“Jeff’s using the AMT LSW..” – Jeff Kashiwa
Many smooth jazz fans were taken by surprise in early 1999, when Jeff Kashiwa left the Rippingtons after ten years to devote more time to develop his career as a solo artist, but in truth, the popular saxophonist has always had his eye on striking out on his own. Before joining the Ripps in 1989, he led various ensembles at clubs throughout Orange County, California, and he spent much of his down time from the Ripps’ hectic touring and recording schedule leading his own band, Coastal Access. His two previous solo albums, “Remember Catalina” (1995) and “Walk a Mile” (1997) were critically and commercially acclaimed and laid a perfect foundation for his Native Language debut, “Another Door Opens”, in many ways his first major entry into the smooth jazz marketplace.
Aside from the large base of Rippingtons’ fans who are incredibly supportive of Kashiwa’s new endeavors, the saxman also brought to the next phase of his career two very important legacies from his tenure with the band, the experience of touring with a very popular group and the creative partnership Kashiwa has forged with Rippingtons’ keyboardist Dave Kochanski. Kashiwa produced “Another Door Opens” with Kochanski, bassist Brian Bromberg and famed keyboardist Jeff Lorber. Kochanski wrote four of the songs, including the brassy, retro-funk flavored first single, “Hyde Park” (the “Ah, Ooh” song).
“The amazing years I had with the Rippingtons mean so much on so many different levels, from developing friends for a lifetime to learning countless things about composing, producing and arranging from Russ Freeman. I remember he used to tell me in the early days, ‘fill up your horn more, ‘ meaning, bring more energy to my playing, and I think my playing on “Another Door Opens” reflects this. And while I like many of the songs on my previous albums, the new tunes are stronger, more melodic and much tighter.”
Kashiwa and Kochanski developed a strong creative chemistry while both played with the Ripps. Kashiwa helped him get the gig initially. “Dave handed me a tape after a Ripps’ concert and I couldn’t believe how incredible it was, ” Kashiwa says. “When Mark Portmann left the band, I insisted that Russ give Dave an audition and then I insisted that he join. Dave is just so easy to work with and he brings a certain magic to the music. He has such a strong sense of rhythm and groove, as does Jeff Lorber, who happens to be one of our idols.”
The title song “Another Door Opens” works on many different levels for the Washington State native. As his wife Chaunte’ said following the death of Grover Washington Jr.: “The song has the spiritual connotation of the passage of a brilliant soul from this life to a better place.” Then, there are the doors that are opening to Kashiwa on the professional level; he produced his first two albums himself, but on this project he was able to take more time to work with great producers like Bromberg and Lorber and also invite his personal heroes, pianist Russell Ferrante and drummers Will Kennedy and Ricky Lawson to play. Complementing Kashiwa’s core band; Kochanski, guitarist Allen Hinds, bassist Melvin Davis and drummer Dave Hooper, and smooth jazz stars Mark Antoine (acoustic guitar), Steve Oliver (guitar), Tony Guerrero (trumpet) and former Ripps bandmate Steve Reid (percussion).
The title also encapsulates the entire experience of Kashiwa leaving the security of his longtime gig, which found him recording on nine of the Rippingtons’ albums and touring the world numerous times.
“It’s both exciting and scary not to have that to fall back on anymore, as I did when I put out my other two albums, ” he says. “It’s like leaving a job to start your own business. But I believe all the effort I put forth will eventually come back to me, and making that kind of connection with the fans is what I live for musically. The object of both this new phase of my career and life in general is to transcend those daily fears and follow what I believe is the right path.”
“Another Door Opens” kicks off with “Hyde Park (the ‘Ah, Oooh’ song), ” then jumps into a punchy retro soul jam called “Every Now and Then.” This collaboration by Kashiwa and Lorber features the keyboardist doing bubbly Fender Rhodes harmonies as Kashiwa jumps off the melody for a powerful improv section. Kashiwa introduces his romantic and reflective persona on the sultry tenor tune “Because of You” before switching to soprano for the seductive hip-hop of his own tune, “The Power of Midnight.” Kashiwa, Kochanski and Bromberg collaborated on the soulful mid-tempo ballad “Back to Love, ” which features the piccolo bass of Brian Bromberg.
Spacey synth textures and an ever-throbbing bass-percussion groove help drive the playful soprano melody of “Around the World, ” which leads into a gentle sax and piano intro to the title track on which Kashiwa wistfully contemplates the daring changes in his life and career. Kochanski contributed the edgy funk-led “It ‘s Up to You” (on which Kashiwa winds in and around his partner’s percussive keyboard textures), while Kashiwa’s tune “Dream Within a Dream” shows the saxman’s affinity for blues, dramatic percussion exclamation and his lesser known, but still amazing flute skills. This track also features a memorable performance by Marc Antoine. Elements of the blues flow throughout the final tune, “Best of Times, ” a folksy Allen Hinds’ composition featuring Kashiwa brilliantly capturing a harmonica vibe on EWI before roaring on sax.
Jeff Kashiwa started playing clarinet at age ten. He remembers, only two years later the impact of seeing the saxophone used in a jazz setting and knew at once that it was his instrument. “I switched to the sax at that point and it was like a magnet for me. I couldn’t wait to get into a situation where I could play it.”
He also remembers long nights as a teenager staying up till 3 a.m. transcribing Chuck Mangione and Spyro Gyra tunes, then forming a funk band in high school and playing cover tunes of everyone from The Crusaders to Earth, Wind & Fire. Studying jazz at Berklee College for two years was a mind blowing experience both creatively and culturally, moving from Seattle to Boston. The love for straight ahead he cultivated there is something he sneaks into pockets of his smooth jazz tunes on occasion, “just to keep listeners challenged.”
While at Berklee, Jeff auditioned for, and won, the second alto spot in Disney’s All American College Band and fell in love with Southern California after playing a summer at Disneyland. While working on his Bachelors of Music at Cal State Long Beach, he hit the road for a while with the ska/reggae/R&B outfit The Untouchables, which played MTV’s first Spring Break. Guitarist Richard Smith was a teacher at Long Beach at the time and hired Kashiwa to play with his band and record on his first three albums, the saxman’s first professional experience playing smooth jazz.
Kashiwa was paying major dues working for a grocery chain by day and playing weddings on the weekends when he met then-Rippingtons bassist Steve Bailey, whom he hired for a gig. Bailey introduced the saxman to Russ Freeman, and later when the group’s original sax player, Brandon Fields left, Kashiwa was hired for one gig in Racine, Wisconsin during the Tourist in Paradise tour. He played so well that Freeman hired him full-time.
Kashiwa’s renown in smooth jazz became secure the next ten years, playing hundreds of gigs all over the world while appearing on Ripps’ recordings such as “Welcome to the St. James Club, ” “Curves Ahead, ” “Weekend in Monaco, ” “Sahara, ” “Black Diamond, ” and “Live in L.A.” Kashiwa has also appeared on recordings by Mark Portmann, Steve Reid, Dan Siegel and John Tesh’s “Sax All Night, ” and Russ Freeman’s solo album “Holiday.”
Kashiwa can be heard on a number of soundtracks for movies and television, including the main theme for ABC’s All My Children. He has also donated numerous recordings to charitable causes and his commitment to education has made him a popular clinician at many public schools and universities nationwide. For the past six years Disney has hired him as an alumnus teacher for its College Band program.
“I cover the technical aspects of playing, but my primary focus is doing motivational clinics, discussing with students how to keep one’s heart and mind healthy during the arduous pursuit of a music career, ” he says. “Any great book can show you how to play an instrument. It is the emotional side of playing, expressing your creativity, that is a more challenging thing to communicate. I love reaching people both verbally and musically. I live for the moments when I’m on stage or in the studio perfectly in tune with my fellow musicians and sharing that creative energy. That’s the magic you gladly give up sleep for.”
This kind of care and dedication has made Jeff Kashiwa one of smooth jazz’s most popular performers over the last decade. He has enjoyed sharing the first part of his journey with an ever-expanding audience and invites those fans and new listeners to join him as Another Door Opens to his vibrant future as a solo artist.