Although he's called a "smooth jazz" artist, saxophonist Richard Elliot is equally at home with most rock & roll and the kind of classic R&B performed by the group Tower of Power.
For five years in the 1980s, he was a big part of the classic R&B band's horn-based sound. The Scottish-born Elliot was raised in Los Angeles, where he quickly became a fan of classic West Coast R&B. Elliot landed his first job while still a teenager with Natalie Cole and the Pointer Sisters. A few years later, he was tapped to record with some of his idols from Motown Records, which had relocated from Detroit to Los Angeles. In the 1970s, he had the chance to record with Smokey Robinson, the Four Tops, and the Temptations. Elliot was later tapped to record with the Yellowjackets on their second album. After touring with Melissa Manchester for a time, he was asked to become a full-fledged member of the Tower of Power horns in 1982. He stayed with the group until 1987 and looks back fondly on those years, since they shaped the style he has today. When he's not playing his over 100 dates a year, Elliot pilots a small aircraft; he was also a partner in PacificNet, an Internet multimedia company that developed websites for the music and entertainment industries.
As a solo artist, Elliot debuted with his self-produced City Speak (1996), followed by After Dark (1994), On the Town (1991), Power of Suggestion (1988), Take to the Skies (1989), Trolltown (1986), What's Inside (1990), and Initial Approach (1987), all for Blue Note/Capitol Records. Two albums he had recorded for the now-defunct Enigma label were re-released on Capitol. His 1993 album, Soul Embrace, rocketed to the top of the Billboard contemporary jazz charts. Elliot's 1999 effort, Chill Factor, proved to be his final studio album for Blue Note. The label issued The Best of Richard Elliot in 2000. The following year he moved over to GRP, where he debuted with Crush. After a world tour in late 2001 and 2002, he returned with Ricochet in 2003. Produced by keyboardist Jeff Lorber, who also played on the date, the album also featured contributions from guitarist Jonathan Butler, keyboardist Rex Rideout, percussionist Lenny Castro, and others.
After parting ways with GRP, Elliot founded ARTizen Music Group with trumpeter Rick Braun. His debut for the imprint was Metro Blue in 2005, which reached number two on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Its single, a cover of the Stylistics' "People Make the World Go Round," spent 11 weeks at number one on the Radio & Records airplay chart. Two years later, he and Braun collaborated again on RnR. The title track from the album spent over two months at number one on the smooth jazz chart. Elliot and Braun eventually sold their label to Artistry Music, which is distributed by Mack Avenue. The first album for Artistry was 2009's Rock Steady. Inspired by Elliot's love of R&B, the album featured both originals and covers, including readings of Aretha Franklin's title track and Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up." Musicians Braun, Gerald Albright, and Lorber all made key contributions to the set. As with its two predecessors, Rock Steady charted, spending 40 weeks on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart. Elliot and Lorber teamed again to produce 2011's In the Zone, a collection of nine originals and a striking cover of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)." The album was released in mid-October and marked Elliot's 25th anniversary as a recording artist. He then joined saxophonists Dave Koz, Mindi Abair, and Albright for the all-star collaboration Summer Horns, which garnered a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Pop Album.
Elliot returned to his own work in 2014 with Lip Service, his first album for the Heads Up/Concord Music Group. Inspired by his love for his wife, the album featured a mix of originals and covers, including reworkings of Brian McKnight's "Anytime," Bruno Mars' "When I Was Your Man," and a version of the Manhattans' "Shining Star" arranged by fellow Tower of Power alumnus trumpeter Greg Adams. In 2016, Elliot delivered his second album for Heads Up/Concord, the '70s funk and fusion-influenced Summer Madness. Produced by and featuring longtime creative partner Braun, the album also showcased contributions from saxophonist Curt Waylee, bassist Nathaniel Phillips, and others. Included on Summer Madness was a cover of Spyro Gyra's "Cachaca." ~ Richard Skelly & Thom Jurek