Jim Ridl: Door Openings
AAJ: Charlie Parker said, “If you haven’t been through it, it won’t come out of your horn.”
JR: That’s a great one.
AAJ: Are there particular experiences you’ve been through, that are reflected in your music, jazz being an expression of our humanity?
JR: Probably some very intense and difficult experiences have inspired me to write some music. Often, that happens. Like the loss of my dad. Although all the music in A Door in a Field was written before he died, and he heard it. But- I think, for example, the ballad “Sun on My Hands,” I knew that my father was not feeling well. The piece isn’t about his health, rather it is about the sun on his hands, the patina of it, wonderful things about him physically, and how he was out on the farm. That’s what that’s about, but there’s a lot going on with him that’s hard, that’s difficult, and so that influenced how I play, how I write, and how I improvise. When I compose and improvise, like the tune “The Nearness of You,” I can certainly think of my father or someone else who passed away. I definitely have a sense of reflection. There’s always a bit of bittersweet and pathos in my music.
And joyful things too. Not that I write a lot of “up” music, but I do write things that just make you feel good, but not attached to any deep emotion or event.
AAJ: I suppose some things are taken too seriously. The poet T.S. Eliot tired of the deep interpretations the critics ascribed to his poems. Yet it is interesting to see how your feelings about your father come into your music.
JR: Especially in the last couple of years prior to his death. I had a number of wonderful dreams about him. The tune “Sweet Clover,” it’s this beautiful tall grass. And I had a dream I was out on the farm, on a bike, and I could feel this sweet clover on my hand. I could think of him there because he dug that tune. He’d snap his fingers to it!
AAJ: Your father was into music?
JR: He just loved it- he didn’t play. Not terribly diverse in his tastes. He grew up in the big band era. He loved swingin’ music like Oscar Peterson, Andre Previn, and even that tune by Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, “Where is the Love?” He had a really nice feeling for the music.
AAJ: I’m recalling the early musical exposure of guys like Uri Caine, whose parents played klezmer recordings, and John Swana, whose mother was a choral singer, and his father often played jazz records. The influences start very early in life.
To change the subject, I’m interested in your relationship with your wife, Kathy, who is a musician and also a graphic artist. She designs CD album covers for Dreambox Media. Tell us a bit about your wife and Dreambox.
JR: My latest three recordings are with Dreambox, which is Jim Miller’s record label. He’s a close friend and one of my favorite musicians to play with, and then Suzanne Cloud is a partner with him. Kathy’s done a number of their album covers. Kathy’s an amazing lady. I’ve know her since we met in college in 1978. We’ve been together since. We’ve been married over twenty-one years. She’s just awesome. I’m very blessed to be with her. She’s just a great musician, very gifted on bass, viola. A wonderful jazz player, singer, songwriter, composer. She’s done her graphics work for nine or ten years, producing 55 or 60 CD’s. On Interchange, Pat’s CD, and Night Wings that’s her painting. She’s amazing. I love her artisitic involvement on my recordings. I’ll have to show you some of her paintings here in our house.
AAJ: So Kathy is creative both musically and visually. By the way, the first Blue Note album covers- now considered classics- were designed by Gil Melle, himself a musician.
JR: Kathy comes from a musical family- both her parents taught at Westminster Choir College. She’s the youngest of five, just like me, but she grew up amid classical and choral music. In fact, everyone in her family plays stringed instruments and/or sings.
AAJ: What do the two of you do to relax?
JR: We have similar interests across the board. Since we have such an erratic schedule, we don’t do the same things regularly. When we can, we like to go to jazz and classical concerts, to hear music and talk about it. We also enjoy getting into New York from time to time just to hang out. When we can take vacations, we like to go to Santa Fe, and lately it’s been to see family. Kathy likes the wide open spaces like North Dakota. If we ever relocate, it will probably be out West. She likes farming, being with the cattle. It’s pretty cool. We share so much. I’m really lucky.
AAJ: What are some future directions you’ve got in mind?
JR: There are quite a number of things. I have enough material to do a second recording like A Door in a Field. What I’d really like to do, if I can get the proper backing, is some orchestral writing to go with the music I’ve been working on. That’s a project in itself. First I’ve got to promote the A Door in a Field CD. Another project I’d like to do is to take my ballads like “Sun on My Hands,” “Carry Me Home,” that I’d like to orchestrate with a vocal soloist, an “art song” project, semi-classical. It would also be nice to do a “standards” recording, just to play. I’d like to do the music of Jobim. And I have a couple of piano pieces I’d like to compose. For instance, I’ve improvised a lot on Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata. I’m working on a jazz version of the “Pathetique”. I’d like to follow through on a number of classical pieces done in my interpretation in a jazz sense. I also want to work with Kathy on doing her music, however she wants to work it. At some point, we’d like to get some studio equipment here in our home to record some things of good enough quality to release.
AAJ: Do you do anything with synthesizers?
JR: I own a couple of them and have done some things with Dave Liebman’s Big Band. Actually, we’ll be at Birdland with that band in November. It’s all his music- very daring and daunting! We’ve recorded on Omnitone. This past Spring, my connection with Dave grew. He’s so advanced, his harmonic sense is so difficult, that, like, “What do I play here?” Took me a while to get to where he could enjoy my playing, and Dave joined us in my gig at the Deerhead Inn. The following night, we played an awesome “Duet” gig in New York. So I grew quite a bit musically working with Dave.
AAJ: Dave is an incredible musician, and very articulate as an educator. You’re each splendid performers and spokespersons for your profession, each in your own unique way. Thanks so much, Jim, for having me over to your place and for such a sincere, heartfelt, and wide-ranging interview.
Visit Jim Ridl on the web at www.jimridl.com .