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by Mary Bentley

“Music just happened organically.  It chose me.  How better to say it than that?”

We at Smoothviews spend a lot of time attending concerts and festivals.  This is something we enjoy doing.  Going from show to show allows us opportunities to not only see some of our favorites, but to learn about other musicians we may not be familiar with.  I attended a Euge Groove concert one day last month, and this is how I learned about Ross Bolton.  This month, Smoothviews returns to L.A. to introduce you to Ross Bolton.

Multi-instrumentalist Ross Bolton, like so many other musicians, is an L.A. transplant.  He originally hails from Oregon, but came to L.A. to attend school here and never left.   He was a business major before becoming a professional musician.  His first instrument was the piano, which he began playing around age seven.  He switched to guitar when he was a teenager.  “I started playing guitar when I was 15 because I wanted to meet girls.”   In fact, his first tour was as a keyboard player, but then, the guitar became his main instrument.  In addition to the piano and guitar, Ross plays bass and drums a little as well.  “I own a pair of drumsticks, but I wouldn’t say I’m a drummer.”  

After moving to L.A. to attend school, life as a working, touring musician began.  For Ross, there was never another option other than to be a professional musician.  That was it.  “I don’t ever think there was a plan B.” Ross’ early influences included the legendary Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Larry Carlton, and Robben Ford.  There was also Miles Davis, Sly Stone, and James Brown.  Funk was, and still is, his passion.  He began to make a name for himself in the music world. He’s played with many of the big names in and outside of the smooth jazz genre including Mindi Abair, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Warren Hill, Sheena Easton, David Benoit, TOP, EWF, DTTB, and Euge Groove, who I saw him with.  He was Al Jarreau’s long time guitarist for nearly ten years.  “If you go down the list, you’re going to hit a name that I’ve played with.”  Ross recently returned from Dave Koz’s cruise where he had the opportunity to play with Jeffrey Osborne, Sheila E, and Cassandra Wilson, among others.

In addition to touring and recording, Ross is a teacher at the Musicians Institute (MI) in Hollywood, CA. “The great thing about teaching in a place like this is I can go on tour and come back.  It’s never an issue.  They want to have as many working pros on staff as they can.  They try to foster that.”   He taught his first class in 1986.  His curriculum includes classes in funk, R&B, and contemporary improvisation.  His Funk Rhythm Guitar class is hugely popular at MI.

Like many of the other musicians we’ve covered through OTS, Ross Bolton wears many hats and has several irons in the fire.  “If we don’t have a bunch of irons in the fire, it’s hard to maintain a career.”  He also does music for television and film, playing guitar or bass for these recordings.  “The company I work for does all the background music and theme songs for Paramount.  That includes Entertainment Tonight, Dr. Phil, Rachel Ray, a bunch of those shows.  There are many composers, like me, here in L.A. that do that kind of work.” 

Ross did not choose music, music chose him, as he says in the opening quote.  That is very true.  How else do you explain how he became a successful multi-instrumentalist when music was not in his blood?  I can surmise that he is a bit of an enigma.  Maybe music wasn’t imprinted on him genetically, but it was definitely in him. 

If given the opportunity, this world class musician would love to play with Weather Report if they were to ever reform.  He’d also like to play with Prince or Maceo Parker as well.  “This is going to sound funny to you, but I’d love to play in the group Radio Head.”  The sky is the limit.  Another long term goal would be to compose a film score.  “It’s a tight field, but I would love to do it.  It’s really rewarding work.  Even on the television level, it’s rewarding.  I can only imagine what it must be like to compose something, realize it, and then go into a theater and sit there.  Wouldn’t that be just great?”

In his spare time, Ross’ likes to ride his mountain bike and run, but his favorite activity is just being a Dad.  He’s got small children, and that has influenced some of his career choices so he could be home more instead of on the road so much.
I gather from our conversation, that he really does not like talking about his accomplishments much; he’d rather just play music.  Ross is currently working on his first CD.  In fact, he has it open and in front of him as we conduct our interview.  He is also working on his curriculum for MI and is working on turning that into video lessons on the internet. 

Look for Ross on the road with Euge Groove, or teaching at the Musicians Institute.