Professor RJ Ross
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Professor RJ Ross

Band Jazz Adult Contemporary


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New CD: Professor RJ Ross and The University of Soul



Professor RJ Ross and The University of Soul is the first solo album by
singer, songwriter and pianist RJ Ross, but a lifetime of music went into
its production. Ross has been playing piano, singing, writing and arranging
since he was an eleven year-old prodigy in Detroit. He was a founding member
of the legendary Detroit funk band Brainstorm and played on their celebrated
album, Stormin’. “This Must Be Heaven,” a Ross original by Brainstorm,
continues to get airplay around the world today. As Midi expert and in-house
keyboard player for the world-famous Fantasy Studios, he worked with Jeffrey Osborne,
Eddie Money, MC Hammer and many others.

Now Ross steps into the spotlight with this debut album of classic R&B and
smooth jazz. The album’s ten originals showcase Ross’s extraordinary
songwriting skills, sharp piano work, inventive arrangements and mellow,
soulful vocal style. While hints of the great soul singers of the past
inform Ross’s performance, his husky, resonant tenor is all his own, a
unique instrument instantly recognizable for its warm, playful quality.

The tracks for Professor RJ Ross and The University of Soul were recorded
at Capitol Studios in Hollywood with legendary recording engineer, Al
Schmitt (Diana Krall, Ray Charles) at the controls. The University of Soul’s
faculty includes some of the nation’s top musicians and singers:
producer/guitarist Jerry Stucker (Paul Jackson, Holland-Dozier-Holland);
drummer James Gadson (Donald Fagen, Marvin Gaye); bass man Freddie
Washington (Simon & Garfunkle, Michael Jackson); B3 organist Neil Larsen
(Aaron Neville, Al Jarreau, Larsen-Feiten band); tenor and soprano sax
player Ernie Watts (Charlie Haden, Rolling Stones) and backing vocalists
Sandy Griffith (Whitney Houston, Elton John, Boz Scaggs, the Rent
soundtrack) and Jeannie Tracy (Two Tons of Fun, Weather Girls, Aretha
Franklin). Grammy-award winner, Ed Cherney, mixed the album at The Village
in Los Angeles.

Ross strikes a universal chord with original tunes that are by turns jaunty,
funky, moody, romantic and ironically humorous. The lead off track, “Face to
Face” is a funky mid-tempo blues, that brings to mind Mose Allison as
produced by Philadelphia’s Gamble and Huff. Larson’s big Hammond B3 and
Ross’s electric piano dance around Stucker’s bedrock guitar rhythms. Watts
lays out a vibrant sax solo as Ross’s vocals communicate the tongue in cheek
wisdom of a street corner philosopher. “The Outsider” is a minor key blues
with a Gospel feel that’s complimented by the sanctified vocals of Griffith
and Tracy. Ross turns in a moody vocal that slips from his trademark rumble
to an almost heartbreaking falsetto. “Wishing,” possibly the album’s most
beautiful love song, has an intricate, instantly memorable melody. Ross
plays with his high end, delivering a vocal that recalls classic soul men
like Smokey Robinson and Curtis Mayfield. Ross, Griffith and Tracy end the
tune with pleading, late night harmonies that bring even more longing to the
song’s aching feel. Watts adds a brief solo and Ross plays piano with subtle
country blues accents. “I’m On My Way” is a jaunty song with a soulful, 60s
texture. It’s a rootsy, bouncy celebration of life’s simple joys, with
playful piano work by Ross that augments the tune’s jolly aura while his
vocal exudes a giddy joie de vivre. The one cover, a Ross arrangement of the
old favorite “Autumn Leaves”, 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. The backing
vocalists whisper “Please come back to me” as the song fades, adding a bit
of hope to a song about regret and abandonment.

The diverse palette of Professor RJ Ross and The University of Soul will
appeal to lovers of classic pop and R&B, smooth jazz, blues, contemporary
jazz and Adult Contemporary. In his songwriting and arranging, Ross has a
cosmopolitan approach and never talks down to his audience, trusting in
their musical sophistication and ability to enjoy his grown up, somewhat
detached take on life and love as well as his remarkable musicianship.

RJ Ross grew up in Detroit surrounded by the sounds that would influence
him all his life: Soul, R&B and Motown – especially Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Smokey
Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. “My older brother
brought home doo wop 45s, and records by Elvis, Little Richard and the rest
of the early black artists,” Ross recalls.

He started his musical career playing trumpet in the grammar school band and
was leading his own dance band by the time he was eleven. “When I was nine,
someone came to the class with pictures of band instruments. I liked the
trumpet’s looks and studied privately for years, but as soon as I picked up
the trumpet, I could play and entertain the other kids. I was playing a
jazzy versio