Jim Ridl: Door Openings
AAJ: I’m trying to get a sense of how musicians operate internally, but it’s difficult to achieve that, because much of it isn’t expressible in words. OK, now let’s turn to some items from critics you quoted in the liner notes for your albums:
“Although largely a melodic player, [Ridl] doesn’t shy away from dissonance.”
JR: Absolutely. I agree.
AAJ: “He’s also a player who is not afraid to show that he has a sense of humor.”
JR: Yeah. It would be nice if I showed it more often. But I do like humor in music.
AAJ: “Jim Ridl certainly comes up with original ways to build on ideas that can be traced to blues playing, albeit usually in a pretty abstract way... Ridl doesn’t sound like anybody that comes to mind, which is a good sign, but it makes his playing hard to describe.”
JR: Yeah, I remember that one. That’s cool, because my goal is to keep honing my voice. But “hard to describe,” I think that means what kind of category I can be put in. I suppose that’s difficult in ways. But, I wouldn’t say it’s difficult to describe what they hear, but to put it in a box might be.
AAJ: Perhaps he’s referring to Jim Ridl’s unique way of playing. That’s a compliment.
JR: Cool. That’s nice to hear.
AAJ: “The harmonic sense is advanced and probably owes something to Europeans like Bartok.” Is that accurate?
JR: To a certain degree, Bartok, and plenty of other influences as well. Some Stravinsky, some atonal music, Chopin, Beethoven, Bach, all kinds of things.
AAJ: The same critic from Jazz Times says “I am also reminded of Abdullah Ibrahim’s more adventurous work.”
JR: I know his playing. He’s been on the scene since the late ‘50’s. I really don’t exactly know what kind of explorations he’s done. I don’t have many of his recordings.
AAJ: To quote another comment: “Pianist Jim Ridl demonstrates impressive technical skills, finding cool colors in his “madcap” dashes through the keys. A frequent Pat Martino sideman, he seems to bring up the enigmatic guitar master on the intricate opener “Blue Azzara,” which refers to Martino’s birth name.” Do you agree with his assessment of Martino as “enigmatic”?
JR: Yeah. I think Pat in certain ways can be hard to pin down. In other ways, he’s perfectly obvious. Like his music, he is complexity and simplicity intertwined. But in another way, his playing is always “Pat”- it’s always his distinctive sound.
AAJ: Am I right, that when the two of you are performing together, you’re not particularly puzzled by what he’s doing?
JR: I agree. Pat always plays at an extremely high level and he’ll always come up with something new at some point. But Pat’s vocabulary is uniquely his own, and he keeps weaving what he knows so brilliantly.
AAJ: Another reviewer’s comment, this one from the Philadelphia Inquirer: “Ridl has done it again... The interesting aspect of all of the pieces on ‘Blues Liberations’ is that they are based upon blues changes, either by implication or by a W.C. Handy type of moving left-hand stroll.” Is that an accurate depiction?
JR: Yeah, that’s a good point. Of course, there’s a lot going on with my improvisations. But the truth of the matter is that I don’t know Handy’s playing especially well.
AAJ: From All About Jazz: “Taking something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue, Jim Ridl accomplishes something uncommon on ‘Blues Liberations’ that seems painfully obvious. He investigates the multitudinous forms of the blues. Ridl’s avenues of approach involve discrepant and sometimes contradictory routes as they converge at the ultimate source of the music.” Mostly, the reviewer is very flattering, but what do you suppose he means by “painfully obvious”?
JR: Well, the “something old,...” etc. was taken from my own liner notes. The “painful” part, I don’t know. Does he mean there’s too much? There’s nineteen pieces, seventy minutes of music. It goes a lot of different places. That was the intent. A certain freedom,“liberations.”
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.