Ritt Henn
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Ritt Henn

| INDIE | AFM

| INDIE | AFM
Band Jazz Singer/Songwriter

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Another jazz artist, singer-songwriter-bass player Ritt Henn, has also recently made his solo debut: He's been performing his act at The Duplex and will likely bring it back again later this year. This tall drink of jazz is the next generation's Jay Leonhart. His songs are quirky, fresh, and wonderfully entertaining -- and so is he. Henn has a playful sense of humor that emerges when and where you least expect it, but there's also something genuine about his songs. He may be pulling your leg but he's also plucking your heartstrings, and that's what makes him so distinctive as a jazz artist. The idiom is jazz but the art form is decidedly cabaret because his songs are finally about the lyrics and the understated passion with which he delivers them.

Ritt Henn has a CD that cries out to be owned by folks who are hungry to discover new talent. It's called "Goin' Back," and once you hear it, you'll certainly want to seek him out. We see hundreds of shows every year in the hope of stumbling upon an important new artist. It doesn't happen very often, but in the person of Ritt Henn, our stumbling has definitely paid off. - by Barbara & Scott Siegel, TheaterMania.com


In the case of bassist-singer-songwriter Ritt Henn, he has skillfully backed up many a cabaret artist on bass fiddle. So how does he get noticed as a solo artist? Making his cabaret debut in "A Man & His Bass" recently at The Duplex, he proved he's capable of a lot more than just fiddling around. He also took more comedic chances than Dame Edna at a Young Republicans rally. With John DiPinto at the piano and serving as occasional backup singer, the clever, tongue-in-cheek songs recalled Dave Frishberg. That, fused with an Elvis Costello twang, made for solid entertainment from one who revealed many heretofore hidden talents. The shocker is that he waited so long to take center stage.

There were many highlights in a show that neophytes could learn from. For instance, after belting his riotous "March to the NYC Cabaret Debut," he crooned a sweet "Helen Keller & Me," with DiPinto on accordion, and then melted the room with a stunning ballad, "Sleep the Sleep of Angels." He's a master at being wry with a quirky lyric. Then he surprises you with a warm ballad sans bass, like "Just Another Glimpse of You." A true original, Henn is a find and one of the most original artists of the year. One might think of him as the David Letterman of cabaret. Giving his audience what they want, this delightfully intelligent master of irony and the absurd in song is off to a great start. Catch him when he returns in March. - by John Hoglund in BACK STAGE


With his third CD, Timber, former Fairfield resident Ritt Henn is looking to be taken more seriously as a songwriter.

"I have a reputation for being, for lack of a better term, a 'funny guy' as far as songwriting," Henn said in a recent phone interview from his New York City residence. "Timber is an attempt to, not banish that impression, but to say, 'Look, there's more than that.' "

No pun intended, but he's got a funny way of altering people's opinions as Timber's first song, "Helen Keller and Me," starts with the narrator chopping trees with Helen Keller. Then there's the tune "Range Rover (Through the Mud Called Love)" and, later, "Superman is Sleeping In," where the Man of Steel finds "this superhero thing is wearin' thin.' "

"This is me being less funny," he said with a laugh. "There isn't one song on here called 'Chicks Dig Me Cuz I Bowl,' " referring to a song from his 1996 album It's Me!

Henn, who brings his cabaret act to the Black Rock Art Center in Bridgeport Friday night at 8, only lived in Fairfield for about four years, graduating in 1975 from Roger Ludlowe High School before leaving for college at Bucknell.

With his parents also now living in New York, he has a hard time considering this show a homecoming.

"I only lived there for three or four years, so it isn't like I have deep roots there by any means," he said.

Henn does recall that some of his teachers at Ludlowe recognized his knack for songwriting, especially history teacher Joan Ballen.

"She had this thing where she'd let me, instead of taking a test, write a song about the subject instead. . . . . She recognized and championed me," Henn said. "If you have a kid that's doing something that excites them, let them do that thing that excites them and maybe they'll learn something while they're doing it. It beats having them copying reports out of 'The World Book.' "

Another time, he said, he took it upon himself to write a song instead of a book report and "The Caine Mutiny" was turned into "The Ballad of Capt. Philip Francis Queeg."

Henn, also a bass player, has managed to turn his love of music into a full-time occupation, but, he admitted, his singer-songwriting career is just a part of what he does.

"The full-time aspect of it comes more from being a player than from a 'Ladies and gentlemen, here's Ritt Henn' kind of thing," he said.

"It's a potpourri of stuff. Sometimes it's session work, sometimes it's backing up people in live situations and sometimes it's teaching, whether privately or doing some workshop stuff."

Henn also has worked on stage in the past, where he tended "to do more on-stage stuff than [orchestra] pit-type stuff.

"I'll be a bass-playing character in a show, doing anything from no lines and just playing the bass here and there to singing and saying things," he said.

Henn has worked off-Broadway in the production of "Shockheaded Peter," as well as productions at the Pasadena (Calif.) Playhouse and the State Theatre in North Carolina.

He also did time as a bass player on the oldies circuit, performing with the likes of Ben E. King, Martha Reeves of The Vandellas, Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon and, in a memorable gig at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, the great Chuck Berry.

"There was a bunch of oldies acts and Chuck had a rider in his contract that said that the band that backs him up can't play with anybody else on the bill," Henn said. "So a buddy of mine played bass with all of the other acts and I was out there with Chuck. It was definitely fun and it was very interesting."

Another of Henn's brushes with greatness occurred when he went in to record the theme song to the animated children's film, "We're Back: A Dinosaur's Story," with Tom Jones. As often happens with actors, Henn may have ended up on the cutting room floor.

"For the theme song, we went in the studio and Thomas Dolby was producing and we're playing this roots-rock thing and Tom Jones was in there screaming his head off and it was great," Henn said. "But when I go to see the movie with my parents, Little Richard was singing the tune. The guitar part was different and the bass part may have been different. Did they keep any of it? I don't know."

Joining Henn for Friday night's concert will be keyboard player Bennett Paster and drummer Jay Frederick.

"I played with this trio back in October and it was just a joy," said Henn, who also has New York cabaret singer Barbara Brussell joining him as his "special guest diva du jour."

(For a video clip from Henn's Oct. 11 gig with Paster and Frederick at New York City nightclub Iridium, visit www.YouTube.com/ManBassBoxTV.)

In the past, Henn didn't do much touring to promote his CDs and has done even fewer shows over the past year "because I was working to get the new record out. I would take gigs when they were offered, but I wasn't chasing them down.

"Even when I was fairly active in New York, that would only be a couple of shows a month, - by Sean Spillane, Connecticut Post


I admit, I was a little nervous to listen to a CD whose first two titles were "Helen Keller and Me" and "Range Rover (Through the Mud Called Love)." But instead of a tasteless rimshot-humor album, what came through instead was a collection of rich, classic R&B arrangements and textures, a songwriter with a quirky, charming baritone voice, lyrics that went deeper than expected, and tracks by a bassist who thoroughly gets why the bass is such a cool thing to play. Ritt Henn’s sound is one of the roundest, thickest, tubbiest, and deepest I’ve heard, and the mix proudly features it front and center. Between the sweet, melodic solo bass break in the aforementioned "Helen Keller" (now there’s a phrase I never thought I’d drop) and the gritty groove of "House in the Country," there’s plenty for bass enthusiasts to chew on. Better still, I couldn’t help but think that Ritt Henn is one of the only solo-act bassists who could pull off his material at an open-mic writer’s night or folkie coffeehouse and keep the audience captivated. The whole thing just left me smiling.


- by Bryan Beller, April 2008


Ritt Henn's voice is a versatile instrument, as he demonstrates on his latest CD. The towering bass player covers a lot of musical ground in the 11 tracks of Timber, including a nature walk through love and a little existential philosophy. The record begins with "Helen Keller and Me," in which Henn and the icon of the handicapped are chopping down trees in the woods (hence the CD's title). The premise itself raises some interesting questions over a clever bass line, and in the song, Henn muses that "Helen Keller can see/ Lots more than me/ On even the brightest day," and wonders "If I lift my head/ will I see the light?" Good question. On the subsequent tracks, his smooth baritone roars through the rock and roll party that is "Range Rover (Through the Mud Called Love)," grooves slowly to the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do," hypnotically intones the beat poetry of "Rapunzel (I've Got All I Need)" and channels Ray Price to croon the countrified sentiments of "Forget," cautioning his new girlfriend to "forget about him/ or you can forget about me."

The songs, nearly all written by Henn, are sometimes quirky, sometimes moody and always heartfelt. His great band gives him all the support he needs—witness Joe Mennonna on organ, and Dennis McDermott's jazzy drums on "Maintenance." John Putnam's guitar blazes on the rave-up "Range Rover" (my favorite, in case you couldn't tell), also uplifted by Ina May Wool's wailing harmonies and the vocal choir of Janie Barnett, LaJuan Carter and Vaneese Thomas. The trio is also wild and amazing on "Rapunzel." A short film on the enhanced CD gives a feel for the relaxed vibe of the recording sessions in Brooklyn, a reflection of Henn's good-humored approach to making great music.
- by Kay Corditz, November 2007


Great starting track, "Helen Keller and Me," which deserves airplay/exposure. I saw Ritt live a few years ago, and he's an excellent live performer, so I highly recommend checking him out.

The production on this CD is top quality, and, in addition to "Helen Keller," "Range Rover," "Go That Mile" and "Just Another Glimpse," are outstanding.

Ritt has really put a lot of work into Timber, and fans of Hiatt, Earle and Mellencamp will find a lot in this CD to keep them happy. - by Paul Ewing, CabaretExchange.com


Becoming a ubiquitous presence as a bassist accompanying many a cabaret and jazz performer in New York, Ritt Henn is also an intriguing singer and songwriter. Of course, he is on bass here as well as singing, and his main musical companions are John Putnam (guitars), Joe Mennonna (keyboards) and Dennis McDermott (drums) with other guest players and singers. Ritt's songs vary greatly from bluesy to whimsical to introspective to rockers, with lots of jazz touches. Nothing here would resemble a traditional show tune, but they have characterization and stories.

His gruff-but-tender voice, pleasingly off-center sensibility and articulate but naturally flowing lyrics remind me a bit of Randy Newman. Ritt wrote most of the songs on his own, collaborated on two, and does a fine cover of the Isley Brothers' "Work to Do" with back-up singers.

There are some striking turns of phrase in his lyrics, with a nice sense of humor and language, like, "In the heat of the midday, I will be your shady tree" (in "House in the Country") and "The dust balls have established residency/ My house looks half neat when you wink" in a song called "Maintenance." The most tender and simple is the romantic but down-to-earth "Just Another Glimpse of You," an instantly loveable love song, with a melody that charms. - by Rob Lester, TalkingBroadway.com


Ritt Henn gives it to you straight. This man lives this stuff. He is not just hanging wall paper. His take is fresh. The sounds are clear and very cool. He is no pretender. I like what I hear and I'm telling you, for a New Yorker he's got a lot of good old fashioned country common sense. Don't take it from me. Buy some and take a listen for yourself. He's the real deal and smart.

4 out of 4 listeners found this review helpful - banjoplucker, another satisfied iTunes customer


Discography

CDs (all available at RittHenn.com, cdbaby.com and iTunes):
Timber (Inimitable Media, 2007)
Goin' Back (Soundpost, 2000)
It's Me! (Soundpost, 1996)

Coming soon:
All Kidding Aside (Inimitable Media, due Fall 2008)
- a CD/DVD combo pack that is a collection of whimsical songs and short films, including some that were tracked (but not released) as part of the "Timber" sessions

2 tunes from "Timber" have been featured on NPR's Car Talk: "Maintenance" and "Range Rover (Through the Mud Called Love)"

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Bio

"Cool cat Ritt Henn” [Time Out NY] “is a funkier Cole Porter, a master of the wry and clever." [LA Weekly]

Ritt Henn plays bass, writes songs and lives in New York City. He’s released three CDs of original music and regularly receives royalty checks for radio airplay in Belgium. In his spare time, he makes 28-minute made-for-TV movies.

"Timber," Ritt's latest CD, is “a collection of rich, classic R&B arrangements and textures, a songwriter with a quirky, charming baritone voice…The whole thing just left me smiling.” [Bryan Beller, Bass Player magazine]

Ritt’s toured the U.S. and Europe, opened for Christine Lavin and Soupy Sales, appeared on stage Off-Broadway, performed between Freddie Hubbard and Béla Fleck at the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland, and played with Chuck Berry, Buddy Rich, Martha Reeves and Tom Jones — though unfortunately not at the same time.

In 2005, he won both a Back Stage Bistro Award for Outstanding Songwriter/Instrumentalist and the MAC (Manhattan Association of Cabarets and Clubs) Award for Best New York Debut-Male.

An independent TV producer/filmmaker, Ritt’s created over 200 episodes of "ManBassBoxTV," 28-minute made-for-TV documentaries that put the “real” back into “reality TV.” Working both behind and in front of the camera, often at the same time, Ritt explores the life of a freelance musician at home and on the road. The public access series originally aired in Los Angeles beginning in 1993 and now can be seen in Manhattan and on the web, including clips at YouTube.com/ManBassBoxTV.

Ritt also conducts workshops in conjunction with his instructional tome, "Chart Writing Made Easy," empowering songwriters with the tools to create musical leadsheets of their songs that go well beyond the basic sheet of paper with chord changes written over the lyrics.

Oh, and he likes to stroll through Central Park on Monday afternoons after visiting his shrink on the East Side, and in the past has immensely enjoyed hiking in the High Sierras during the day while playing R&B gigs at local resorts at night, and riding his bike along converted rail-trails on Cape Cod while out there doing "Guys and Dolls" at the Cape Playhouse.

Like those T-shirts say: "Life is good." Indeed.