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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Sax man for the Stones; Tecumseh native Tim Ries tours with the legendary band

BY DAVID YONKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Jazz musician Tim Ries plays his soprano saxophone. He is working with the Rolling Stones on his new disc. Jazz musician Tim Ries plays his soprano saxophone. He is working with the Rolling Stones on his new disc.
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You re traveling around the world with Mick, Keith, Ronnie, and Charlie.

You re flying in their private jet, staying at the same posh hotels, joining them for dinner and conversation, hanging out in the clubs on your nights off.

When it s time to go to work, you step onstage and blow the saxophone for a few hours in front of massive throngs of adoring fans.

And the pay is not too shabby, either.

For Tim Ries, a Tecumseh, Mich., native who honed his musical chops as a teenager jamming inToledo jazz clubs, playing saxophone for the Rolling Stones

has been a nice way to earn a living since 1999.

They treat us incredibly well, Ries said in regard to the way the Stones treat the rest of the musicians in their entourage.

I don t know what their salary is I m sure it s significantly more than mine but we re treated like we re one of them, he said. We get the exact same treatment. Same jet, same really nice hotels. They treat their musicians unbelievably well.

I m sure I ll never have this kind of treatment again.

Ries, 47, is a graduate of North Texas State University who grew up listening to all the jazz greats and had little or no interest in rock and roll. That all changed with a phone call from his friend, jazz saxophonist Andy Snitzer, on Nov. 30, 1998.

Snitzer had been playing with the Stones but decided not to go on their upcoming Bridges to Babylon tour, and asked Ries if he d like to take his place.

The day had already been a memorable one for Ries, who took Snitzer s call on his cell phone while rehearsing in the East Room of the White House. He was to perform that evening for President Clinton, who became the second person after Ries wife, harpist Stacey Shames to hear the news about his new gig.

He asked me what other kind of stuff I ve been doing musically and I said, Ironically, here I am talking to you and I just got a call from the Rolling Stones. And he says, real loudly, Hey everybody! This is the Rolling Stones saxophone

player!

Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, left, with Tim Ries at a showing of Wood's art. Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood, left, with Tim Ries at a showing of Wood's art.
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Traveling with the legendary rockers, Ries quickly learned that the band members all have eclectic and insatiable musical appetites.

They all love music and they just submerge themselves in it, he said. [Drummer] Charlie [Watts] is so brilliant in that he knows just about every jazz record made

from the 1930s to the late 1960s. He s an aficionado and big fan of jazz and plays jazz with his own bands.

When we re on tour we ll go out to the clubs together.

Guitarist Ron Wood is totally into jazz, although he does not know the minutiae like Watts, Ries said.

Wood s brothers were musicians who played Dixieland jazz, so Ronnie enjoys that genre in particular but, generally speaking, he listens to everything anything

with music.

And then there s Keith Richards, the living legend who happens to play guitar and write songs.

Early in his first tour with the band, Ries said he was in his room late one night when he heard recordings of West African music coming through the hotel wall.

He looked at his watch. It was 2 a.m.

I didn t realize the room next to me was Keith s until the next day. When I told him I heard him playing music from West Africa the night before, he said, If you hear the music, the cage is open.

That was 10 years ago and every time I go in, there are four or five or six people in there. Keith can t really go down to the bar in the lobby. He s Keith. Everybody would be surrounding him. So he goes to his room with friends and relaxes and has a good time.

Ries said Richards spins all styles of music, including country and western, African, classical, and opera.

Singer Mick Jagger is totally professional, he said, and was supportive of his latest project: a yet-to-be-released collection of Rolling Stones songs arranged in various world music styles.

A lifelong fan of Latin, Brazilian, African, and other regional music, Ries said he got the idea for the CD in a flash of inspiration: As he circled the globe, he would record Stones songs using local artists on musical arrangements that reflected the local culture.

It is a sequel of sorts to Ries well-received 2005 release, The Rolling Stones Project, which featured jazz versions of Stones songs with Richards, Watts, Wood, and bassist Darryl Jones contributing to that disc. Also performing were such famous non-Stones as Sheryl Crow, Bill Frisell, John Scofield, and John Pattitucci.

The new album is tentatively titled Stones World: Rolling Stones World Music Project, Ries said. It features world-music interpretations of a dozen Stones tunes including Under My Thumb, Hey Negrita, Jumping Jack Flash, Miss You, Angie, and Brown Sugar, plus one of Ries own compositions.

All of the Rolling Stones were enthusiastic about the project, Ries said, and joined him for recording sessions in different cities around the world.

Ries also booked his own world-music groups to play at clubs while on tour, working around his day job with the Stones.

He also has more than 30 hours of live concert footage that was videotaped over a 2 -year period and plans to include some of that as bonus material on the album.

He recorded with fado musicians, who play a style of blues, in Portugal; flamenco musicians and dancers in Spain; a tango in Argentina, a salsa song in Cuba, and with African Toureg nomads who happened to be in Los Angeles for a benefit show.

The Stones have been behind it. If they didn t think it was cool, they wouldn t be playing on it, Ries said.

He said he enjoyed the challenge of creating world-music arrangements of the rock songs.

For me, it was fun. I keep the integrity of the song. I don t change the melody at all, he said. I m able to take a standard these songs are now standards and there s actually a lot of freedom within the structure of the song. We re just coming at it from a different perspective.

He said he does not try to duplicate the Stones originals.

I don t want to play it like they do. I don t want to be the Stones. Plus, I m playing with them anyway, he said with a laugh.

The recording sessions with different Stones were memorable experiences, he said. None of them tried to tell him what to do on their songs, but instead let him lead the way in the studio.

Mick, who wasn t on my first [Stones] CD, came to the studio and listened to my versions and did two or three tracks. It was like Mick as a side man, coming into the studio and doing something for somebody else. He was Johnny on the spot. He nailed it.

He was in there like an hour, hour and a half tops, Ries said. He asked me, How do you feel? Are you happy? I said, Yes and he said, Great. It was all very relaxed.

Richards plunged into the songs.

I m telling you, he had a guitar in his hands for three hours. We only stopped twice for five-minute breaks. We did seven tracks and he just kept playing. He was amazing. He didn t need to do it. It s his day off. But he spends three hours of his time. It was pretty cool, Ries said.

Ronnie was the same way, and Charlie, too. It was nothing like, Hey, I m the star here, this is my song. It s just, Hey, let s make some music! It s their song but it s my vision of it.

Watts played on five of the 13 tracks, including a sweltering studio date in France.

He s in his mid-60s and God bless him. The session we did in Paris was in the middle of July with no air conditioning. We re all in our T-shirts. It must have been 105 degrees, no kidding. And Charlie stayed for four hours.

He said he has not discussed how much the Stones will be paid, but he donates money to charities on their behalf. And as songwriters, they will get royalties for the recordings.

They are so generous with their time, I don t worry about it. We ll talk about that stuff later, Ries said.

He said he is still working on the details for the album release, including the major decision of whether to release it on his own as an independent or to sign with a label.

In addition to his Stones gig, Ries has released four other jazz CDs as a bandleader and occasionally tours with his 14-year-old daughter, Jasia, who sings and plays violin and piano. They played in Toledo at Murphy s Place last December.

Ries also is assembling a diversity ensemble that will record in August. The goal of that cross-cultural band is to use music to bring together people of different backgrounds and traditions.

We have a tendency as Americans to be so removed from the rest of the world. We know about Canada to the north and Mexico below but we never go to Europe, let alone Africa or Asia. We have this kind of sheltered culture, Ries said.

He is hopeful that his diversity ensemble will have an impact that goes beyond music by promoting peace, unity, and harmony among all people.

The world is very big and music can bring people together, no matter what religion, race, or ethnicity. It s just about music. My intent is to bring these cultures together, he said.

Ries plans to keep fans updated on his new Stones CD by posting information online at www.timries.com.

Contact David Yonke at: dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.



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