The Rippingtons saga has long been familiar to smooth jazz fans who have been along for the band’s amazing career since the genre’s beginnings in the mid-80s. Russ Freeman’s personal story extends further back, of course, to age nine, when he started taking lessons on the electric guitar. Though Freeman was born in Galveston, Texas, many folks think he’s a Nashville native because many of his formative years were spent there. While listening to and being inspired by everyone from The Beatles and James Taylor to Wes Montgomery and George Benson, Freeman spent much of his time between the ages of 10 and 18 hanging around the studios in Nashville, where his dad knew many top session musicians. Freeman was playing session dates by age 14 and during this time became a huge fan of Larry Carlton. "Hearing how Larry so perfectly married pop and jazz together really inspired me when it came time to figure out my own direction as a player and later, as an artist,” he says. "He’s just so melodic and lyrical.”
Those two adjectives perfectly describe the music which came to define Freeman’s sound with The Rippingtons. Freeman had just released Nocturnal Playground when he envisioned Moonlighting as a one-time project for many of his L.A. studio buddies to play on. Jazziz Magazine would later declare this 1986 hit as the most influential jazz recording of all time. Twelve years later, the Peak Records release Black Diamond, their first via distribution through Windham Hill, debuted at #1 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart its first week—unseating Kenny G, who, pre-stardom, played sax on that first project.
Signing with GRP in 1989 (after Kilimanjaro was one of 1988’s biggest hits), The Rippingtons enjoyed a prolific run throughout the Nineties with their albums Tourist In Paradise (1989), Welcome to the St. James Club (1990), Curves Ahead (1991), Weekend in Monaco (1992), Sahara (1994) and Brave New World (1995). These latter two were the first releases on Freeman’s imprint label, Peak Records, which is now distributed via a joint venture with Concord Records and has a growing impressive roster of artists including Paul Taylor, Eric Marienthal, Phil Perry, Gato Barbieri and The Braxton Brothers, Regina Belle and Glenn Jones. The Rippingtons later released Topaz (1999) and Life in the Tropics (2000) on Peak. In addition to the Craig Chaquico collaboration, Freeman’s catalog also includes 1993’s The Benoit/Freeman Project (with pianist and "original Rippington” David Benoit). Freeman has been recognized on several occasions by the National Smooth Jazz Awards, winning a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 (along with Herb Alpert and Bob James), Producer honors in 2001 and Best Band for two consecutive years in 2000 and 2001. Freeman's latest solo album, Drive, was released in 2002 on Peak.