Richard Elliot
Fresh off this summer’s hot Jazz Attack tour,
and still riding high with a #1 single and a new hit album, the popular saxman returns to Bermuda to “Groove for Grover”

By Jonathan Widran

When Jeff Lorber called, inviting Richard Elliot to fill in for Gerald Albright at the Groovin’ for Grover concert on Friday Oct. 7 at the Bermuda Music Festival, the saxman jumped at the chance. Elliot knew the repertoire well, having been part of the original 2004 lineup of the Grover Washington, Jr. tribute, touring the country with Lorber, Albright and Paul Taylor. He also thought a return visit to the lush island paradise of Bermuda would be a fun way to cap off his summer playing with the successful Jazz Attack tour––Jonathan Butler, Rick Braun and Peter White. In Bermuda, Elliot will be performing (with Kirk Whalum and Lorber) on a stage built out over the water.

The last time he was there was 1981, as a 21-year-old on tour with Melissa Manchester, five years before his 1986 debut, Initial Approach, launched him on his way to smooth jazz stardom. “I just remember Bermuda being this beautiful place unlike any I’d ever seen before,” he says. “I found it very pristine, very British in style and culture, with nice people and wonderful food. 

“When I signed on to do the gig, all the nice memories of the pink flecked sand and warm breezes came rushing back,” he adds. “And of course, it’s great to do the Grover stuff again, but I’m looking forward to doing it this time with Kirk Whalum while Gerald’s on tour with Phil Collins. I also did another fill-in gig at the end of September. I was one of the original Guitars & Saxes guys, and I love the whole package tour idea, with fans getting so much value for their money and the musicians getting to play in new ensemble situations. It’s also a blast playing this kind of utility role on occasion.”

When he played Bermuda with Manchester, and the following few years with famed horn band Tower of Power, Elliot could scarcely imagine the whole smooth jazz phenomenon and the incredible solo career which lay ahead of him. Next year, he’ll celebrate 20 years as a recording artist, but he’s long since lost count of all the #1 albums and radio hits and how many thousands of gigs he’s done in that time. 

The most exciting part of 2005 has been keeping that hit streak alive, with his soulful cover of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round” topping the airplay charts. More importantly, Metro Blue, his most recent album, marked the debut release from Artizen Music Group, a joint independent venture owned by Elliot, Braun, their manager Steve Chapman and veteran music attorney and manager Al Evers of A-Train Management. Elliot says that each of the four principals brings various areas of expertise to the company, beginning with his and Braun’s many years as artists and producers.

“The four of us had talked about doing this for a long time, and it happened because I had fulfilled my deal with GRP and decided it was time to move on,” Elliot says. “Rick was in a similar spot after years with Warner Bros., and I basically told him, ‘If you’re willing, I’m willing. I’ll make mine the first release if you do the follow-up, and we’ll see where we go from there.’ If,” he adds, laughing, “we have any money left!

“The idea of putting out our own albums first is that they would help us get a leg up both financially and in terms of credibility, which would allow us to sign other artists. The financial risks were huge, but our trust in our existing fan bases made us less paranoid. The creative bonus was our decision to co-produce Metro Blue and to feature Rick’s trumpet or flugelhorn with my sax on most of the tracks. I’ve never done a CD where I was that entrenched on a production level with another artist. The combination of sax and horn lifted the choruses but made the verses intimate and personal. The key to making this album was being receptive to what Rick had to offer in terms of feedback. That concept is serving us well on the business side of Artizen also.”

In the ’90s, the saxman’s fascination with emerging technology led to his founding of the Internet service provider and development company Pacificnet, which created important music-related systems like Code Sonics, which automatically connects Internet audio to digital visual information and links. At one point the company employed 50 people. Elliot is excited about bringing his technological and alternative marketing expertise to the new record company. His idea to offer fans a free online “bonus” track along with the release of Metro Blue––whether they buy the disc or not––was a big success, and will be repeated when Braun releases Yours Truly later in October. Artizen also has a deal with iTunes, which will include live premiere “podcasts” of various musical events, including the debut of tracks from Braun’s album intertwined with interview material.

“I see these unique approaches as simply taking advantage of what is truly a global community for music that wasn’t available even 20 years ago, when I was first recording,” Elliot says. “It ties in with Artizen’s overall mission statement, which is that we don’t believe in throwing 20 artists against the wall and seeing who sticks. Once we start signing other artists, we’re going to be very deliberate and calculated about who we work with. We won’t get involved with anyone unless we believe in that artist 100 percent. Most labels these days don’t make that kind of commitment.”

Over the summer, Braun, Elliot and longtime fan favorites Peter White and Jonathan Butler were committed to making every one of their Jazz Attack dates a remarkable event in itself, rather than just another version of Guitars & Saxes. Instead of breaking the show down into 30-minute solo segments (with guest spots here and there), the four decided from the beginning to make the whole show more of an ongoing collaborative effort, with at least two, usually three, onstage at all times. Thousands of smooth jazz fans across America loved every minute, but there was one musician out there who took issue with the name of the group.

Elliot chuckles at the silliness of the situation, which he says is currently being resolved to everyone’s satisfaction: “Towards the end of the tour, this guy in Irvine saw one of our ads. He has a band called The Jazz Attack Jazz Band that’s been doing parties and clubs for 10 years. He told us that, since he had the name first, we could pay him some money for exclusive rights to the name. We told him he could use it, that we didn’t have to be the only ones! The funny part is that he said people were congratulating him on getting gigs that were our gigs, but that this was hurting his business. We didn’t understand how that made sense. The whole situation was crazy.”

“Crazy” is a term which could apply easily to Elliot’s whirlwind life, in which he (so far) successfully balances gigs, recordings and his various business endeavors with the responsibilities of being a husband to Camella (his wife of eight years) and father to Candace (15), Bub (almost 12), Mikayla (almost 7), Eli (5) and––drumroll, please––10-month-old Julian. Elliot happily “inherited” Camella’s children, Candace and Bub, when he married her, and insists now that with three kids of their own, “we’re done.”

“We both love big families and think it’s great having a lot of kids,” he says, “though probably if I thought about it, I couldn’t come up with an answer as to how I find time to do everything. Now this includes changing diapers, which I had conveniently forgotten about! What’s cool is that Julian is not only a great baby, but he’s also a connecting point for everyone in the family. The kids get along better with the baby sometimes than they do with each other! We all have a great time and take quite a few family trips together, from our annual wilderness excursion to Newfoundland, where Camella has some family, to bringing the kids to Orlando recently when I played at a benefit for juvenile diabetes. Julian stayed home with grandma on that one.

“Camella’s really active with the kids, and all are very artistic,” the proud papa says. “Candace is into dance, Bub just started on sax, Mikayla on piano and Eli wants to start on an instrument soon, we’re not sure what. It’s exciting that they’re showing so much interest in music. Honestly, when I think about the sax, I really never get tired of it. I think some people are just meant to do certain things in their life, and this is the core part of who they are that overrides any problems. My kids are like I am, always pushing themselves to try different things and never content to repeat themselves.”

 

Discography:
1986 Initial Approach Blue Note
1987 Trolltown Blue Note
1988

The Power of Suggestion

Blue Note
1989 Take to the Skies Blue Note
1990 What’s Inside Blue Note
1991 On the Town Blue Note
1992 Soul Embrace Manhattan
1994 After Dark Blue Note
1996 City Speak Blue Note
1997

Jumpin’ Off

Metro Blue
1999 Chill Factor Blue Note
2000 The Best of Richard Elliot Blue Note
2001 Crush GRP
2003 Ricochet GRP  
2005

Metro Blue

Artizen Music  Group

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