Primary Instrument: Vocal
Nine years ago Professor RJ Ross was given only months to live. After a lifetime of making music, Ross had assembled his own band, The University of Soul, and set out to record his album. However, just as recording was about to begin, Ross was diagnosed with a rare form of Stage-IV cancer and was thrust into what he calls a roller-coaster ride of heartbreaking joy and dark despair. Told his cancer was incurable and to get his affairs in order, the Professor refused to accept his fate and set out on a five-year quest to prove the doctors wrong. Thus began a courageous five-year battle that defied all odds when redemption came in the form of an extremely risky and invasive surgery--the success of which gave him a new lease on life.
Now, fully recovered and in perfect health, Professor RJ Ross and the University of Soul step into the spotlight with the release of their debut album Face to Face. Featuring six American standards and eight originals, this album of smooth jazz and classic R&B marks a new and exciting chapter in Ross's musical journey--a journey which began as a founding member of Detroit funk band Brainstorm whose album, Stormin,' was the flagship release by Tabu Records (CBS), owned by famed music executive Clarence Avant (Bill Withers). Ross’s career then moved to the world-famous Fantasy Studios in Oakland, CA. At Fantasy, he became the in-house keyboardist, arranger and midi expert for many artists including Jeffrey Osborne, Eddie Money, Huey Lewis, MC Hammer and Tupac Shakur.
Among the standards on the album is the Professor's highly original take on America's 1972 hit song Ventura Highway. I always thought this was a very moving song that deals with one of the great American myths - the desire to escape to some place better, Ross explains. Face to Face also includes Ross's unique reading of the Gershwin classic Summertime. For his version of this truly great American song, Ross wrote a cool new call-and-response section where his vocal is answered by Sandy Griffith (Elton John, Boz Scaggs). On Autumn Leaves, yet another classic from the American songbook, the Professor's arrangement includes a newly composed bridge that intensifies the song's aching melancholy. On his piano solo, Ross manages to convey the bleak, sparse sense of loss and approaching winter. Backing vocalists Sandy Griffith and Jeannie Tracy (Weather Girls, Aretha Franklin) whisper Please come back to me as the song fades, adding a bit of hope to a song full regret and abandonment.
Produced by Jerry Stucker, Face to Face was recorded at Capitol Studios in Hollywood with renowned recording engineer Al Schmitt (Dianna Krall, Ray Charles) at the controls. The University of Soul's faculty includes some of the nation's top musicians and features performances by: drummers James Gadson (Donald Fagen, Marvin Gaye), and Steve Gadd (James Taylor, Eric Clapton); bass man Freddie Washington (Simon & Garfunkel, Michael Jackson); B3 organist Neil Larsen (Aaron Neville, Al Jarreau); tenor and soprano sax player Ernie Watts (The Pink Panther, Rolling Stones) Grammy-award winner Ed Cherney (Bonnie Raitt, Michael McDonald) mixed the album at The Village in Los Angeles.