Kathy Kemp Ridl: Creator and Creative Muse
AAJ: Kathy, tell us a bit about your childhood, and specifically the influences that led to your interest in music, jazz, and art work.
KR: I was born in Oklahoma, the youngest of a big family of musicians. We performed together as a family since I arrived on the scene, singing at Christmas services and doing other concerts in the community throughout the year. Dad (John Kemp) was a choral conductor in Church music (later the head of the Church Music Department at Westminster Choir College), and Mom (Helen Kemp) was a soprano, who led the children’s choir program (who is now internationally recognized as a specialist in Children Choirs, still active as a clinician/composer at age 85).
Thus, music was part of every day family life for me. In addition to all the singing, my brothers and sisters all played stringed instruments. There was always a lot of practicing behind a lot of doors.
When I was 6, my parents took a year's sabbatical from the church music program they led, and we moved to Holland, where we did a full year of concerts, including embassies, radio and television. I remember vividly the whole year, and the adventure included visits to many great art museums across Europe.
When we returned to Oklahoma, Dad put up an exhibit of religious paintings at the church, which fascinated me. I recall asking WAY too many questions about “WHY did they use those colors?” “Why did one artist see St. Peter as short and squat and another see him as tall and lean...?” I am sure it drove them crazy, but much in the art world needed explaining to this young inquisitor. Art remained a great fascination of mine, looking at and participating in it, while music took center stage.
AAJ: You played the viola and other string instruments?
KR: Although I was raised playing viola, I discovered bass, and had a teacher who was a jazz musician in Dallas. I loved the instrument, and the whole jazz “thing” so when we moved to New Jersey, where I finished high school, I kept playing bass and became more interested in jazz.
During my college years, I was a wanderer...annoyingly trying to “find Myself” as I went from school to school, keeping music at the core, but searching for something different than the normal music degree path. I finally ended up at the University of Colorado at Denver, where they had a new program that concentrated on music business, recording, scoring/ arranging, etc. I loved being around teachers and students who had gigs at night, people who listened to all kinds of music, and the quirky creative nature of jazz musicians. I played bass in several jazz ensembles and viola in a classical trio, and miraculously stayed at UCD and (to my parents’ delight) graduated.
AAJ: Was it then that you met your to-be-husband, the pianist Jim Ridl?
KR: It was my great fortune to meet Jim while at UCD, was instantly smitten, and we were happily married a few years later.
AAJ: It would seem at that point that you were destined for a career as a combined jazz and classical musician. Yet now, in addition to your music, you are quite a successful designer of CD cover art. How did that come about?
KR: Artwork remained an expression for me through all these formative years, but it wasn't until Jim and I moved to New Jersey in 1990 that it seemed like a good time to do some studying in that field. I went back to school for computer graphics, and got into some computer animation, all of which I just loved immediately. I tried my hand at designing concert programs and posters as a favor for friends, and really enjoyed the process and the outcome.
AAJ: How did you get into doing CD cover art?
KR: That started spontaneously in much the same way. Denis DiBlasio, the great baritone-saxophonist with whom Jim was playing, had a new recording coming out and asked if I'd help him put together the cover. I jumped at the chance, and really had no idea what I was doing...I learned so much from that project. It turned out well, and is still one of my favorites. From that first project, the word got around. So many musicians were putting out their own music but didn't know where to turn for help with cover art and all that non-music, manufacturing nitty-gritty that no-one taught you in school. At the beginning, I learned right along with my clients. Now, I hope to be a reference for independent musicians who have put their heart and soul into a recording, and need to get it designed and manufactured as painlessly as possible.
AAJ: So doing these CD covers brings together your art work with your love of music.
KR: For me, designing covers (and the promotional materials that go along with them) has become a way of combining my love of music and art with my desire to play a supportive role to people in the Arts generally. I love working with musicians, and I know from releasing Jims recordings how much is involved in the process...The project is officially “finished” when there is a cover on it. It is a visual representation of the music, the thing that people look for when they want to play your CD, the thing that's in the back of their head when discussing CDs. It’s another way to identify the music. So, it’s very important that the artwork be a good match with the music, and that the musician feels good about it. When the cover is done and on the way to the manufacturer, it's time to uncork the bottle.