TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.”

This month, we honor:

Jeff Ryan — A Powerful Infusion For the Smooth Jazz Groove

“Music is intensely emotional, a personal expression unique to us all. It can guide, heal and reveal in so many ways. I am truly grateful to share my expression and love of music,” says new C-jazz saxman Jeff Ryan.

Jeff Ryan is the first artist we’ve featured who’s released only one album to date (Embrace). It’s power, grip, and appeal are so impactful that we chose to immediately train the spotlight on him.

The title of Ryan’s soulful, energetic debut single “Up and Up” on Woodward Avenue Records perfectly captures his powerful grasp on the genre’s most identifiable intangible: The Groove.

As I wrote in my review of Embrace (here in our Smooth Jazz CD Reviews section), the album is “Packed with tight, clear sax runs, catchy irresistible melodies and hooks, funky up-tempo grooves and sexy, romantic serenades.” This album has it all and everything to pave the way to the top of the charts. Reminding me of the authority with which sax giants Richard Elliot, Euge Groove, and other biggies in the biz presented their own debut releases, Ryan follows suit in this expressive chatty sax set.

After years of playing in a variety of regional soul, funk and even big band ensembles, the San Francisco Bay Area-based saxman has captivated thousands with his robust, heartfelt vibe at numerous prominent Northern California jazz festivals – including a four-year run at the Stockton Jazz Festival, where he has opened and performed along with urban jazz greats Marion Meadows, Eric Darius, Paul Taylor, Nick Colionne, and Julian Vaughn. Fans in Southern California have seen him jam with guitarist Nils at Spaghettini. Now, with the release of this powerful debut album, Ryan is well-positioned to join their ranks as one of contemporary jazz’s top emerging artists of 2018.

Though he captures one immediately with his powerful funk/R&B artistry and hard grooving tracks like “Matter of Fact,” the multi-talented artist shows equal prowess with the more sensual, romantic side on passionate mid-tempo ballads like the embracing title track. “I approached each piece differently, to showcase all the contrasting facets of influence that have developed me as a player,” he says. “I focused on having this initial album represent as many aspects of my artistry as possible. I hope to convey to the listener a genuine passion in each note that I share. For me, music is intensely emotional, a personal expression unique to us all. It can guide, heal and reveal in so many ways.”

For Ryan, the simple yet high impact title track works on many different levels – not the least of which is at last embracing a destiny that seemed inevitable from the moment he heard Richard Elliot’s radio hit “Candlelight” at age ten when he began playing the sax himself. “I love the word ‘embrace,’ and it is undoubtedly a power ballad,” he says. “It has such a positive driving feel and is intensely emotional. On top of that, there are so many great connotations associated with the idea of an embrace. I want there to be a mutual embrace between the audience and myself, a musical career is not possible without pure relatability. These songs are the full embodiment of what I have hoped to achieve with this project. Every step to this point has opened my eyes to what it truly means to be an artist. It is really about me embracing the music and sharing it with others.”

I said it once, and I’ll say it again: This is the album all smooth jazzers seek from newcomers, I’m sure. It’s full of everything that makes you appreciate the genre so much more when such feeling, soul, and creative spirit are poured into its making. This cat and his material are rich, full of solid promise, simply just that good.

As he says, “Throughout my years as a performer, I have learned one of my strengths is being able to relate to people. Every time I am on stage, my goal is to inject emotion and passion into my playing as if I am communicating to each person individually,” Ryan says. “If anything will keep me going strong and moving forward in this genre, it is the fact my sound is relatable to people, especially those who love this genre of music. I love connecting with the audience, keeping things spontaneous and seeing the way everyone responds. When I am up there baring my soul and speaking to the crowd through music, I embrace those moments. The expression is always worth it.”

Stay tuned. This party is only just beginning. — Ronald Jackson