Fans that have followed Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons for any stretch of time over the past quarter century know the versatile award winning and Grammy nominated guitarist/composer, and producer has long had a penchant for naming songs and albums after exotic places (Aruba, Kenya, Morocco, Weekend in Monaco, Sahara, etc).

In recent years, Freeman has noticed that The Rippingtons’ fan base has increased exponentially, as the group’s longtime admirers transfer their passion for the music to their children. Several Rippingtons albums have been inspired by Freeman’s travels, and collectively, they have formed the life soundtrack for hundreds of thousands of contemporary jazz fans worldwide for a quarter century.

The titles of each hit Ripps album has often reflected Freeman’s deep wanderlust, whether he had actually been to the places he wrote about or was just dreaming of them in musical terms. These include Kilimanjaro, Tourist in Paradise, Welcome to the St. James Club, Weekend In Monaco, Live in L.A., Sahara, Brave New World and Live Across America. In 2006, the band celebrated two decades of instrumental magic with The Rippingtons 20th Anniversary, a remarkable CD/DVD package that included a CD of all new Ripps music and a DVD featuring a colorful retrospective as well as exciting videos from over the years.

On their latest Peak Records album, Russ Freeman and The Rippingtons take their lucky fans on a trip of a lifetime to Cote D’Azur. Traveling with them is their trademark jazz cat, by artist Bill Mayer, who again graces the CD cover art. Next time out, who knows? Freeman’s musical passport still has a lot of open space to be stamped, and the journey continues!

RUSS FREEMAN

Russ Freeman is the founder and leader of the popular contemporary jazz group, The Rippingtons.

Raised in Nashville, Freeman began playing guitar at age 10, and was lured into the world of studio sessions via a friend of his father’s, studio guitarist John Pell. By the time he was 16, Russ was playing on record dates regularly. After moving to L.A. in 1978, Russ studied at Cal Arts and U.C.L.A. In 1985 he combined his abilities with guitar, studiocraft and songwriting on his debut album “Nocturnal Playground”. The next year he founded the Rippingtons, and produced the much-acclaimed “Moonlighting” CD.

Since then Russ has maintained a busy schedule of writing, touring, and producing. In 1996 Russ started Peak Records with partner Andi Howard. The label has grown to include such artists as Lee Ritenour, Paul Taylor, Eric Marienthal, Gerald Albright, Latoya London, David Benoit, and Regina Belle.

The Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards have honored Russ with a Lifetime Achievement Award, as well as Producer Of the Year 2001. The Rippingtons were chosen Best Group 2000 by Billboard BET, and Best Group 2 years in a row, 2001 and 2002 by the Oasis Awards, in addition to Achievement in Video 2001. Russ was also the recipient of a Most Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1996 from the University School of Nashville, Tennessee.

BILL HELLER

From Long Island, New York, Bill grew up in a very musical household. His Dad was a conductor (NYC Subway), and his Mom orchestrated all the activities around the house! From an early age, he and his two brothers were surrounded by family get-togethers filled with music. It wasn’t long before he got into the act, playing accordion! Along with his brothers he would play in many different situations throughout high school and college and continues to do so.

Bill attended Fredonia State University, and received a degree in Music Education. He paid his dues in the Long Island club scene, as well as on cruise ships. Bill met Russ Freeman while recording the Brian Moore Custom Guitars Artist Collection” CD. Russ asked Bill if he would play on a few tracks that he was producing for his and Craig Chaquico’s “Redwoods to the Rockies.” His first Rippingtons recording was “Topaz” back in 1998, and he has been performing live with the band since March of 2001.

Married to his sweetheart from college, Dawn, together they have two children Angelea, and Jonathan. Dawn was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2000, and has recently passed her five-year cancer free anniversary! During her illness Bill co-wrote and produced a CD dedicated to her called “Strong Woman” from which they donated a good portion of the proceeds to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund. They currently raising money for the American Cancer Society. You may purchase “Strong Woman” after a Ripps show!

Bill has also been playing live with Mary Wilson and the Supremes. Mary was appointed by the U.S. State Department as a Culture Connect Ambassador. Culture Connect Ambassadors travel overseas, interacting with youth by running clinics, performing in concerts, motivating through speeches, teaching master classes, and more. Bill traveled with Mary as her accompanist to Bangladesh, Oman, Pakistan and Africa!

Bill has also been keeping busy subbing for the synthesizer player on Billy Joel’s Broadway hit, “Movin Out”.

In the studio Bill has been working on producing a CD for jazz guitarist Steve Briody that features performances by Eric Marienthal, Jeff Lorber, and Greg Adams.

DAVE KARASONY

A Southern California native, Dave Karasony grew up in the San Fernando Valley with his parents and three older sisters. Music was a constant in Dave’s family. His father, Richard, played drums most of his life and had Dave behind a set of drums at two years of age.

It didn’t take long for Dave to develop a love for music. His sisters were always giving him records to jam to, from the Beatles to Grand Funk Railroad, and Led Zeppelin, just to name a few. His father’s influence was strictly Jazz. Drummers like Tony Williams, Jimmy Cobb, and others were always on the turntable. By the time Dave was in high school he was already working around town doing weddings and top 40 gigs.

In his senior year he placed first in the Percussive Arts Society drum set competition at California State University Northridge. As fate would have it, Dave met Russ in the early 80’s through a series of jams put together by a mutual friend. They are still jamming today, only on a much larger stage!

Dave has toured all over the world and attributes his versatility as the key to being a successful musician.

Artists Dave has toured and or recorded with, Al Kooper, Gary Wright, Al Stewart, Pat Benatar, Jody Watley, Andy Summers, Lee Oskar, Art Garfunkel, L Subramaniam, Bill Henderson, Rick Braun, Jeff Golub, Warren Hill, Mark Antoine, Chris Standring, Dave Koz, Dave Benoit, Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, Peter White, Jeff Richman, Brian Bromberg, Brandon Fields, and Stuart Ham.

Dave lives in the Los Angeles area with his wife Yvonne and their two cats.

JEFF KASHIWA

A native of Seattle who also currently makes his home in the U.S.’s “Emerald City,” Jeff Kashiwa became one of the most dynamic live saxophonists in contemporary jazz during his amazing decade long tenure with The Rippingtons. Performing hundreds of Ripps gigs all over the world, he appeared on many of the band’s classic recordings, including Welcome to the St. James Club, Curves Ahead, Weekend in Monaco, Sahara and Black Diamond, as well as Live in L.A.

While the group’s busy recording and touring schedule dominated his professional life, Kashiwa took some of his down time to lay the foundation for his eventually thriving solo career. Forming Coastal Access while living in Orange County, California, he released his first two solo recordings, Remember Catalina (1995) and Walkamile (1997). Signing to Native Language Music a year after leaving the Ripps in 2000, Kashiwa was an immediate smash on the smooth jazz charts, scoring a #1 hit for over eight weeks on the Radio & Records chart with “Hyde Park ‘(The Ah, Oooh Song)’” from his label debut Another Door Opens. He later released the acoustic-oriented Simple Truth in 2002 and Peace Of Mind in 2004.

“While I’ve always been inspired by great melodic saxophonists like Stan Getz, I watch ‘The Actor’s Studio’ regularly on Bravo and am also fascinated by the way famous movie actors talk about their craft,” he says. “No matter how successful they are and how happy they should be with their previous success, they’re always more focused on what’s next. It’s the same with me, and I’m always looking forward to what’s on the horizon. That means getting in touch with who I am as a musician, feeling comfortable in the studio and knowing that it’s time to Play!”

RICO BELLED

Rico is the newest addition to the Rippingtons. He was born in Holland in 1970, and moved to the US in 1992. As a child, he started on piano, and switched to bass in 1987. Rico has played with many people, composed for film and TV, and appeared in a Dockers Superbowl commercial playing timbales. He loves cheese, and his favorite cuisines are Japanese and Italian. Rico’s a groovy guy!