“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.”
The title of Jeff Ryan’s soulful, high energy breakthrough debut single “Up and Up” on Woodward Avenue Records perfectly captures his dynamic career trajectory these past few years.
After years of playing in a variety of regional soul, funk and even big band ensembles, the San Francisco Bay Area based saxophone sensation 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 “Up and Up” and his multi-faceted debut album Embrace, Ryan is in prime position to join their ranks as one of contemporary jazz’s top emerging artists of 2018.
Though he is engaging us right out of the box with his powerful funk/R&B artistry, and the ten track collection will include other hard grooving tracks like “Matter of Fact,” the multi-talented artist is equally excited about presenting his more sensual, romantic side on passionate mid-tempo ballads like the soaring 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 Embrace 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.”
Aside from infectious melodies, killer grooves and true emotional honesty in his expression, another key to the sonic and emotional impact of Embrace is Ryan’s powerful musical chemistry with his co-writer and producer, keyboardist Greg Manning. Manning, longtime keyboardist and musical director for Jonathan Butler who has scored three Top Ten hits as a solo artist, met Ryan when the two played at Sax on the River in Sacramento. Manning was blown away by the sax man’s performance and got together with him later to see how they would connect creatively in the studio. “Greg liked my sound and offered to help any way he could,” says Ryan. “We were in sync from the start, and the first track we wrote was ‘Up and Up.’ I had worked with other producers before, but felt Greg really understood what I was going for.” In addition to Manning on keyboards, Embrace includes contributions from renowned genre musicians, guitarists Adam Hawley and Darrell Crooks and drummer Eric Valentine.
Born in Walnut Creek, CA and raised there and in Asheville, NC (with one teenage year spent in Atlanta), Ryan was “born around so much music that it is begging you to play.” His dad is a classical concert pianist, his mom played tracker organ and viola and his grandfather was a music teacher. He started playing piano at age six and took violin lessons upon the urging of his grandfather, but he knew he had found his true musical home when he started on the sax at age ten. “Performing-wise I did not relate to the sound of the piano, and upon finding the sax it immediately clicked. The saxophone allows me to exactly express how I feel musically,” he says.
Ryan was in jazz ensembles throughout junior high and high school, but felt a deep connection to contemporary jazz saxophone greats, from smooth/urban icons like Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Dave Koz and Grover Washington to jazz legends Michael Brecker, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker and Dexter Gordon. Some of his other influences include Jeff Lorber, Norman Brown, Rick Braun, Wes Montgomery, Lee Ritenour, Earl Klugh and Jonathan Butler. Studying these musical mentors led to Ryan’s increasing focus on developing a truly emotional and unique style of performing. After starting his college years at Diablo Valley College in Concord, he attended the famed Berklee College of Music as a performance major. He later returned to Northern California, where he studied music production at the Pyramind Sound Institute in San Francisco.
“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.”