Marijn, Lee
Lee Ritenour - Metropool Hengelo, The Netherlands, November 2, 2010

During his European tour with Patrice Rushen, Melvin Davis and Sonny Emory, SmoothJazz Europe spoke with Lee Ritenour. This was a duo-interview with Cynthia from Jazzmeeting which made it a very special conversation! Accompanied by Lee's warming up on his guitar we listened to the Man, his Guitar and his Thinking on hard questions!

Lil' Bumpin' | Night Rhythms

Cynthia: Who is Lee Ritenour without his guitar?
Lee: That's probably a really hard question! Because this year, 2010, I have been playing the guitar for 50 years. I started when I was 8 years old, so I am 58, sorry to tell that. So the reason I tell you that is that it is hard to separate myself from the guitar, because it's such a big part of my life. But I have a son, 17 year old drummer, great boy. Half Brazilian, born and live in LA all my life, I love the sunshine.
Cynthia: When was the moment that you woke up and said to yourself: "I want to be a musician, I want to be famous".
Lee: It was very early, but I didn't had the thought that I wanted to be famous. I wanted to be a professional guitarplayer, play the guitar as a living. And I knew that when I was 12. I started at 8 and when I was 12 I knew that I really wanted to do this. So I told my mum and dad I really wanted to do this, they helped a lot.

SJEU: I have a question about playing the guitar. What kind of music did you want to play? Because all these years you played so many styles and with so many people.
Lee: That was also a very interesting time in my life. Because it was 1960 when I started so in the sixties, especially the second half, there was so much variety in music in the USA then. Rock & roll was just exploding, people like Jimi Hendrix and a very young Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck and The Who, Led Zeppeling, The Beatles. And on the jazz side there was incredible guitarplayers like Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Joe Pass. All thos guys were a big influence. And then I got turned on by my teachers on classical music so I studied the classical guitar. And on the radio in those days they played a little bit of everything. You could hear Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix on the same radiostation.
Cynthia: So you blended it all?
Lee: I loved anyone who could play the guitar. I loved Chet Atkins, I loved Jimi , Segovia. So I had no barriers about music and that lasted my whole life. Now come 50 years later, I finally made an album "6 string theory" that has all these different styles in it, on purpose. And it was an album I was designed to do. I probably wanted to do that half of my life. And in a way I had kept doing it, by making a classical album with Dave Grusin, by doing Bob Marley music, by doing straight ahead jazz, by doing contemporary jazz.
Cynthia: But it all started like everybody at mama and papa, but for you at mamas and papas!
Lee: Haha, I got under that session very young. I was playing with a band that was being produced by John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas. And we were doing demos at his homestudio. That was really cool, he had a studio in Beverly Hills, a very rich part of LA. The year was 1968 or so. And it was unheard of that time that someone had a homestudio, so it was very impressive for me to go there. So the band never went anywhere and the demo never went anywhere with him. But he asked me to stay some days and I layed down some tracks with other studio musicians. I don't think those tracks ever came out; I looked for that for years! Somebody later told me that he used to record all the time, but it's just a long time ago.
SJEU: How does it feel to play songs from the earlier records again, like Captain Fingers as you did on the Overtime DVD?
Lee: That was again like an anniversary project. The Japanese company that paid for Overtime asked me to do a reflection to look back "over time", so we picked some older tunes and they were fun to do. Some worked better than others, some were still sounding contemporary and others maybe we should not do them. But I have such a big catalog so it's very challenging to pick that and do that.
SJEU: Do you think the audience today still want to hear the old songs?
Lee: O yeah, definitely! Although those albums are getting older and older! But tonight we're gonna play two of those songs.

SJEU: Recently you played on the new Dave Koz record, together with Marcus Miller. As we are from SmoothJazz Europe and want to promote smooth jazz more in Europe it was interesting for us to hear this. Was it the first time for you to play with Dave Koz?
Lee: Yes, it was the first time ever to play with Dave Koz. We had done some gigs together on a concert with two bands on the same night. I knew him and he is a very nice guy and he is very appreciative to the people he respects. So he was happy to work with Marcus Miller and there was a few new artists that he collaborated with for the first time, and I was one of them. And they brought the track to my studio and Marcus told me that they needed a little hook in the chorus so I came up with that little hooky line and then they showed me where to solo and then they left the track with me. I played around with it for a couple of days and I put a little more firery solo, especially towards the end of the song that normally I would have thought a smooth jazz cut would not want. Normally I would have put a more smoother guitar sound. But I was just coming off of "6 String Theory" and the track also felt a bit funky, so I felt it could take it. So when they came over to play, I played it for them, Marcus, Dave and the other producer. And I said I have got two different guitars on the end, tell me which one you like, because one might be too much for you. But they liked that one, the one with all that fire.
SJEU: I heard it was number 1 in the charts?
Lee: Yes! Dave does well in that area!

Cynthia: What made you so very special?
Lee: You ask really tough questions! Don't you wanna what know kind of strings I use? That's much easier!
SJEU: That's something I would ask!
Lee: Why am I special? I don't know!
Cynthia: What made you so succesful?
Lee: Well I do work very hard in what I do. I don't really take vacations, I never have. I love what I do and being a musician is such a gift I appreciate so much. I am having the chance of doing this my whole life.
Cynthia: And of course, it's a mission for you?
Lee: Yes, it's a mission.
Cynthia: Well I asked John Scofield one time, what's you r mission? He thought maybe for 5 minutes and he said, I have no mission. But you have a mission.

SJEU: I think we are going to love the show tonight and we don't want to take more time off of you but I want to give you a SmoothJazz Europe t-shirt.
Cynthia: And we want to thank you for your precious time.
Lee: Thank you!

all pictures by Marijn Eland