John Ricci

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Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor

Born: January 4, 1969    

”When you play, your music must groove enough to make your soul dance. When you play, your music must groove enough to make everyones soul dance with yours.” Paraphrased from the great pianist Donald Brown who John Ricci quoted on his debut jazz quartet CD release: Holding Time.

Combining the culture of his Argentine roots and background in a musical family with a deep study of saxophone influences such as John Coltrane, Ben Webster, Stan Getz, Michael Brecker, Branford Marsalis and Mark Turner, John Ricci draws together soulful, hard swinging, harmonically modern and rhythmically diverse elements to his compositions and arrangements....
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    Holding Time

    Self Produced

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Featured recording “Holding Time”

Latest Release

Holding Time

Nonesuch Records (2007)

Review by Brad Walseth

Tenor saxophonist John Ricci lists Wayne Shorter, Branford Marsalis, Mark Turner, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane and Ben Webster as his biggest saxophone influences, and this impressive group of Jazz royalty is certainly to be found as elements in this young player’s sound. Ricci studied with Jerry Coker and former Jazz Messenger Donald Brown, who he considers a mentor. He later taught at Florida State University and the University of North Florida as an assistant professor assisting Bunky Green, and is now the Director of Jazz Studies at Jacksonville University. The saxophonist/composer has played and recorded with people like Marcus Printup, Angel Roman and Rebecca Zapen, performs at festivals and clubs and has won numerous awards. “Holding Time” is Ricci’s entertaining debut release and features four original compositions as well as two standards.

Recorded live with no overdubs, “Holding Time” showcases Ricci’s impressive mastery of his horn and his well-schooled compositional ability. Backed by a trio of UNF Jazz Program grads: pianist Joshua Bowlus, bassist Billy Thornton and drummer Peter Miles, the overall feel is very traditional straight-ahead, but with modern harmonic touches. The quartet are obviously comfortable with each other and play with a joyous abandon that makes for enjoyable listening.

“Mode Time” opens things up swinging hard and showcases Ricci, sweet and melodic, even while burning (I especially love his unexpected “held” notes), over a rhythm section that charges ahead unstoppably. Bowlus also adds a savory solo on this fun tune. Proving he can write (and play!) the ballads as well. “Ballerina” is a lovely slow waltz with a memorable melodic theme. Pianist Bowlus is given a rewarding spotlight turn, and Ricci’s sensitive work entirely avoid the maudlin cliches that often mar ballad work. Instead his lines rise and drift gracefully and are worth revisiting to cherish their intricacies. Meanwhile, the swinging version of the Van Huesen/Burke chestnut “Here’s That Rainy Day” is one of the highlights, with a nice bass solo, solid drum work and some of Ricci’s hottest playing.

The original title track shows Ricci taking the traditional and successfully bending it into a modern harmonic direction, while “Slow Tango” is a nod to the artist’s Argentinean cultural roots that is sultry and shimmering. The album ends on a high note with the delightful Ben Webster tune, “Bounce Blues.” Ricci kills on this tune that will have even the most undemonstrative listener head bopping and toe tapping. “Holding Time” is an impressive debut from a young saxophonist/composer whom I hope we hear much more from in the future. (March 2008)


Review by Skip Spratt

From the first note John Ricci captured my attention. Ricci's tenor sound is complex. His playing is bold, robust, energetic but not devoid of warmth. His sound is unique and completely his own. Comparisons can be made to contemporaries such as Chris Potter, Seamus Blake, Eric Alexander or even Joe Lovano. The aggression he displays on the opening track Mode Time however is more reminiscent of Trane or perhaps Brecker and Berg.

Holding Times' second cut initially appeared to be the sometimes overdone jazz classic Here's That Rainy Day. The only similarity to with song of the same name was the ballad setting. After two listens I still struggled to hear the song known as Here's That Rainy Day. Upon closer inspection, it became clear that the second cut was in fact Ballerina! After a bit of a reality check I realized that I had read the song titles straight down on the CD jacket. Simply noticing the number “3” next to Here's That Rainy Day would have saved me from questioning my knowledge of jazz standards! Ricci's intervallic, while still melodic solo on Ballerina follows some tender playing by pianist Joshua Bowlus.

Despite my earlier confusion, I finally moved on to thoroughly enjoy Here's That Rainy Day. TheLatin treatment here keeps this classic lively and fresh. Billy Thornton on bass and Peter Miles on drums set the tone by pulsing and percolating behind Bowlus and Ricci. Changing things up a bit, bassist Thornton takes the first solo. John builds intensity and breathes life back into the rhythm section with his modern and rhythmic ride. His improvisational lines captivate the listener. He often favors larger intervals, which further emphasize his classically modern approach. Listening to this take makes me feel like playing the tune again! Thanks to John Ricci and his quartet for the inspiration.

The title track Holding Time swings from the top while seemingly changing from 5/4, 4/4 and then 6/4. John Ricci takes the melody, bringing the tune back to 4/4. There is something about this setting that reminds me of so many classic ECM recordings done in Oslo. Bowlus cascades his fingers across the keys while Thronton and Miles chug along and swing hard throughout.

While listening to the cuts on John Ricci's Holding Time, I constantly found myself swaying and moving to the music. The groove in this quartet is infectious ” and clearly by design. Ricci himself quotes his mentor Donald Brown, “When you play with or listen to others, it needs to groove from deep inside and make you and all those around you want to dance from the inside out.” Ricci's music has clearly done this.

Slow Tango, an introspective and pensive ballad provides the only “down time” on Holding Time. The interplay between piano, bass and brushwork by Peter Miles has its charm. Ricci's sound seems to open up a bit when he solos. To these ears shades of Garbarek creep out of the shadows. John Ricci displays great depth as a player, showing yet another side to his complex sound. I love the clinking keys behind the subtone!

Just when I thought I had this cat figured out, John Ricci displayed yet another side on the final cut. Bounce Blues by Ben Webster begins by Ricci paying homage to Webster and completely embracing the sound, style and feel of that tradition ” for a bit. Again tradition and modernism are blended by Ricci and the rhythm section. By the second solo chorus, John Ricci abandons all tradition and begins to bend, break and twist all the rules. Bowlus brings us back to the traditional following Ricci's musical tantrum. Bowlus takes it out a bit but only as a tease. He finishes just as “inside” as he started. Bassist Thornton has the last word before the final out chorus.

Lastly, the CD jacket proclaims, “Recorded in a traditional live/studio setting with minimal processing and absolutely no overdubbing.” The quartet's esthetic under the direction of John Ricci is rooted in both tradition as well as modernism. That esthetic can be difficult to achieve bet is done so deftly here on Holding Time. Buy it. Everyone who knows Ricci's playing will be pleased. Others who are not yet familiar with John Ricci's tenor saxophone playing need to educate themselves. Listening to this CD will be one of the most enjoyable lessons you have taken!

Primary Instrument: Sax, tenor

Location: Jacksonville, FL

Willing to teach: Intermediate to advanced students


2002 - Present Director of Jazz Studies at Jacksonville University Professor of Saxophone 1999-2000 Visiting Professor of Jazz Studies at University of North Florida Assisted Bunky Green with his saxophone teaching load

Clinic/Workshop Information:

Saxophone Clinic: *Developing a kinesthetic awareness of the saxophone as a direct voice to your personality. *Voicing and Tone Shaping, breath support and embouchure *Developing an effortless approach to technical facility *Ensemble sensitivity within the saxophone section Large and Small Ensembles: *Jazz as a communicative rhythmic language. *Ensemble balance and sensitivity, sounding like one instrument by creating a dynamic pulse in sycopated phrasing. *Communicating in a combo setting through rhythmic phrasing. *Building a solo. *Sublety and expression over the musical form within the rhythm section. *How to speak to the rhythm section as a horn player. *How to speak to the soloist as a rhythm player.
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