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Driving Beverly Hills – Mark Portmann goes solo in 1994

photo of Mark Portmann from the 1990s provided by the musician and the cover of his recording Driving Beverly Hills
John Hilderbrand Avatar

Before he became a nine-time Grammy nominee, a baby-faced Mark Portmann was a part of the contemporary jazz scene. Here’s a review of his Driving Beverly Hills release that I originally wrote 30 years ago (with some updates).

Playing with one of top groups in contemporary jazz was bound to have an effect. Mark Portmann played keyboards for the Rippingtons in one of that band’s most popular incarnations. However, there is not much room for individual creativity in the Rippingtons since Russ Freeman writes and arranges the music. Portmann stretched out,  working with multiple Grammy-winning producer David Foster, most notably on Barbra Streisand’s Back to Broadway album. He also cut his production and composing teeth on a few Nelson Rangell albums.

With Driving Beverly Hills (Hands On Music), Portmann severed his ties with the Rippingtons and ventured forth with a 1994 project of his own, called Road Music.

The release really is a Portmann solo record as he wrote, produced, arranged, and engineered all twelve tracks. Driving Beverly Hills has one central theme – the road. It is dedicated to music lovers and auto enthusiasts. The liner notes claim that the “pulsing rhythms, sensual melodies and the excitement for ‘what’s around the next turn’ will take you from New York to L.A., through breathtaking canyons, shopping on Rodeo Drive, and driving over the Hills of Beverly.” Assisting Portmann in delivering the listenier through the terrain are classic members of the Rippingtons (no Russ Freeman), Jerry Watts on bass, and Machun, a former lead vocalist for Hiroshima. Portmann has the same strong sense of melody as his former boss. Each track is a catchy, well-produced little vacation. Especially delightful is the breezy and sweet “Rodeo Drive.”

With this Road Music project, Portmann proved that he was ready for the pole position.

I recently reached out to Mark and he was so kind to provide some behind-the-scenes behind this recording. Thanks, Mark!

“Here are some thoughts and memories that I recall about making “Driving Beverly Hills”. The concept and record label idea came from Chuck Bennett, a Rippingtons fan that I met at Toad’s Place in Hartford, CT after a Rippingtons show. Chuck invited the band to dinner. I remember Chuck, entrepreneur and owner of companies in the auto enthusiasts business, talking to the group and making a strong connection. It led to me flying back to CT after our tour ended. Chuck asked me what I wanted to do in music, he talked about making a contemporary jazz album inspired by his passion for cars and the road. I wrote most of that album in a hotel by the water inspired by his passions. 
At this time also, I was sharing a house with Steve Reid, percussionist with the Ripps. He had two incredible studios in the house. I traded sessions with Steve and well it was just a great atmosphere for recording. Wake up, roll out of bed and go into the studio. A musician’s dream. Thankful for all the players who contributed to the album. And at that time I was working a lot with Humberto Gatica doing sessions. Somehow I got wind of a new private recording studio in West Hollywood, Brooklyn Studios. Freddy Demann, at that time Madonna’s manager, they started the studio. Bill Dooley, the studio manager, was great to get me in there. I turned that studio on to Humberto. He asked me what I was working on. Well, I was ready to mix Driving Beverly Hills album, he offered to mix for me. What a kind and gracious offer. I learned so much watching him mix throughout my career. And to top it off, the mastering guy at this time everyone revered was Wally Traugott from Capitol Records. The guy in his unique studio at Capitol mastered Beach Boys Pet Sounds, Paul McCartney Wings, Dark Side of the Moon and on and on. I got to sit next to him as he explained what he was doing in putting the shine on my album. Can’t say I did anything to deserve all this love from so many talented people I was fortunate to come across. But I am thankful.”


John Hilderbrand Avatar

One response to “Driving Beverly Hills – Mark Portmann goes solo in 1994”

  1. Liz Goodwin Avatar
    Liz Goodwin

    Great review and entertaining and insightful comments from Mark Portman!. He sounds like a very humble person who appreciates the help that he has received on his musical journey; that’s always refreshing to know. Thank you so much for sharing this gem! Blessings to you and all.

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