One of the most versatile exponents of the latest cadre of young jazz musicians to emerge in the post-“Young Lions” era, saxophonist, Ray Zepeda, differentiates himself not only by his diverse musical background but also by his life story – a sojourn that began as an oil man’s son in the shadows of oil wells and derricks in Taft, California, followed by his formative musical development in the beach cities of Los Angeles’s South Bay which led to a 5-year stint in the Boston area where he greatly broadened his musical perspective and started composing, only to return to the South Bay to establish himself in the Los Angeles jazz scene – a life that has not only encompassed alternating periods of focus on “classical” composition, jazz, and popular music, but also various professional pursuits which have included jobs as a music educator and cutlery salesman, and a successful management career in the oil & gas industry. The economics of jazz notwithstanding, rest assured that Ray Zepeda has lived the jazz way, improvising a life, as it were, – exploiting every opening, pulling on every thread no matter how tenuous or impossibly thin, and approaching life with a humility that has allowed others to shine and benefit from his gifts – and, undeterred by numerous vicissitudes, has achieved his highest level of success during this, the most severe economic turndown in memory. This is not as much an artist’s story as it is a uniquely American one.
His CD, Step By Step, on Soundsketch Records received widespread radio airplay nationwide and abroad and was the top-selling CD at the Bakersfield Jazz Festival on a bill of internationally-known artists. Moreover, significant chart movement was seen. This assemblage of smoking, thought-provoking tracks features L.A.’s top-shelf rhythm section including former Bill Evans Trio drummer, Joe La Barbera, in a tapestry of original compositions and adventurous arrangements of standards. Tonight’s performance will feature selections from this album and from his new album, America, to be released in late-2017.
A veteran of the Los Angeles jazz, reggae, punk, pop, and house DJ scene, Zepeda has performed/recorded with Lou Rawls, Russ Ferrante (Yellowjackets), John Patitucci (Chick Corea), Joe La Barbera (Bill Evans Trio), Barbara Morrison, Thelma Jones, Carl Saunders (Stan Kenton/ Bill Holman), Dave Tull (Chuck Mangione/ Michael Buble), Lanny Morgan (Supersax/ Natalie Cole), Mike Bennett (Hillary Duff, Kenny G, JC Chasez), Darek Oles (Dianne Reeves, Brad Mehldau), Johnny Blas (CuBop Records), and DJs Mikie Smithers, Jim Carson, Serafin, and many others. Since beginning his professional career playing lead alto in various big bands at the age of 15, his musical palette has expanded to include everything from serious composition to avant-garde jazz to contemporary pop to punk rock. Mr. Zepeda holds the Master of Music in Jazz Studies from the University of Southern California where he studied with saxophonist, Bob Sheppard (Steely Dan, Chick Corea, Mike Stern), and the Bachelor of Science from Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he studied Composition with Pulitzer Prize and MacArthur Grant-winning composer, John Harbison.
“You might as well get ready to hear the name Ray Zepeda quite a lot in jazz circles during the coming years. Here’s an emerging player with a solid musical education and a substantial grounding in the jazz book. Zepeda strikes me as one of those prodigy types who probably blew everyone away in his high school and college stage bands. And he continues doing so on this energetic outing. Based in Los Angeles, Zepeda cooks it up with three LA area monsters, Rich Eames, piano, Darek Oles, bass, and Joe LaBarbera, drums. The session gets underway with a straight forward reading of ‘Stella By Starlight’ and continues with ‘Step By Step,’ a Zepeda original which bears a cousinly musical relationship to John Coltrane’s mega-hit, ‘Giant Steps.’ …Billy [Childs’s] tune called ‘Midland.’ [is] a feature for soprano sax, and Zepeda makes it a dramatic ride. ‘You Haven’t Changed’ is a warm 3/4 time Zepeda original, and it’s charming melody line features pianist Rich Eames. The set concludes with the rarely heard Frank Loesser opus, ‘Never Will I Marry,’ played with a subtle backbeat. …Zepeda is off and running. Keep an eye on him…” – George Fendel, Jazz Society of Oregon
“A palette of colors” – Easy Reader
“…Zepeda just tearing it up on the soprano… his melodic sensibility is…rooted in blues and soul.” – Thom Jurek, AllMusic
“Ray Zepeda articulates the melancholy…” – The Descarga Review