s nice because not many people are doing that in music production these days. The live feel of the album is definitely enjoyable. Richard: Good! That was the goal, to have people feel that live energy and spontaneity on this record. Sam: What was it like working with Rick Braun? I saw that he was the Producer and he also played trombone. Richard: Yes. Rick and I have been friends for many, many years. We’ve done other records together. So, when I thought about getting a producer involved in this project, he was really the only person I thought would be the right person to produce it. He and I have worked together enough that we can anticipate each others moves. He’s also great at sort of coaxing out the best from me as a performer that maybe I wouldn’t do on my own. I think that’s the best kind of Producer, especially for an artist who has released many projects already. He’s really good at pushing me out of my comfort zone. He’s really a great guy and we get along great. He was the perfect choice for this project. He’s also an amazing musician. Sam: You have produced some of your own projects. How does that differ from having someone else produce a project for you? Richard: I have produced a lot of my own records but when you produce yourself you kind of lack a bit of objectivity. You can’t look at yourself from the outside and it’s very difficult for a musician to do that. Having another set of ears and eyes is important as long as it’s the right person. I think it depends upon the project and what you are trying to achieve which choice you make. Sam: Out of all of the albums that you have done, would you consider this your favorite? Richard: I will say that whenever I do a new record I pretty much say that the most recent one is my favorite because it’s most representative of where my head is musically at the current time. That being said, when I do release a new record, I can't listen to it for a while. I find that when I listen to it right after production, I tend to be overly critical. It takes me a good few months to get over that. In this respect it turns out to be my least favorite because I tend to spend a lot of time picking the project apart to see what I could have done to make it better. Sam: What is your take on the Smooth Jazz market today? Looking back at it's inception versus where it is today, what are your likes and dislikes? Richard: Well, my biggest concern with the genre right now is that it is so much harder for new artists to break into the industry. I love making records and those of us who have been in the industry for a while love working and playing live but we need some fresh blood in there. While there are some new artists out here that are coming up and doing well like Jackiem Joyner and Vincent Ingala, I would just like to see more of them. I'd like to see it become easier for these new artists to get out here. That's what's gonna keep the genre alive and bringer younger talent to the format. In some ways the Jazz audience has grown older with us. When I was in my 20's doing this, my audience was around the same age. Now that I am in my 50's, my audience is still in predominantly in my age range. That's wonderful and I am thrilled with the loyalty. I just want to see more young artists get into this and get some recognition. Sam: Do you envision an approach that will make that happen? Richard: I believe that there are some ways to achieve that. On the live front with festivals they have to promote the heavy hitters to get the fans out but this is also a great vehicle to bring in younger artists. While I am seeing that. I would just like to see more of it. Also, there have been many changes in radio airplay. A lot of the old FM/AM radio stations have gone away. However, Satellite radio like Serius XM Radio and Watercolors Radio have created great opportunities for new artists in their place. Watercolors Radio does really push the boundaries which I love because I hear some new artists on there and the station sort of pushes them to the edge of the format to involve them in some more adventurous things. I would love to see more local radio stations playing new Jazz music. When this music format began, you had every program director at each station choosing the songs their audiences wanted hear. The format now has moved into a singles-driven format where Consultants decided which songs should be played. I understand the need for that to sort of categorize the music but I think that maybe it went a little too far. Sam: So, what is on your mp3 player right now? Who are the top five or six artists that you like to listen to? Richard: I have pretty varied tastes in music. I like a lot of World-beat stuff. There is a band that I have been following lately called Ozomatli which is a band from Los Angeles that uses a latin, funk, hip-hop and jazz fusion. I really love those guys. They are a great and creative band. That's the kind of stuff I have been listening to lately. I also have Maxwell, D'Angelo and other soul artists like Jill Scott on my playlist. Sam: Do you have any performance dates coming up? Richard: In October we will be in Texas playing in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. Then we will be back in California at one of the wineries. In November we're headed to the East Coast to play in Akron, Ohio and New York at BB King's, then Buffalo and possibly DC next Summer. Sam: So, what's in the future for Mr. Richard Elliott? Richard: You know, I just want to get out and tour now. We have finished this project and had a great time making it. One of the coolest things about doing a record like this where we record live is that it lends itself to creating a great live performance. So, we're just excited to get out and play this music in front of an audience. Sam: Where can your fans find more information on you and the project, Summer Madness? Richard: Info can be found on my website at RichardElliott.Com and Richard Elliott on social media, Sam: Okay. Well, I wish you continued success and thank you for taking the time to speak with us at Muzilog. Richard: You're welcome. Thanks for having me.

For more information, please visit: Richard Elliot

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