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Guitarist Lee Ritenour, Running on 'Overtime'


Grammy Award-winning guitarist Lee Ritenour has made a career of collaborating with some of the world's most celebrated artists. Together with keyboardist Bob James, Ritenour founded the jazz supergroup Fourplay. He also produced tribute albums to Motown, Bob Marley and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Today, Ritenour's releasing a new solo project, a CD called "Overtime." Earlier, Ritenour told Ed Gordon about the work behind this new record.

Mr. LEE RITENOUR (Guitarist): The project was recorded last year in Los Angeles with a small audience around us. And I was able to do a project, and it was a fairly large undertaking that encompassed 17 guest musicians and the CD has 73 minutes worth of music. So it's chock-full of stuff all the way from the beginning of my musical solo career in the '70s all the way to the current.

(Soundbite of music)

ED GORDON, host:

You have some heavy-hitters with you on this project--Patrice Rushen, Harvey Mason, Ernie Watts, Eric Marienthal just to name a few, Dave Grusin. Were most of these folks friends?

Mr. RITENOUR: Absolutely. It's kind of our little music mafia. I go back with Dave Grusin from the days when I was 19, I think, I met Dave. Patrice Rushen, I knew her in Los Angeles since she was 14, I was 16. We went to USC together. So, yeah, there's a couple of newer faces. Chris Botti joins us. There's a couple of young singers for some new tunes. And so I get the old blood and the new blood on this project.

GORDON: The nickname Captain Fingers--talk to me about where you got that from.

Mr. RITENOUR: Like most professional schooled musicians, I was obsessive about the guitar ever since I was a little kid from eight years old on. I--in the younger years, I--especially, I guess, I had a lot of chops, you know. I guess people still think I do. But they're more restrained now. But some of the fans and friends started calling me Captain Fingers because of the speed, I guess, the chops. And it was such a funny nickname that I wrote a tune, and then it became the title of my second album in 1977. We used to play that song 25 years ago in this small club in Los Angeles called The Baked Potato; still there. Dave Grusin would be there, Patrice Rushen, Harvey Mason, Ernie Watts, Anthony Jackson, Abraham Laboriel, Tom Scott, Al Jarreau would come in and jam, and we played that tune, "Captain Fingers."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITENOUR: We fired it up after 25 years, and as Patrice said, you know, we brought a lot of different elements to the tune now after we had all these life experiences.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITENOUR: Growing up in Los Angeles, I was afforded a lot of opportunities. I was able to study with great teachers and I got to see other great musicians. My dad took me to all the clubs. And so I had all these dreams, and I started out as a studio player and got very successful very young. By the time I was 21, I was working a lot. And there was a point where I had sort of, you know, reached a lot of the dreams that I had had, you know. And so you sort of look around and you sort of wonder, `What's next?' you know. But there was a lot next. There was quite a journey to go through--still am.

GORDON: When you did the retrospective, did it give you pause to say to yourself--did you allow yourself to say, as you just did, that, `Hey, I did reach many of the dreams that, as a kid, I wanted to attain and achieve'? And was it fun? Was it cathartic? What was it?

Mr. RITENOUR: Yes, this project was a wonderful kind of look back and look forward, because I reconstructed and deconstructed and reconstructed a lot of the older material and wrote some new tunes, as well. And I was able to pick some of the choice material from the earliest days all the way through. And we divided it into four categories of performance: an acoustic jazz set with Dave Grusin, a Brazilian set with Ivan Lins, the fusion set with Patrice Rushen and Harvey and everyone--Anthony Jackson. We pulled out all the old guns and some of the old fusion stuff and then the more contemporary stuff. And it was a really refreshing place to just pause for a minute and look forward.

GORDON: What song on the retrospective did you know, first off, was not going to be left out?

Mr. RITENOUR: Well, the song "Blue in Green," the great Miles Davis-Bill Evans tune, we did a rendition with Dave Grusin and Ernie Watts and Harvey Mason and Dave Carpenter on acoustic bass. And that's really kind of a special ballad. And the CD allows you to kind of--like a record, it has the quality of a studio recording, yet has the audience there. So it has an interesting blend.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITENOUR: When I was a studio musician, it was a great period. I got to play with everybody from Pink Floyd to Dizzy Gillespie, and I learned a lot. But I was only a piece of the--a slice of the pizza, you know. When you're the leader and the producer and the composer and the arranger, you know, you're the whole pie.

GORDON: Is it fun for you to group and bring together the type of musicians and artists that you do for these projects?

Mr. RITENOUR: Absolutely. It's really mind-boggling, and it allows me a great experience of being the producer. But it's really about arranging and orchestration about the music. Who would be interesting and what kind of arranging and orchestration could I fit without this singer or this player on this song?

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. RITENOUR: I think after doing the "Overtime" CD, I'm really excited about composing more new music. So I'm kind of looking forward to doing the next solo Ritenour project.

GORDON: And when would that be expected?

Mr. RITENOUR: Well, I have a big year of touring. So the touring, we're out through the entire summer, all the way through September. And at that point, I'll come home with hopefully lots of chops and ideas and start composing, and maybe there'll be a new project out next spring.

GORDON: Now you beat me to the next question, and that was to talk a little bit about the tour. You are going to tour with some of the people who appear on the project with you, is that right?

Mr. RITENOUR: Absolutely. Patrice Rushen is on the entire tour, playing piano and keyboards. Abraham Laboriel is on part of the tour, the great bassist, Ernie Watts on sax and then Dave Grusin is joining us for a number of key dates in the States. And we're off to Japan and Korea and all over western Europe for about 24 shows. We're going to South Africa for the first time. I'm excited about that. And then we're jumping back and forth from the West Coast and the East Coast of the US.

GORDON: Lee Ritenour, we thank you for your time. We greatly appreciate it. A big fan of yours, and we appreciate your time.

Mr. RITENOUR: Thank you so much, Ed.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Papa was a rolling stone.

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Yeah...

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Wherever he laid his hat was his home.

GORDON: Lee Ritenour's new CD is called "Overtime." He's also starting a tour this summer, and look for a DVD with the music from "Overtime." It will be released on June 23rd. To hear more music from Lee Ritenour, go to our Web site at

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Baby...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Oh, oh, they never was alone.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Alone...

Unidentified Man: (Singing) Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa...

CHIDEYA: That's our program for today. To listen to the show, visit NEWS & NOTES was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Woman: (Singing) Papa was a jack of all trades. Is that what sent Papa to an early grave...

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is NEWS & NOTES. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ed Gordon
Hard hitting, intelligent, honest, and no-nonsense describe Ed Gordon's style and approach to reporting that have made the Emmy Award-winning broadcaster one of the most respected journalists in the business today. Known for his informative on-air interaction with newsmakers, from world leaders to celebrities, the name Ed Gordon has become synonymous with the "big" interview.
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