Tuesday, February 15, 2022


Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm Records
February 11, 2022

The cover image of Ryan La Valette’s 2020 independently released EP Dimensions of Me says it all – almost! – about the unique triple threat artistry the New Zealand bred and based artist brings to contemporary urban jazz. The photo shows the well-dressed musician on the couch, looking pensive, with a saxophone to his right and an electric guitar to his left. Just a few years ago, after many years of playing mastering those two instruments, he picked up the bass and effortlessly added it to his repertoire. That collection, and its three track holiday themed follow up A Christmas To Remember, set the stage for his full on genre emergence in 2022 with New Beginnings, Ryan’s perfectly titled, highly anticipated debut on Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm Records.

Starting with the February release of its lead single, a spirited, funky and fast rolling guitar driven “Let It Flow,” the still in progress project will have three tracks each that showcase Ryan’s skills on his three instruments, with several interludes between songs that allow him to stretch and solo beyond the infectious, radio friendly main tracks. Testament to his incredible array of talents and songwriting skills, Ryan is working on the album with three of the genre’s top Billboard #1 keyboardist/producers – labelmate Nicholas Cole and two time Grammy nominees Greg Manning and Chris “Big Dog” Davis.

“Due to my lifelong passion for the music and style of George Benson, I consider myself primarily a guitar player,” says the 26 year old Ryan, who remembers hearing the legend’s classic Breezin’ album around age five when his mother put it on while dusting the living room. “But because my primary goal is to share my musical gifts and make people happy in the process, I’m also excited to show what I can do on the sax and bass. I realize it’s an unconventional approach to be an emerging artist releasing songs on different lead instruments. Yet I have sacrificed a lot to develop my career and was happy to make the decision to cross that bridge, dedicate myself fully to all three instruments. I love the challenge of expressing my emotions in fresh ways on each.”

Ryan, a graduate of the School of Audio Engineering (SAE) Auckland, is the first to admit that his prospects of playing smooth jazz was practically nil in a country of five million people with only a small jazz scene – and a traditional one at that. Considering his leanings in the genre, however, when it came time to create his final dissertation/thesis project at SAE, he insisted it have an urban jazz vibe.

He felt he had nothing to lose by reaching out via social media to some American musicians he admired – and two of them, impressed with the music he sent them, agreed to contribute remotely to the low budget school project that became his debut 2018 indie release Saturated Smooth. Guitarist Clay Benjamin, whose credits including touring for two years with the legendary Al Green, appeared on “Get Together,” while saxman Donald Hayes – who has worked with everyone from Beyonce, Babyface and Earth, Wind & Fire to Najee and Jonathan Butler – played on “Dreaming of You.”

Davis and Manning were slightly harder “gets,” with Manning’s busy schedule preventing him from responding to Ryan’s message till nine months after he sent it. But since both heard what the up and coming artist brought to the mix and came on board, the collaborations have been fruitful. Davis appears on “City Livin’” (from Dimensions of Me) and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on Ryan’s holiday project, and Manning was so impressed that he tried to get the guitarist/saxman signed to his label at the time, Kalimba Music. When the company folded, Manning then reached out on Ryan’s behalf to Trippin ‘N’ Rhythm, and everything’s been a whirlwind work in progress since.

Though Ryan counts that early exposure to George Benson as the seminal moment that got him hooked oncontemporary jazz, by that time he had long been transfixed with classic American pop music, from the Eagles to Motown. He realized he had a unique gift when he took his first formal guitar class and out of 20 students, he hit perfectly the D major chord the teacher played the first day. Though Ryan is largely self-taught, he counts as one of his chief influences his high school guitar teacher Tony Janssen, who not only helped him develop his skills but also imparted to Ryan his passion for bebop.

Ryan started playing tenor sax in a different class, and when he graduated high school, bought an alto on eBay and that quickly became his primary voice on horn. He considers himself self-taught on that instrument as well, educated mostly by watching YouTube videos of two of his favorite smooth jazz stars, Everette Harp and Dave Koz. Ryan considered going to a music college but his problems with sight reading due to dyslexia influenced his decision to study mixing and engineering at SAE. Since graduating, while working an interesting series of day jobs (water delivery, unloading containers at the airport for FedEx and IT, he also logged his first national tour playing in the horn section behind New Zealand R&B/pop singer (and Australian Idol winner) Stan Walker.

“I feel very fortunate to now be working with such incredible artists and musicians like Nicholas, Greg and Chris, and I’m excited to see how this process of introducing myself as an artist in U.S. unfolds,” says Ryan. “Considering all the American contemporary jazz artist who have been so important to my love of the genre and development of my own music, my drive to succeed is very personal. Growing up in a beautiful country with such a small music industry and such limited prospects for enduring success is a great motivator for me to take the stage in America and show fans what I can do. I’m looking forward to playing at Seabreeze Jazz Festival in the spring and can’t wait to see how things evolve after that!”