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Ravel Revels in Versatility : The CSUN-trained keyboardist and composer has played with an array of artists and reflects a spectrum of influences.

April 30, 1993|DON HECKMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Don Heckman contributes regularly to The Times.

Freddie Ravel is a local product well on his way to bigger and better things. Classically trained at Cal State Northridge, the versatile keyboardist-composer has been heard in the last few years with everyone from Tony Bennett and Sergio Mendes to L. Subramaniam and the Rippingtons.

Tonight, Ravel--who just returned from a two-week gig in Tahiti--will lead his own group at La Ve Lee in Studio City.

"We're going to have a lot of fun," Ravel said. "There'll be a full entourage, with Nathan East on bass, Bernie Dresel on drums, Anjani on vocals, Kevin Ricard on percussion and Ricardo Silveira on guitar. It's a hot bunch of players, and I'm really looking forward to working with them."

Ravel's music is a colorful blend of Latin rhythms, jazz improvisations, classical harmonies and funk back-beats. His first album, "Midnight Passion," was described by Jazz Times magazine as ". . . a heady mix of world musics and jazz."

"The world is getting smaller," Ravel said. "Just watch CNN. And people are feeling and experiencing a lot of different kinds of things. It's a world in which musicians like myself are traveling, all the time, taking in a lot of stuff, and it's bound to affect their music. I've been working in Tahiti for the last two weeks, for example, experiencing that culture, and it's already had an effect on some of the music I'm working on."

Ravel also comes to his musical eclecticism naturally. His father is Russian-German-Polish and his mother is Colombian. The sounds he heard while growing up were varied and plentiful.

"My dad played a little guitar," he recalled, "and my mother played the stereo--incessantly. From the time I was a little kid, I remember hearing her playing recordings, all day, every day, of cumbias and sambas and salsa--stuff that her family would send from Colombia.

"Of course, I was a hard-core Beatles fan by the time I was 7, but pretty soon I was also listening to Buddy Rich and the Doobie Brothers, and Stan Getz and Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire. Definitely eclectic stuff."

Ravel started out on accordion at the age of 8--"you know, 'Lady of Spain,' 'Fiddler on the Roof,' things like that," he said with a laugh. Guitar, drums and piano followed, and by the time he was a teen-ager, he was practicing six and seven hours a day.

After college, in the '80s, he gradually became one of L. A.'s busy, all-purpose musicians, gigging with Justo Almario, Sadao Watanabe, Dori Caymmi and Quincy Jones, among numerous others. The Hollywood Reporter has glowingly identified Ravel as "one of L. A.'s truly great jazz keyboardists."

In the process of playing such diverse music, he developed a strong admiration for the multifaceted session and back-up artists who are so important to the entertainment business.

"These guys are very good at what they do," Ravel said. "Guys like Don Grolnick and Mike Lang and Gerald Albright. They're great players. Maybe not household names, but I think they make a pretty good living, and they do it by making their music honestly. And that's something that's real important to me."

Ravel's career is on an upward slope, with three songs on a new Earth, Wind & Fire album, a songwriting collaboration with Amanda McBroom and a second recording of his own in the works for later this year. As enthusiastic as he is about the emerging possibilities for commercial achievements, however, he continues to be a solid believer in creative and professional integrity.

"I want to be as successful as the next guy," he said. "But you have to be careful about how you make a definition of success. To me, success means doing your own thing in an honest way, being real satisfied with it and not attaching a monetary component to it. That way, if you happen to get a hit, then you got it honestly--you didn't have to sacrifice elements of your style just because you wanted a hit.

"And the truth is that I really believe that if you're straightforward about what you're doing, and just put it out there, audiences will connect with you a lot more strongly. . . ."

Most of all, Ravel is that rarest of the rare--a person who is delighted to be exactly who he is, doing exactly what he is doing.

"I count my blessings that I make a living doing something I love to do. It may be a modest living, right now, but I'm completely jazzed--literally and figuratively--to be playing music. I'm really happy, and I thank God every day that I'm able to pay the bills by doing what I want to do."

Where and When What: Freddie Ravel at La Ve Lee, 12514 Ventura Blvd., Studio City. Hours: 8 p.m. to midnight tonight. Dinner served from 6 p.m. Price: $5 cover, two-drink minimum. Call: (818) 980-8158.

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