Jim Ridl: Door Openings
AAJ: Tom Lawton, a fellow pianist of yours, first turned me on to your music and told me you played in Philly often. Forgive me for not realizing that until very recently. Of course, All About Jazz originates primarily from the Philadelphia area, though it’s an international website in every respect. But what can you tell us about your “Philly Jazz” experience?
JR: I have to say, between New York and Philly, I’m certainly more associated with Philadelphia, and I’ve played with a lot of Philly musicians, but I’m not a tried and true “inside of the scene Philadelphia musician.” For example, I love Ortlieb’s Jazzhaus , but I never really got on that scene a whole lot. It’s straight ahead jazz. I played for many years with Denis DeBlasio, and we have an ongoing connection. George Rabbai, Darryl Hall, although he’s in New York now. Glenn Ferracone. I do some playing at Vincent’s at their Thursday night event. [10 E. Gay St; West Chester, PA 19380; 610-696-4262- for those who want to check it out. (EDS).] Paul Kleinfelter, the bassist. J. D. Walters is in the Philly area. These are some guys I’ve worked with.
AAJ: But you don’t consider yourself part of the Philly scene as such?
JR: I am and am not.
AAJ: I see you’re lined up to play with John Swana at Chris’ Jazz Café.
JR: He’s one of the first people I met in Philly. It’s so nice to play with him. Steve Bescrone is one of the first people I met out here too. And Mike Boone. Byron Landham.
AAJ: To change the subject, I just want to check out something. On your website Jim Ridl Homepage , I see that you call your publishing company “Little Ridl Music” and you have a photo where you look just a trifle like the great pianist Michel Petrucciani, who was diminutive in physical stature, though a musical giant. Is that connection intended?
JR: Interesting! No, I never thought of that. But, come to think of it, I did get to meet Michel, when I was on tour with Rare Silk, and he was a really nice guy. He even bummed a cigarette from me! It’s a nice memory actually. That was in Washington, DC at a festival that included Art Blakey, Freddie Hubbard, and Buster Williams, where Michel was playing piano. This is a cool aside- that they were playing Monk’s “Epistrophy” and Michel was the only one reading the music for that. When Freddie finished his solo, he casually walked around to Michel and took the music away! As if to say, “It’s OK- you’re one of us now- don’t be so insecure!” I thought it was a wonderful lesson. It was very spontaneous.
AAJ: So there’s that brief connection between you and Petrucciani, like two strangers passing in the night.
JR: Do you need any more coffee?
AAJ: Yeah, thanks. [At this point, Jim and Kathy’s tiger-striped orange cat, Pekoe, leaps on the kitchen table and directly in front of me. His presence was felt throughout the remainder of the interview ? Jim refills my cup, and then we continue.]
AAJ: Let’s explore your collaboration with guitarist Pat Martino . I reviewed your Duet performance at the Tin Angel, and loved it. The audience was electrified. I hope the two of you will seriously consider doing a recording. You’ve done duet work with Pat, and also Denis DiBlasio.
JR: Denis and I made a recording around 1995. But not so many duet gigs. Denis does have another duet recording in mind for us, however.
AAJ: The duet venue is not often done. It’s very difficult to work without a rhythm section. The exposure and demands to generate a flow of ideas can be great. Some of the duet work by other musicians that I’ve listened to frankly haven’t impressed me. But I thought you and Pat are phenomenal together. I wonder what made the two of you come to work with each other, and why you chose to do duets rather than incorporate a rhythm section?
JR: Those things have a specific answer because it is unique, two people playing. If it’s chordal instruments like guitar and piano, it’s going to be different from two linear instruments, two horns. I met Pat some years ago at Café Borgia in Philadelphia while playing a gig. He happened to come in with a friend. I’d heard about Pat in college, and I knew a bit about his brain aneurysm. So when he came in, I went “Oh that’s cool, Pat Martino.” Kevin McConnell, the bassist on the gig introduced me to Pat. He really liked my playing, and we exchanged numbers. In the fall of 1992, I went to his home in Philly, and we played duets on his original music. I was blown away by his playing. Before that, I was more into Pat Metheny and George Benson, but when I heard Pat, it was like Wow! That sound, that attack, that feel was heavy duty! It was great, and we had a good chemistry. He’s one of the greatest musicians I’ve played with, but at the same time, he’s not gonna tell you what to play. He’s very “talky” about music, but he’s more like “old school”: If you’ve got something to say, say it! If you got something to play, play! But if you’re gonna be half way about it, I won’t like it, and you’ll know I won’t like it!” He won’t say that, but you’ll feel it! Pat’s got a big aura and a big vibe, so you’ll feel it in a variety of ways!
We established a nice connection and continued to play at his house in 1993, but nothing really transpired. He wasn’t playing publicly at that time. I stayed in touch. As he got things together again after his crisis, I just thought I’d let him do his thing, and not force myself on him. The next thing I know, in January of 1994, he calls me and says, “Well, I’m gonna do a recording, and I want you on it.” With Marc Johnson, bass, and Sherman Ferguson, who played with Pat for many years, on drums. The album was “Interchange.” I was thrilled. My first real jazz recording. I worked with Pat on the music, helping him polish up his own stuff. We just went in and did the session, and went home! It was a classic jazz recording: no rehearsal, mostly first takes. It was at Systems Two in New York City. It was cathartic. I remember driving home and crying with joy, it felt so great.
AAJ: That was a milestone, a thrilling experience.
JR: Absolutely. To record with Pat, and also Mark Johnson, who had played with Bill Evans, and Sherman. I learned a lot from that experience.
AAJ: And after that recording, how did the duet performances come about?
JR: I think we did our first duets on gigs with the quartet. We’d do that tune, “Before You Ask,” as a duet. Eventually, it led to us deciding to do some duet performances.
AAJ: What is the difference musically and personally in doing duets versus working with a rhythm section?
JR: Well, with a duet, each player has to create the rhythm to propel it, which is usually done by the rhythm section. Specifically with Pat, the function falls on me to continue the motion when he’s soloing and when he’s playing the melody. If I don’t do that, it doesn’t work as well. Other players prefer it more open and freer. Pat has these burning, propelling lines, and if that’s not backed up, it’s weird, and it weirds him out, and he doesn’t like it.
At the same time, our duet performances have evolved to where he’s also become more active behind me in my soloing. I really appreciate that, because I’m not a left hand bass line player. The big thing in duets is the rhythmic factor. The exception might be ballads, where you can kind of swim, but not in anything that’s “up tempo.”