Ron Otis is one of the most established sidemen in contemporary American jazz. The Detroit based drummer is renowned for his versatility, improvisation and impeccable timing—incorporating syncopated rhythms and funky accenting. Having toured with guitarist Earl Klugh and pianist Bob James for over a decade, Otis usually plays alongside bassist Al Turner.
“Bob and Earl are living legends who I grew up listening to, so having them welcome a no-name guy like me into their world was humbling,” Otis said. “A lot of cats think being a sideman is a horrible thing, but I feel you can’t lead unless you know how to be a true team player. I always had songs in my head and wanted to write, and this year the opportunity finally presented itself.”
Ron Otis’ supporting band consists of Klugh, James and Turner as well as local talent from Detroit, including brother Theo Otis, bassist Darrell “Peanut” Smith, guitarist Tim Bowman, keyboardist Brian O’Neal, pianist Charles Scales, trumpeter Rayse Biggs and saxophonists Randy Scott, Dave McMurray and Darryl Wakefield.
Reaching for the drums at age 5, Otis played many different venues in his formative years including orchestras, jazz and marching bands as well as playing for his church at 10 years of age. Playing in local clubs at age 16, he began a professional career which launched his musical journey to working with celebrated artists including Jonathan Butler, Tim Bowman, Nelson Rangell and Cheryl Lynn.
Having collaborated on recordings with prominent artists Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Earl Klugh, SWV, Bob James, Kem and recorded and live performances with Joann Shaw Taylor, Otis has performed several times at the White House and a myriad of venues across the country and theaters and clubs around the world.
Drummer Ron Otis is one of those sidemen, who unpretentiously stay in the background. He performed and recorded with Bob James (Urban Flamingo), Lin Roundtree (Sumthin’ Good), Earl Klugh ( Spice of Life, Journey), Al Turner (Movin’), Brian O’Neal (Daisy), Justin Young (On The Way), Dave McMurray (My Brother and Me, Soul Searching, Nu Life Stories), Alexander Zonjic (Reach For The Sky) and a lot more.
Many of those musicians, who shared his musical path, gave back to him their thankfulness with their tributes. Among those artists are Tim Bowman, Darryl Wakefield, Perry Hughes, Charles Scales, Bob James, Randy Scott, Earl Klugh, Dave McMurray, Rayse Biggs, Brian O'Neal and many more.
Ron Otis' debut Up Front is his first step to a solo career. Focusing the spotlight on Otis’ compositional and arrangement skills and his melodious style of smooth jazz, Otis is a surprising shift from the expected. The instrumental full-length CD is playfully melodic and quite daring for a debut record. Call it contemporary, nu or smooth; this is modern jazz in its purest form: all chops, few frills and no lead vocals.
“During the recording process, there were times I wished I had more experience on keyboards to articulate my ideas and solidify the melodies,” Otis admitted. “Also, being an independent artist, it took longer than anticipated to complete the project. Despite the challenges, I have truly enjoyed the journey.”
Otis has no immediate touring plans, but he looks forward to pursuing his solo career while maintaining his sideman responsibilities.