Jeff Richman: Solo Artist, Entrepreneur, or Chatterbox?
“ I definitely approached his [Coltrane's] music with respect...time and thought. I wanted each song to retain his unique stamp while adding my own element to it. ”
Guitarist Jeff Richman has worked in the highest echelons of electric jazz for the last two decades, distinguishing himself over a productive career that has spawned more than twelve solo titles and twice as many guest appearances. Recently, he's found a new niche; mastermind producer / arranger / player / instigator of the electric jazz tribute/compilation. Jeff has spearheaded no fewer than three ripping, yet somehow discerning, paeans to Miles, 'Trane and Mahavishnu issued, it seems, en masse,in the last year. Funny, he 's also recently found at work on, but not at the helm of, the two Jimi Hendrix tributes/compilations on Comet Records and a just-released homage to Master Beck, entitled The Loner, on ESC records. The last three mentioned indicate that Richman's roots, no doubt, grow out of the rock gods he admired in his youth.
But what has always distinguished Jeff Richman among his peers is his harmonic path through his runs, shred lightly, if you will, with a sophisticated jazz approach finding angular, yet very lyrical pathways through the simplest or most complex changes. Oh yeah, he's written some pretty mean vamps, slick turnarounds and catchy melodies as well. Long a fixture on the LA guitar and fusion scene, a solar system revolving, in this case around a Potato (LA's "Baked Potato"), Jeff's come up alongside some very highly regarded six-stringed peers. He also tends to attract some pretty heavy cats to join him on his recording and live sessions , including the likes of bassists Jimmy Haslip, Gary Willis, and Abe Laboriel, keyboardists Russell Ferrante, T Lavitz and (renowned producer) Peter Wolf, and drummers Vinny Colaiuta, Steve Smith and Simon Phillips. Jeff's got his own band as well, and it's populated by some equally heavy cats. Let's not even list all the incredible guitarists he's played with, or enlisted for these latest projects. More important to emphasize that Richman stands shoulder to shoulder with any of them, with the current flurry of activity bringing some well-deserved, and overdue, notoriety along with it.
But some of the neatest stuff about Richman runs counter to what you'd think reading these intro paragraphs. For instance, he's recorded for English pop icon Cliff Richard, toured with the Manhattan Transfer, and played on the soundtrack for the Tom Hanks Rock'n'Roll movie, That Thing You Do. Some surprises are even more personal, which is our cue to let Jeff speak for himself.
Allaboutjazz: As a point of introduction, I'd like to let you know that AAJ just doesn't send just anyone on these interview missions Jeff. I must admit I am the proud owner of Himalaya on vinyl.
Jeff Richman: That was released in 1986, almost 20 years ago-unbelievable. I just made a CDR of that the other day, so I've listened to it recently. There's some good stuff on there with Gary Willis and Vinnie Colaiuta. That one has "Pygmy People," which has a very cool vibe on it, a great groove. I usually don't play it anymore but I used to all the time. I just recorded it again for another album (NOTE: the just-released The Loner , a tribute to Jeff Beck released on esc records).
AAJ: You've been associated with these monster musicians like Vinnie for many years.
JR: I went to college with him and I hung out with him kind of before he hit big. Now I don't really hang out so much, but if I can get him on something, if he's available, it's just a treat to get him
AAJ: I'm surprised already. I didn't realize you went to Berklee. In my mind you are a west coast guy all the way.
JR: Yeah, well, I went to Berklee. That's where I met Phil Giffin, the guy that's produced all my records. What a great experience! I hooked up with Mike Stern, Pat Metheny, and Bill Frisell, all those people.
AAJ: Just curious, do you happen to remember Randy Roos?
JR: Oh, yeah. I saw him with that band he had all over the place.
AAJ: Orchestra Luna?
JR: Yeah, he was incredible. When I was going to Berklee he was already, like, just doing it.
AAJ: Still is. So, I'm still reeling from the fact you're yet another amazing player who was at Berklee at that time. How did you end up back on the west coast?
JR: I moved to New York after Boston. Let's see I was in Boston from '73-'76 and then I was in New York from '76-'79, another three years. I was having a good time in New York-one of the gigs I got that was really cool was Ray Barretto. What was especially cool is that I started writing music for that band. The first album I ever played on was a Ray Barretto album and I got four of my tunes on there. It was a record called , Can You Feel It. You probably can't even get itit's probably impossible. It was on Atlantic RecordsI think he did two records on Atlantic. That was a great gig.
I just got enough of New York y'know? I grew up in Hawaii...