As he rushed back from a gig in Detroit, Richard Elliot was kind enough to spare time for this interview:
JazzReview: Let’s talk about your new album, R n R. I understand it was created ‘on the fly’ as you and Rick Braun entered the studio. He played horn with one hand while controlling the soundboard with the other. That is quite an undertaking. How did this album actually come about?
Richard Elliot: To say there were no preconceptions would probably be inaccurate. As horn players, we wanted to be an energetic record. We wanted to draw upon our roots.. My roots-I was with a group, Tower of Power for five years and Rick toured with the group ‘War’ back in the 80s. Calling upon our roots with those bands, we wanted to use our experience with those bands as a defining influence-a loosely defined influence.
Beyond that, we just wanted to see what would happen-just let it flow out of us and see where that would lead. Basically, we collaborated with some grooves and some chord changes with co-writers like Jeff Lorber, Rex Rideout, and Chris Standring. But, then when we go to do the melodies, we composed the melodies as we were recording. And, that didn’t mean we couldn’t work with it, adjust it, and go back and change it. But, we were able to get those ideas on tape as they were coming into our heads. The nice thing about that is: you don’t have to go in and say, "You remember what we were working on last night?" --and, not be able to remember what it was. This way, we captured everything.
The cool thing was-we could let the ideas flow out of us then go back and polish it, capturing all the inspiration on tape as we were coming up with it.
JazzReview: Every song on the album is tight. It’s very energetic. I understand you said, "The horn section parts were doubled," to get that oomph and the muscle. How do you double a horn section-for those of us non-musicians?
Richard Elliot: Let me clarify that. You double certain things but a lot of that we did not double. When inside a studio, you can record yourself 3-4-5-ten or twenty times on the same song, over and over. So, instead of sounding like one horn, you sound like twenty horns. And, that’s a great thing. But, what we wanted to do is; we wanted to sound big like a horn section but we did not do that for the melodies. We wanted to sound like single horns as a background to the melodies-keep it intimate in that regard. We really wanted it to sound as if we were two singers collaborating-a single trumpet and a single saxophone.
JazzReview: That was the next question. You have excellent talents on this CD. Each of you is a mega star in your own right. How did you manage to keep this balanced, giving each person his own space?
Richard Elliot: I think the key is-we both have pretty distinctive styles and we both have a mutual respect for each other. You learn to give each other space so you’re not competing. Because Rick and I have also spent many years playing live together, we already meshed creatively and we knew that. We knew with this project our personalities wouldn’t conflict musically or personally so we approached this project complimenting each other. I think that’s the key to making it work, particularly when each artist has a strong style.
JazzReview: You covered that very well. I wondered if there was a problem because you both have such big names?
Richard Elliot: That certainly happens. We’re certainly not immune to that type of problem. But because Rick and I have such a long history, we knew this collaboration would work. We spent many years getting on the same stage together.
JazzReview: You have some excellent talents on this CD, though some of the names may not be as well known as yours-they are in high demand and very creative individuals.
Mr. Rex Rideout, who produced To Luther With Love and who played for Luther Van Dross.
Richard Elliot: I was actually on that album. In fact, he released a second volume recently. Rex works with a lot of big names and is very well respected within the industry.
JazzReview: Another great talent is multi instrumentalist, arranger, keyboard player, Phillipe Saisse, who recently worked with Rod Stewart.
Richard Elliot: He’s a solo artist, who has his own solo CDs but, he’s also a wonderful producer who has produced for Rolling Stones. He’s been around for a long time. And he has worked with some amazing artists.
JazzReview: We have to talk a little about "Tower of Power." They were recently featured on Windplayer Magazine. I was amazed they are still out there and just as strong as ever. You were with them for five years.
Can you tell me one thing you took away from being with that group for so long?
Richard Elliot: I took a lot from being with them. I call it my ‘graduate school.’ I learned about performing, being a musician, being a team player. I learned more from that group than anyone I’ve played with.
JazzReview: How did you go from such an amazingly strong pop band to jazz?
Richard Elliot: I guess the ironic thing is, I don’t call what I do ‘jazz’ per se. It may be classified as jazz but it’s influenced by a lot of other challenging music, too. If anything, I’m probably more of a rhythm and blues musician than anything else. I’d call what I do ‘instrumental R&B. But, of course, that encompasses a wide array of music. I think there are elements of jazz, Latin, R&B and pop in my music. I think calling it ‘smooth jazz’ is the term coined by the radio stations. I have no problem with what you call it or how you categorize it, it’s okay. As long as I don’t have to pigeonhole my music and I have a wide enough berth to do what I want to do with it.
JazzReview: The way I understand it is: they do that so they know how to market it. They do it for the people who present it on the radio or people who present it in the stores so they know where to put it.
Richard Elliot: I certainly don’t have a problem with that.
JazzReview: Your album R n R is expected to become an album event of the year in the contemporary instrumental genre.
Richard Elliot: (chuckling) Ah, .I didn’t write that.
JazzReview: You do a great interplay between the horns. It’s very energetic. How did you decide to jump into the title track, "R n R" as the first song on the album?
Richard Elliot: You know, it’s funny because we titled the songs last. We wrote the music first then went back and gave title to the songs based on what they sounded like. We already knew one of the songs would be "R n R" cause that was the name of the CD. You hit the nail on the head when you called it very energetic. That encompasses what we tried to capture on this record. It’s energetic and fresh, a little upbeat and spontaneous. That song covered all those things for us so the logical thing was to name it the title track.
JazzReview: It absolutely does draw the audience in. Then you come back with "Sweet Somethin’". It makes me think of a midnight stroll or a late night interlude. What did you have in mind while creating it?
Richard Elliot: We actually co-wrote that with Rex Rideout. He came up with the groove and the chords and we came up with the melody for it. It was meant to be a nocturnal sort of thing. It was one of those things where we took the idea, let the melody flow and let it create itself. That’s how it came out.
JazzReview: Another song with a little mystery is "The Stranger." Horns are soft and gentle-a nice arrangement. But, it still has a lot of power.
Richard Elliot: The idea was to create a mysterious mood with that. I like to call it a slow burn sort of thing.
JazzReview: That’s exactly how it came out. Then you come back with some fun, "Down and Dirty," showing off some hot play between horns, keyboard and percussion. Some nifty riffs-possibly my own favorite.
Richard Elliot: This is one of three or four tracks on the CD where we call on our roots-from "Tower of Power." It’s kind of a funky track.
JazzReview: The closing song is "Sao Paulo" and it’s already near the Top 10 on the Radio & Record charts. It was actually introduced before you created the rest of the album.
Richard Elliot: That song was actually released as a bonus track when Rick put out his last CD called Yours Truly. it was just a track we put out there and made it free to be downloaded from our web site. People really responded to it. That wasn’t really expected.
People really responded and wanted to buy it on a CD but we didn’t have it written on CD so we just included it as a bonus on this album. It fit well with this CD so we decided to let people have it in the CD format.
JazzReview: I like that-an extra bonus. Do you have a personal favorite song on this album?
Richard Elliot: "Sweet Somethin&&&" is pretty high up there for me. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if I had a favorite on this one. Actually, I don’t listen to it that much now. Generally, what happens is when you make a CD you listen to it about ten thousand times and I usually stop listening to it for a while. I’ll come back to it a few months later after taking a break.
We start looking forward to playing the songs live. That’s what’s happening now. I’ve been playing the title track. So maybe that’s what I’d say is my favorite right now cause we’re playing it in our live shows. And enjoying it.
JazzReview: When playing in a live show after making a recording, do you find you still make changes to a song during live play?
Richard Elliot: The songs definitely evolve when you play live. There are certain aspects that are like the record but there are some ways they take on a different personality when performed live. I’m not a stickler for having to sound just like the record when we’re performing live. I like letting them evolve.
JazzReview: I think that’s where some of the energy comes from. And I think that’s when you begin drawing the audience into the work-when they begin interacting with your performing.
Richard Elliot: I agree.
JazzReview: Rick Braun is also a brilliant performer. He’s a trumpeter, flugelhorn player and keyboardist who has played with "REO Speed wagon" and the group "War" along with many others. Please, tell me a little more about Rick.
Richard Elliot: Rick is a great guy. He and I have been friends for a long, long time. He’s a great artist to work with. One other thing great about Rick, aside from being a great musician and great performer is : he listens. Whomever he’s performing with, or whomever he is with, he listens very carefully, to what the other artists are doing and that’s very important. It’s like being a generalist collaborator rather than being like "I got to get my licks in here, and perform there, and it’s all about me."
He’s very very generous in terms of listening to what others are doing. He’s a tremendous musician and a great collaborator.
I find when I collaborate with other artists I really learn a lot and
For instance if I play a song by myself then I play with with someone like Rick, I’m going to play it completely different when playing with him because we collaborate. That’s one of the great things about collaborating: it brings out things in you that you wouldn’t do if performing alone. He’s a great sounding board for that kind of thing and he’s an amazing artist.
JazzReview: I think it draws on his own superior musicianship, making him comfortable with himself. When you find that comfort space, you are more able to allow others their room to shine.
Let’s talk about your new music label--Artizen Music Group. Was it destined to happen?
Richard Elliot: I don’t know if it was destined to happen. We talked about doing it for a long time. Rick Braun, our manager, our attorney and I talked about it and realized if we were going to do it, we didn’t want to do it till we’d be able to commit to it. A lot of artists will be signed to another label, like a major label and then put together a label with another artist but will not put themselves on it. We decided we were not going to do it until we were able to make ourselves the priority on it.
It just happened that Rick and I were up for renewal on the labels we were recording on and decided we would take this opportunity to move forward and do our label. It has been a real learning experience for us. On one hand, it’s great because you are more in control of your destiny. On the other hand, there is a lot more responsibility. And one thing I have learned is what it’s like being on the other side of the table. It’s very easy to criticize your record label and say they are not doing enough or they’re not getting you out there. This has given me the opportunity to see what the label companies go through to promote their artists. I think it has been great learning what it’s like being on either side.
JazzReview: The other thing I heard about your label company is: because you are artists, you understand an artist’s need and you are capable of catering to an artist.
Richard Elliot: What that really means is; because we are both artists, we understand what it means to be on that side of the label. I would like to think we’re able to be more sensitive to the needs of the artists.
JazzReview: You have already signed up some great talents. You have sax player, Jackiem Joyner and outstanding keyboardist Lao Tizer among your artists.
Richard Elliot: Right. And another saxophone player, Shilts from "Down To The Bone.."
Also, Soul Ballet, Lavish, by Rick Kelly. The name of the artist is Soul Ballet. The title of the CD is Lavish. As-the name of the group performing-"Soul Ballet." The person who conceptualized it is Rick Kelly.
JazzReview: Thank you. I have that CD and love it. But, I got confused about which was the title and which was the artist(s).
You are very busy with your music, touring and your label. What are your plans now? Touring? Another CD? Something else?
Richard Elliot: I am continuing to tour this year. we have quite a few more dates before the end of the year. I will probably start on a new CD at the beginning of ’08. Possibly, I’ll start in the fall or winter. So there will probably be a new CD out next year sometime.
JazzReview: Do you have a standout moment in your career?
Richard Elliot: One particular moment? There are so many. I’ve had a chance to work with some wonderful artists and played in some great concerts. Maybe my first big concert as a solo artist-- That stands out. It was in West Palm Beach, Florida. at a big event called Sunfest. I got in front of about 10,000 people as a solo artist. I’ve played in front of more than that as a side artist. But that definitely was one of those moments.
JazzReview: Thank you for sharing that. One final question: When you have a moment to sit and listen to music, whom do you choose ?
Richard Elliot: Oh, it depends on the day of the week or the mood I’m in. I listen to a lot of different music. I listen to a lot of Latin music, a lot of old R&B music. I actually just downloaded a CD from a group called the "Battlefield Band," which is a Scottish band playing Celtic music. On some of their music, they meld traditional Celtic with synthesizers so it’s a weird kind of a hybrid. I’ve been listening to it for the last few days. Actually, I listen to a lot of different stuff a lot of stuff.
Well rounded, meticulous, perceptive, Richard Elliot and Rick Braun deliver what they promise-a great listen for all.