Richard Ruttenberg (1971) Piano
Ed. Note: Richard was one of a very few who were in the Jazz Ensemble for all four years of their high school career. He can be heard on the 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1971 website albums. Richard also toured the Republic of Mexico, with the Jazz Ensemble, in 1970. In 1971 he received the prestigious DownBeat Magazine Award for outstanding performance.
Part I: A Biographical Sketch
An interview by Joan Trossman Bien
Back in the day during his senior year, Richard Ruttenberg was a member of the New Trier West Recording Jazz Ensemble. Whenever an assembly was called, most kids would disappear. The one exception occurred when the Jazz Ensemble was playing. Then, you couldn’t even find a place to stand because everyone showed up. Those young musicians had a better chance than most at becoming professionals.
The next step was college. However, Richard found that his chosen school was not all that he had hoped it would be. After a few years studying music at the University of Indiana, he became restless. He got a job in a record store there and, after returning to Chicago, worked in another record store. “But it was a job, and I really was not enjoying the job thing,” he said.
Then Richard got a gig playing for a duo at a nice hotel. “I was working a few hours a night, five nights a week, I was making good money and that was it for the record store. Ever since then I have been a professional musician.”
Richard moved to Los Angeles in 1980 and that is where he still lives with his wife, composer-singer Susan Marder. In 1984, Richard started doing session work, and he has never looked back.
“I love sitting next to people who are so amazingly talented that you didn’t even think people like that existed when you were in your little world of jazz as a teenager. You are working with people whose names you’ve seen on records and film scores your whole life. You think, ‘Wow! Here they are and they are just a regular person.’ After you work with them for a while you think, ‘Naw, they are not a regular person. They are a genius.'”
Richard has given a lot of thought to the idea of becoming a composer but the more he has worked in film and television, the less he wants to take on the non-musical part of that job.
“As a musician, unlike the composer, I don’t have to deal with the producer or the director or the suits or the network. That’s the worst part of it, the real soul-sucking part.”
Although Richard enjoys composing for his own projects, he remembers what the great film composer Elmer Bernstein once said. “It’s a very good quote that describes why composers hate one part of their job. He said, ‘Everybody in film has two jobs, their own and the music.’ So that pretty much tells you.”
Richard has been a session musician for some long- running television shows. “Working for Alf Clauson on ‘The Simpsons’ for 20 years has been great. In fact, I just started the next season. It’s always kind of a challenge but a fun challenge. And I got to work with two great composers on the ‘Star Trek’ shows over the years.”
In the future, Richard would like to expand his jazz performance experience. “I would love to play in one of the great jazz clubs in New York, I’ve never done that. I’d love to play in London or Paris with a small jazz band, I’ve never done that. I would like to get better; I haven’t quite done that yet.”
But it is the piano that has captured Richard’s heart ever since he was a child. “It’s just the greatest thing in the world. I bow before the piano. I love it. A good day for me is spending a few hours just by myself practicing or writing. It’s the best.”
*New Trier West is now more commonly referred to by New Trier High School, Northfield campus.
Part II: Biography
Rich Ruttenberg has studied piano since the age of seven, starting with classical repertoire and moving to jazz studies in high school and college. After several years playing jazz clubs in Chicago, he moved out to Los Angeles, shortly thereafter beginning a 30-year career playing piano and electronic keyboards. He has performed with artists as diverse as Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Marvin Hamlisch, Andrea Bocelli, Il Divo, Jeff Beck, Seth MacFarlane, and Catherine Zeta-Jones; played thousands of recording sessions for shows such as The Simpsons, the Star Trek series, The Family Guy, American Dad, JAG, Wings, Moonlighting, Murphy Brown, and Murder She Wrote; and performs live regularly on the Oscars and the Emmy awards.
In the world of film music, he has had the pleasure of working with such composers as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Alan Silvestri, Mark Isham, Elmer Bernstein, Mychael Danna, James Horner, David Newman, Danny Elfman, Randy Newman, James Newton Howard, and Marc Shaiman on hundreds of movies as varied as A Beautiful Mind, Anchorman, Toy Story 2, The Royal Tenenbaums, City Slickers, Minority Report, Antwone Fisher, Breach, Bobby, Eight Below, Catch Me If You Can, Seabiscuit, What Women Want, Darkman, A River Runs Through It, The Pursuit of Happyness, Lars And The Real Girl, and most significantly, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.