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The Rippingtons Celebrate 20 Years As A Collective

Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons
Whenever The Rippingtons come to Houston, Texas for a concert, the welcome mat is always open for one of smooth jazz’s most prolific groups. In conjunction with the release of their latest CD/DVD entitled ‘The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary,’ (Peak Records) the group has embarked upon an August/September multi-city tour of the United States. The City of Houston is but one of the many pit stops along the way. Founded by Russ Freeman in 1986, the award-winning band has dominated the smooth jazz scene for much of their existence. In addition, the iconic "Jazz Cat" trademark has been a major part of every CD cover art and video throughout their entire tenure as a band. Created by artist Bill Mayer, the "Jazz Cat" has been seen skiing, playing golf, surfing the waves and as a tourist on vacation. This makes him an integral member of the group as well. From the onset of their career, smooth jazz aficionados have embraced The Rippingtons and consistently voted them one of the most influential bands of their era. As a mainstay, Houston has always been in the forefront of their popularity. Just as they have been one of the genre's most popular smooth jazz groups over the last 20 years, their latest release has charted number 1 on the charts since its release in July. That level of popularity is another testament to The Rippingtons seldom paralleled longevity and viability.

The band’s visit on August 11th was just as relevant as any concert performed elsewhere. The enthusiastic response they received was highly regarded by the band. One of the more sentimental moments of the concert occurred when guitarist Russ Freeman lamented about their first visit to the Space City. He spoke of the long trip they had to take to get to Houston riding in a van from California, which by any stretch was not the easiest way to get to a gig, considering a distance of over 1500 miles. Since then, they have definitely improved their mode of transportation from point A to point B and C. At any rate, since those early days of woe, The Rippingtons are looking back and reminiscing over 16 albums, thousands of concert and festival performances. The tour and a CD/DVD retrospective reflect upon all those years together and numerous hearts they have touched during their travels.

The Rippintons' stopover in Houston was not only highly anticipated, the show had a few unexpected surprises. Although the band has reconstituted itself any number of times, sentiment has always been with saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa and percussionist Steve Reid, both of whom have pursued solo careers in recent years. Other band members have included Paul Taylor, Brandon Fields, Kirk Whalum and Kenny G to name a few. As a part of the group’s 20th anniversary celebration and tour, both Jeff and Steve came along for the excursion through time. To the delight of a highly enthused audience, this made the concert even more appealing. With that being said, one can imagine the tremendous magnitude of this commemorative event that included a much heralded degree of pomp and circumstance.

As can be imagined, it is difficult to cram 20 years of history into a two-hour concert event, but The Rippingtons held their own and made a concerted attempt at trying to do so. Houston’s KHJZ 95.7 smooth jazz radio air personality Donna McKenzie emceed the show as Russ Freeman, drummer Dave Karasony, keyboardist Bill Heller, bassist Kim Stone, Steve Reid and Jeff Kashiwa covered the gamut of many of their most popular albums. The Rippingtons included ‘Welcome to the St. James Club’ ‘Tourist in Paradise’ ‘Sahara,Weekend in Monaco,'Let It Ripp’ and a host of other recognizable recordings. As always, the audience was wowed by the immense artistry and fabric of the group's numerous years together as a collective. With the enthusiastic response The Rippingtons received, it becomes quite apparent why the band has consistently been voted by Jazziz magazine and other jazz publications as the "Most Influential Contemporary Jazz Group" of their time. The chemistry exhibited by Freeman, Kashiwa and Reid are legendary; however, the overall Heller, Stone and Karasony influences made the entire package complete.

Over the years, the dynamic influences of popularized variances between popular music and jazz has been tremendously influential on the part of The Rippingtons. Past and present members have also endeared the band to their cadre of fans. It appears that the next 20 years of The Rippington experience will continue to be an evolution of creativity and popularity. Based upon this year’s installment from one of smooth jazz’s most profound group of entertainers, a new generation of fans will embrace them even more. With that degree of longevity and response to the ever changing jazz climate involved, Houston like so many other stops will always be a welcome mat for The Rippingtons.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Russ Freeman & The Rippingtons
  • Concert Date: 8/10/2006
  • Subtitle: Houston is a favorite stop for this smooth jazz group
  • Venue: Verizon Wireless Theater
  • City State Country: Houston, Texas, United States
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