Freddie Ravel - "Sol to Soul"
Recently we saw Freddie Ravel as the musical director of Al Jarreau´s Band - at the same time when his own single "Sunny Side Up" became No. 1 in the US-Jazz-Radio-Charts. Before that he had been a member of "Earth, Wind and Fire", worked with Madonna and countless other big names in the business. That´s a lot for one man, who besides being a stylistical allround-talent, equally convinces as arranger, keyboarder, piano-player, composer and lyric-writer in one person.
All this does not make him a guy from "outer space" - although Ravel, who now also tries to a breakthrough in the European jazz-scene with his latest album "Freddie Ravel", is indeed a person with charisma - combining his positive energy with naturalness. His music can be described as a mixture of Latin-Jazz and Samba with slight amounts of Techno and soft Fusion-elements. - Carina Prange had the opportunity to talk with him in Berlin - one of only two interviews he gave in Germany during the tour with Al Jarreau. Doubtlessly there´ll be more to hear about him in the future ...
Carina: You are the number one in the US-Jazz-Radio-Charts at the moment, aren´t you?
Freddie: I´m still a little bit "in shock" - like: "It can´t be true!", it is the first time that this happened to me. It has never happened before! - I was in Tunisia - two weeks ago -, performing at a festival there at Tabarka. I came back from soundcheck - remember, they only speak Arabic and French over there! - and the lady runs out of the reception, says in Arabic: "Wallawallawalla ... fax!", hands me the fax, I open it up and I get the news that the record has gone to No. 1! And I stood in the lobby for maybe fifteen seconds, frozen - I couldn´t move - I was "Ahhhhh ...!". And then I grabbed a couple of friends, that I had met that day and I said: "Thank you, God, for this!" And then I cried for about ten seconds.
I still can´t believe it, it is so amazing! There are so many magnificent musicians in the world and they try to get a piece of that. So for me it is just - I am just very grateful: for the record company and the promotion - the people in your world, that help us, the artists to reach more people. - It means, that we´re reaching a maximum level of listeners right now. That is what it really means. And that is not about fame - fame is a silly thing, that is not important and it never is.
What is important for me - and I think for most artists - is that we feel we have something to share. And we have an opportunity to share and we are able to touch peoples lives a little bit: even in a tiny way, that makes them feel better, that makes them smile.
Carina: What about the discussion for and against smooth jazz in the US-radio - would you agree your music is "Smooth-Jazz"?
Freddie: There are some elements, that definitely have that title. But I do not like the term - let´s start like that: Smooth-Jazz is an important movement for me and for artists, who do what I do. So I am very grateful for the movement and the radio-programmers, that are working on this. There is a big leader here in Germany Michael Wendraf, who is doing good work. - But if I could retitle it: there used to be an old name for Smooth Jazz - that used to be "The Quiet Storm".
And if you think about "Quiet Storm" - for me it describes a mood that I think is a little deeper! - In a way, Jazz by definition shouldn´t be called "smooth" - because Jazz is improvisatory, spontaneous. And the very fact, that something is spontaneous - thus it shouldn´t be smooth or hard, or - ... it should be what it is at the moment!
So I don´t think the term is the best term, but I am very happy that a term exists, because it "creates the avenue" for listeners to reach that kind of music that my fellow-artists are doing.
Carina: What should music do to people in general - be a kind of help in normal life or something to feed dreams?
Freddie: This is going to be a very subjective answer - there is over six billion people on the planet, and therefore over six billion realities. You know: "I am not you, your are not me!" - so we all have our own perception. I would hope that when someone hears music that I create, that it does cause these kinds of things. It would be great if it causes dreams, inspiration, made them feel better.
But it would be O.K., too, if it causes them to be: react and be educated. Because if you go to a museum and you walk into an art gallery, you might see something that makes you feel beautiful: Monet, Degas - it moves you! And then you might see Andy Warhol and you might ask yourself: "What is he doing with that Campbell´s soup can? What is that?" - It causes you to think! And art should do that. I think it is O.K. to do things that are a blend - I think you got to take chances! I think, with this record we took a lot of chances. Also with "Sol to Soul" - with both records. These records are not "Smooth Jazz" throughout, but they have elements of it.
In the United States there is a huge smooth jazz movement. There are 43 mayor reporting stations. And right at this moment all of them are playing this song "Sunny Side up". It is a great thing that it exists, but I think, Europe will take this genre and do it´s own thing with it. Europeans will put their own stamp on it, because I find, that when I come to Europe, there is a greater cultural awareness of the world.
And that does not mean "better" or "less" - it only means an "awareness". I think, it is because Europe is just older and has so much history. Europeans grew up in an environment where they are speaking at least three or four languages. That makes people very aware of different influences. Whereas in America it is not necessary to speak anything beyond English.
I grew up in a house that spoke Spanish, so I end up speaking both languages - but most Americans only speak English! - So I think there is a greater awareness here and I think, Europe will take smooth jazz - use it and it will be a great thing for Europe. But I think Europe will treat it in it´s own artistic way - it may elevate it, I think.
Carina: Your music combines Latin-jazz, Latin-music, Pop and sometimes Soul. What about your personal roots - you told me much about that - where do they lie and how much influence do they have on you music?
Freddie: Wow. You got some great questions, Carina! Again, there are several parts to your questions - give me part one again!
Carina: Where are your personal roots?
Freddie: My personal roots are: my mother! My mum has a lot to do with the groove - because she is a great natural dancer. She is "the one at the party", till two o´clock in the morning, dancing - her energy is incredible. And my mother is probably about sixty-five right now - and you can´t stop her, she has tons of energy and: she has been a big inspiration about the groove. She loves old melodies - like the "Buena Vista Social Club" kind of sound, that old country sound - she loves that! And that is of course Cuban, but there is Colombian and Argentinean and Brazilian things - many versions of that. So my house was filled with that stuff.
My father - his music is much more "classical": he loves classical music, he is a chess player. He was a doctor - is a retired doctor now. So his life has been more "metaphysical". My parents are very different from each other. They are really two different worlds that came together - and they both are very independent. - So dad´s spirit is much more "cosmic", he embraces spirituality, world-religion. - My mother came up catholic, raised by nuns in Bogota, Columbia. - So: very different people.
And they met in Los Angeles so I grew up really bicultural in many ways. My leadings are a little spiritual and metaphysical, because I was brought up in an environment like that. But I love the sound of the village and I love the sound of the roots of things. So I am always in music reaching from the spirit down to the roots. - That last record, that I did for Bernd Skibbe (Skip-Records) is about that: From the sun - sol - to soul - Soul - "Sol to Soul" - and it is really a reflection from me reaching from a spirit to the roots. But it also means "Latin to R&B" - it has a double meaning!
This new album, we simply called "Freddie Ravel", because this is my first truly international deal. Of course the record is out here in Europe, it is out in the United States - I understand that it is going to be released in Australia very soon - I was just in Portugal, they gonna release it there. So we really are getting an international response: they decided let´s this call "Freddie Ravel" - trying to keep it simple.
Carina: You are the musical director, the pianoplayer and keyboarder of Al Jarreau - how does that feel, always to stand in the second line behind the star?
Freddie: You know what! It is funny - I don´t view it a second line! Because that question suggests that he is "here" and I am "here". But that is not what it is. My relationship with Al didn´t start from first and second. That is really important - he called me to write a song with him, to collaborate! He didn´t call me to play piano in his band. So the first thing we did was write "Tomorrow Today", and after that he asked me to do a benefit gig for him. We did it, we had a great time - he said: "Freddie, I am leaving for Europe in three months. You want to put a band together for me?" - I said: "Great, let´s go!"
Freddie Ravel -"Freddie Ravel"
That´s how our relationship started! As time wore on - because we put the band together, because we have written music - I ended up becoming musical director of the project. And the reason I do it is because there is so much to learn! It is great to learn from Al, it is great to work with a great, true musical genius - that´s what I think he is, and I believe most people´d agree with that! So right now it is just opportunity and it is growing - that´s all I see it as. I don´t see it as "first" or "second" - I look at it more as a musical brotherhood.
On the other hand I am ready to go! I can´t wait to bring my band to Germany, I can´t wait to do a concert here in Berlin and play for the people here. I´ve got a killer-band back home, we´ve done a lot of shows back in the United States. We have been playing in different parts of America already. We have horns and percussion - it is a really different sound than Al Jarreau! It centers around piano of course, and there are vocals - and I sing in Spanish - there are many different things going on. So I really look forward to doing that.
And yet - at the same time - I am enjoying the Al Jarreau-Tour! I have had a carreer that has been musical director for many things: I worked with "Earth, Wind and Fire" for five years and I was in the same position. And again, it started from writing. Maurice White called me, the first thing he asked me to do was not to be musical director, he asked me to write with him - and we wrote a song that is on a record called "Millennium" a Warner Brothers record. That came out in 1994 or 95 and the name of the song is "Honor the Magic". It starts off with my voice speaking in Spanish, and then Philip Bailey, Maurice White come in and do all their magical stuff.
Freddie Ravel - "Sol to Soul"
My relationship with Madonna began this way: She heard my "Sol to Soul" -record - "Quédaté Comingo", the salsa-song. She was in the middle of doing "Evita" at the time - and she called me to play piano on "Don´t cry for me Argentina". So did that - and then she called me back to do "Buenos Aires"; and then she called me to do a video with her.
So the relationships all started from usually writing or playing - not from: "We are hiring you to play second or play piano!" It usually comes from composing. The only exception would be Sergio Mendez - which was my first gig, out of college - and I worked with him for five years. And in that position I was - because Sergio is a piano-player. So my background was all the keyboards and orchestra, strings, pads - that kind of thing.
Carina: Which instrument do you enjoy most for yourself - the piano or the keyboard?
Freddie: The piano, absolutely! The piano is the greatest thing in the world. Especially a big nine foot Boesendorfer or Steinway. - The best! - I´m hoping one of these days to get one of those pianos ... - Hopefully we´ll have one of them in my living-room! - Ahhhh ...! God, it´s one of my dreams!
Freddie Ravel im Internet: www.freddieravel.com
Fotos: Freddie Ravel