Starting at the age of 16, Lee played his first session with The Mama's and the Papa's. Two years later he was backing Tony Bennett and Lena Horne at L.A.'s Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Known as "Captain Fingers," Ritenour became a sought-after session player in the mid-70's. Starting in 1976, at the age of 24, he began his own solo career which now includes over 30 albums and collaborations. Although heavily influenced in his early days by the relaxed styles of Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Barney Kessel, he now has his own distinctive sound and fluid style. His list of session work is awesome (some 3,000 sessions), but some of his notable performances were with Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins and Pink Floyd. Since the mid-80's Ritenour has been strongly influenced by Brazilian music.
Along the way, Ritenour has received 17 Grammy nominations, earned several gold albums, numerous #1 spots in guitar polls and the prestigious "Alumnus of the Year" award from USC. In 1981, he scored the pop15 hit "Is It You," featuring vocalist Eric Tagg, which has also become a smooth jazz radio classic. He joined GRP Records in 1985 after recording for Electra the previous 7 years. At that time, he recorded the magnificent Harlequin album with GRP co-owner Dave Grusin. It was nominated for four Grammys and won one that year.
In the early 90's, Ritenour teamed up with Bob James, Harvey Mason and bass player Nathan East under the name of Fourplay, who has released a number of soul/jazz/funk fusion albums for Warner Brothers Records. Lee was a founding member of the original band and participated in the first three releases which remain their biggest hits to date. The first Fourplay album in 1991 spent an unprecedented 33 weeks at No. 1 on Billboard's contemporary jazz chart.
In 1993, Ritenour topped the Billboard jazz chart with his accomplished tribute to Wes Montgomery on his album Wes Bound, and followed it in 1995 with an excellent joint album with Larry Carlton. In 1997, Ritenour was a founding partner of i.e. Music at Polygram Records. The first release on i.e. Music was a Twist of Jobim paying tribute to the great Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim. The single "Water to Drink" from this album was a #1 Radio N Records NAC airplay single in 1997. In 2000, he and Dave Grusin returned to their classical roots with Two Worlds, which remained on Billboard's classical charts for 51 weeks. In 2001 he released the second of the Twist of trilogy, with a tribute to Bob Marley, placing reggae classics in a contemporary setting. The first single "Get Up, Stand Up," was the #1 Radio N Records NAC airplay single of 2001. In 2002, Ritenour released Rit's House, a jazzier, funk album with many new original compositions of Ritenour's. The final of the Twist of trilogy was the 2003 release A Twist of Motown.
Lee plays Yamaha Silent acoustic guitars. Watch him talk about his career and Yamaha guitars in the following video:
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