For a period in the 1980s, Rodney Franklin was among the most popular jazz pianists around, and with good reason. As the talent behind more than a dozen albums, he helped to usher in the period where R&B and jazz were blending into a tasty stew that became popular under the moniker "contemporary jazz."
Born in Berkeley, California in 1958, Franklin was a child prodigy on the piano, who was already playing in bands around town by his mid-teens. He recorded with the band In One Piece at the shocking age of 14.
By the time Franklin graduated high school, he was gigging around Calfornia with such notables as Freddie Hubbard and Marlena Shaw. He was signed by Columbia Records and released his debut album, In the Center, in 1978. But it was his 1980 follow up album, You’ll Never Know, that shot him onto the charts, hitting the top 10 Jazz and spawning the international crossover hit, “In the Groove.”
Over the period 1980-88, Franklin became a fixture on the jazz charts, releasing an album nearly every year and building a strong audience for his soulful version of contemporary jazz. His 1985 ballad, “Song for You” became a surprise Quiet Storm radio favorite, and the beautiful number continues to garner play decades later.
While Franklin’s recording career was over by the turn of the century, he continues to be a draw in the Bay Area, where he regularly performs in clubs.
By Chris Rizik