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Lee Mack Ritenour (born January 11, 1952) is an American jazz guitarist, session musician, and composer. Ritenour has contributed to over 3000 sessions, and has charted over 30 contemporary jazz hits since 1976.
Ritenour was born January 11, 1952 in Los Angeles. He has maintained a delicate balance between the individual creative vision and the group dynamic, since the beginning of his career. Lee played his first session when he was 16 with the Mamas & the Papas and given the moniker, "Captain Fingers", because of his manual dexterity on the guitar. Ritenour was a sought-after session guitarist by the mid-1970s, and won Guitar Player magazine's Best Studio Guitarist twice in the 1970s. He is noted for playing his red Gibson ES-335 and his Gibson L5 guitars. Since his early recordings in the 1970s, Lee has held numerous #1 spots on guitar polls, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian SJ Awards, and a prestigious "Alumnus of the Year" Award from the University of Southern California. He has recorded more than 40 albums that have yielded 35 chart songs. As a young guitarist, he put his combination of diverse musical styles and brilliant technical chops to work on more than 3,000 sessions with a broad spectrum of artists, and was a founding member of Fourplay, which is considered the most successful group in contemporary jazz. His prolific career includes a Grammy Award for the collaborative work Harlequin (1985), and 19 Grammy nominations. Ritenour also holds the distinction of having two of the promotional videos for his songs "Is It You" and "Mr. Briefcase" being played during MTV's first day. Ritenour has been at the top of many guitar polls throughout the world.
As a teenager, Lee studied with the legendary Joe Pass. Among others like Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell and John McLaughlin, one of his most notable influences is the pioneering jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, who is the namesake of his son and album entitled "Wes Bound." Throughout his career, Ritenour has experimented with different styles of music. A true fusionist, he has often incorporated elements of funk, pop, rock, blues, Brazilian and most recently with Amparo (2008), classical music with jazz. In the early 1980s, Ritenour was given his own Ibanez signature model guitar, the LR-10. The LR-10 was produced from 1981 to 1987. It can be heard exclusively on his album Rit. Currently, Ritenour plays the Gibsons that he first played in the 1970s (the ES-335 and L5), and now also plays his signature Lee Ritenour Model archtop guitar made by Gibson.
Lee celebrated five decades as a guitarist in 2010 with the release of 6 String Theory, which features Vince Gill, Slash, B.B. King, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, John Scofield, Mike Stern and George Benson. The album also introduced Andy McKee, Joe Robinson and Guthrie Govan. The record was in conjunction with his first multi-national 6 String Theory Competition, sponsored by Yamaha, Berklee College of Music, Montreux Jazz Festival, Blue Note Tokyo, Crown of the Continents Guitar Foundation Workshop and Festival, Monster, Premier Guitar, Jazz Monthly, Music Connection, Concord Records and D'Addario. The mission is to support aspiring musicians across all genres towards a professional music career through scholarships, recording, performing, mentoring and prizes. The winner, a classical guitarist, Shon Boblil from Montreal, received a full 4-year scholarship to Berklee College of Music and graduated in 2014. Because of the mutual interest in supporting the development of the next generation of guitar artists, Crown of the Continents Guitar Foundation hosted the finals of the SST competition in Montana, August 2011 and the final and semi-finals in 2012 with all participants receiving scholarships for the COCGF workshop.
The Six String Theory competition, which is now a non profit Organization, continues to grow. In 2012, Lee expanded the competition for Piano, Bass and Drums musicians to complete a full rhythm section. The Grand Prize winners were honored to appear with Lee on his Rhythm Sessions album, which also features luminaries such as Chick Corea, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Dave Grusin, Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Marcus Miller and many others. The 4 winners also performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival as the opening concert for Lee's show on July 8, 2014. Additional prizes awarded include: four Berklee College of Music scholarships, Yamaha instruments and endorsements, as well as Crown of the Continent Guitar Foundation Workshop & Festival, Scholarships and more. The winner of the guitar competition, Tony Pusztai of Hungary, will also record a track on Lee's upcoming album, Twist Of Rit to be released 2015 by Concord Records.
Over the past 5 years, finalists have been from, Brazil, Canada, France, Hungary, Israel, Japan, Macedonia, Northern Ireland, South Africa, Sweden, The Netherlands, Turkey and the United States, The next competition will take place in 2016. Lee has also served several times as the President of the selection committee for the Montreux Jazz Festival International Guitar Competition and most recently was the Musical Director and primary mentor for the Montreux Jazz Festival Academy workshop and gala last November (2014). Lee was also president of Yamaha's Asian Beats 2014 contest which included competing bands from 10 South East Asian groups.
Also, in conjunction with Lee's Six String Theory competition, the Crown of The Continents Guitar Foundation has also established a Wes Montgomery - Lee Ritenour scholarship, to be awarded this year. The winner will be awarded the chance to participate in the week-long Workshop and Festival August 30 - September 6, 2015. The scholarship is valued at $10,000 and includes workshop tuition, a private lesson with Lee Ritenour and other Artists in Residence, participation with Lee Ritenour in his festival performance, nightly festival attendance, travel and all-inclusive accommodations at the Flathead Lake Lodge.
"When I first started this competition it was my hope it would grow to become a valuable entity that would have the support of so many established musicians in mentoring aspiring ones. In five short years we have reached incredible goals and I couldn't be more thrilled and grateful to have so many artists be part of this extraordinary musical process and journey." - Lee Ritenour
Ritenour's solo career began in 1975 with the recording of his album First Course. Released in 1976, the album gave a strong representation of the mid-1970s L.A. Jazz/Funk sound. Critics did, however, complain that his first album was "lightweight." So Lee countered this with his strongly crossover-based follow up, Captain Fingers. This was followed by two more crossover efforts--The Captain's Journey (1978) and Feel The Night (1979). On these albums, Ritenour primarily used something of a rich, yet rock-oriented distorted guitar sound, coming from his Gibson ES-335 guitar. In other instances on these albums, clean sounds were heard coming from his Gibson L5 and classical acoustic guitars (he played his classical acoustic guitars almost exclusively on his album Rio in 1979). In the 1970s, Ritenour would often use effects like wah-wah, phasers, chorus, and flangers on his electric instruments. Also, during the late 1970s, Ritenour can be heard using the 360 Systems guitar synthesizer (he is pictured sitting in front of it on the back cover of his Captain Fingers album). He can be heard using the synthesizer on the track Captain Fingers (from the album with the same title), and can also be heard playing solo with the synthesizer on the song "What Do You Want?" from The Captain's Journey.
In 1979, Ritenour "was brought in to beef up one of Pink Floyd's The Wall's heaviest rock numbers, "Run Like Hell"." He also played "uncredited rhythm guitar" on "One of My Turns".
As the 1980s began, Ritenour began to add stronger elements of pop to his music, beginning with Rit in 1981. For this, he kept with his distorted sound, now using his Ibanez LR-10 signature model guitar. One of tracks from "Rit", entitled, "Is It You" featuring vocals from Eric Tagg became a hit reaching number fifteen on the pop chart and number twenty-seven on the soul chart. He continued with the pop-oriented music for two albums after Rit (Rit/2 in 1982 and Banded Together in 1984), while releasing a slick, yet more crossover-styled, Direct-Disk instrumental album in 1983 called On The Line. He also provided rhythm guitar on Tom Browne's hit, Funkin' for Jamaica.
In 1985, he recorded his first album for GRP with Dave Grusin, entitled Harlequin. It featured Lee primarily on his classical acoustic guitar and also featured Brazilian singer/songwriter Ivan Lins. Up to this point, this album along with Rio arguably gave the strongest representation of Lee's Brazilian influences.
The following year, 1986, Ritenour released the album Earth Run, which featured him using the then-newly designed SynthAxe guitar. He used nine different guitars on the album, most notably the SynthAxe, his Valley Arts guitar, and his Gibson Chet Atkins acoustic. The album also featured long-time collaborator Phil Perry for the first time, on the track "If I'm Dreaming, Don't Wake Me" - a song also featuring David Foster and Maurice White. He also produced songs and played guitar on Deniece Williams's LP Hot on the Trail during that same year.
Ritenour continued in a direction strongly featuring other artists in 1987, with Portrait. The album itself has something of a strong smooth-jazz sound, and Ritenour can be heard here playing with The Yellowjackets, Djavan, and Kenny G.
In 1988, his smooth jazz-influenced Brazilian music came to the forefront with Festival - another album strongly featuring his work on nylon-string acoustic guitars. The following album, Color Rit, continued with a similar mood. He did however, change direction completely again with his straight-ahead jazz album Stolen Moments. Sounding similar to Wes Montgomery, Ritenour played alongside long-time collaborator, saxophonist Ernie Watts, pianist Alan Broadbent, bassist John Patitucci (playing only acoustic) and drummer Harvey Mason. Continuing in a Wes Montgomery mood, Ritenour paid tribute to the man himself in 1992, with his album Wes Bound. The album featured a number of covers of Montgomery compositions, as well as some seemingly tributary pieces from Ritenour himself.
Also seen in this decade was a 1994 collaboration album with guitarist Larry Carlton called Larry & Lee.
In 1991 Lee Ritenour, together with keyboard player Bob James, formed the Grammy-nominated contemporary jazz group Fourplay. Lee left the hugely successful group in 1998 to continue with his own solo works. He was replaced by Larry Carlton.
2002 saw the release of his album, Rit's House.
In February 2004, Ritenour completed a project looking back on his career involving musicians he has worked with throughout his career called Overtime. Overtime was recorded live in a studio in front of a small audience. It was released in early 2005, and is currently available as a singular audio CD, double-DVD set or singular HD DVD. Some of the musicians featured include Dave Grusin, Patrice Rushen, Ivan Lins, Dave Carpenter, Eric Marienthal, Harvey Mason, Alex Acuna, Kenya Hathaway, Taylor Dayne, Steve Forman, Nathan East, Chris Botti, Anthony Jackson, Melvin Lee Davis, and Ernie Watts, amongst many others.
His album entitled Smoke n' Mirrors was released in late August 2006. His son Wesley makes his debut appearance as a drummer on the album at the age of 13. This album contains Ritenour's version of Bill Withers' 1978 hit "Lovely Day".
Ritenour joined the 10th and 11th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers. He was also a judge for the 8th and 9th Independent Music Awards.
In June 2010, in order to celebrate his fifty years as a guitarist, Lee Ritenour released the album 6 String Theory (in reference to 6 musical areas covered by the use of guitar). The album featured famous guitarists such as Vince Gil, Steve Lukather, Neal Schon, John Scofield, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Cray, Slash, Pat Martino, Mike Stern, George Benson and B.B.King, but also younger players such as Andy McKee, Joe Robinson and Guthrie Govan. Ritenour, YamahaCorporation, The Berklee College of Music, Concord Records, Monster Cable, and D'Addario Strings collaborated to create the 2010 Yamaha 6 String Theory Guitar Competition. The winner of that international competition, that included guitarists from over 45 countries, was 16-year-old Canadian classical guitarist Shon Boublil. The competition in 2011 is continuing.
In 2012 Lee released Rhythm Sessions, which also features luminaries such as Chick Corea, George Duke, Stanley Clarke, Dave Grusin, Dave Weckl, Vinnie Colaiuta, Nathan East, Patrice Rushen, Marcus Miller and many others. The album also features the winners of the 2012 6 String Theory rhythm section competition on the Dave Grusin track, Punta Del Sol.
Lee Ritenour's latest release, A Twist of Rit, 2015 Concord Records is coming this summer! Featuring 3 tracks recorded at Sunset Sound Recording Studio with Makoto Ozone, Tom Kennedy and Dave Weckl. Twist of Rit also includes a star-studded rhythm & horn section performing a number of new compositions combined with fresh, "twisted" versions of some of his earliest funky, fusion material from the 70s and early 80s. Combining some of the hottest rhythm players out there, including Ron Bruner Jr., Chris Coleman, Dave Weckl, Melvin Lee Davis, Paulinho Da Costa, Michael Thompson, Wah Wah Watson, David T. Walker, John Beasley, Patrice Rushen, and Dave Grusin with a five piece Horn Section and Ernie Watts on tenor sax, A Twist of Rit will make for one of his most special releases to date.
It features Lee's soaring guitar lines with 12 of his compositions ranging from the funky fusion and sophisticated jazz that Lee has become so well known for. All of the sessions were captured by his longtime Grammy Award-winning engineer, Don Murray and the tracks were recorded at United Recording Studios, with everyone performing together, old-school, but with the state-of-the-art recording techniques of 2015. Also included in this record, will be the debut of guitarist, Tony Pusztai, from Hungary, who was the grand prize winner in Lee Ritenour's 2014 "Six String Theory Competition" He was selected from over 500 entries and 72 participating countries.
Along with Twist project in the summer, Concord records will also be releasing a "5 record boxed Vinyl set" of some of Lee's classic records, including Wes Bound, Festival, Color Rit, Portrait, and Earth Run! Lee will be touring and promoting these projects throughout 2015 and 2016.
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