A hugely successful instrumental group led by guitarist Russ Freeman, the Rippingtons emerged in California in the late '80s playing a radio-friendly brand of contemporary jazz. The band's first album, 1987's Moonlighting, was a commercial success, buoyed by appearances from Kenny G and David Benoit. Over the course of the band's first decade, they would score six number one Billboard Top Contemporary Jazz albums including 1991's Curves Ahead, 1997's Black Diamond, and 2016's True Stories. Along the way, they also helped launch the careers of several smooth jazz stars including saxophonists Jeff Kashiwa, Dave Koz, and Eric Marienthal.
Formed in 1987, the Rippingtons were initially brought together as an all-star studio ensemble led by Russ Freeman. A Nashville native, Freeman had studied music at Cal Arts and UCLA before launching his solo career in 1985. Approached by the Japanese Alfa label, he brought along a handful of fellow West Coast rising stars including David Benoit, Kenny G., Gregg Karukas, Brandon Fields, and others. Together, they issued the band's 1987 debut, Moonlighting, which was released domestically by Passport and became a hit, reaching number five on Billboard's Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chat. Several more Top Five Billboard jazz albums followed, including 1988's Kilimanjaro and 1989's Tourist in Paradise. All of these albums showcased the band's hooky, groove-based pop-jazz.
In 1990, Freeman and the Rippingtons signed with GRP and released their fourth album, Welcome to the St. James Club. Their first album to feature saxophonist Jeff Kashiwa (who'd replaced the departing Fields), it landed at number one on the contemporary jazz charts. A second number one album, Curves Ahead, arrived the following year and included guest spots by saxophonist Kirk Whalum, pianist Dave Grusin, saxophonist Nelson Rangell, and drummer Omar Hakim. The group fared equally well on their subsequent GRP efforts, with 1992's Weekend in Monaco, 1994's Sahara, and 1996's Brave New World, the latter of which featured saxophonist Eric Marienthal. In the mid- '90s, Freeman and his manager Andi Howard formed their own Peak label, which would be the main imprint for the Rippingtons (even as they moved from GRP to Windham Hill). In 1997, they celebrated the band's tenth anniversary with the release of the contemporary jazz album Black Diamond. Topaz followed two years later and reached number two on the chart. It also marked the departure of Kashiwa, who left the band to pursue his solo career.
In 2000, the Rippingtons issued their 11th studio album, Life in the Tropics, which found saxophonist Dave Koz taking over for Kashiwa. For 2003's Let It Ripp, the band worked with a horn section featuring Jerry Hey, Gary Grant, and Steven Hoffman. The Latin-flavored Wild Card followed in 2005, and included guest spots by Willy Chirino, Chante Moore, and Albita. The band returned in 2009 with Modern Art ,which earned them their first Grammy nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album. In 2011, the Rippingtons released the South of France-inspired Côte d'Azur, followed two years later by Built to Last, the latter of which hit number one on the contemporary jazz albums chart. The band's 20th studio album, Fountain of Youth, appeared in 2014. In 2016, the Rippingtons celebrated their 30th anniversary with the release of True Stories, which featured the return of original member, saxophonist Brandon Fields. The full-length Open Road arrived in 2019. ~ Matt Collar