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Interviews

Larry Ridley: Them's That Teach Can Do

By Published: November 29, 2007

Lets just cut the bullshit and get down to what the real deal is. Were all legitimate musicians and were all serious musicians so lets cut out all those little ridiculous clichs.

Larry Ridley Bassist Larry Ridley has one of the most impressive pedigrees in all of jazz. After coming up in his hometown of Indianapolis, playing with Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding, Ridley relocated to New York, appearing on some of the 1960s most important records with Hubbard, Roy Haynes, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean and Dexter Gordon. During the 1970s he recorded his first album as leader, played as a sideman with James Moody and Duke Ellington, and was Thelonious Monk's regular bassist. A prominent member of the jazz education community, Ridley was the founding faculty member of the Rutgers University jazz program and is Executive Director of IAJE's African-American Jazz Caucus. He is also jazz artist-in-residence at the Schomburg Institute for Research in Black Culture.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about this concert you have coming up at the Schomburg [Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York], where you'll be honoring three of the great pianists that you've played with during your illustrious career.

Larry Ridley: I've been doing these tributes now for fifteen-plus years at the Schomburg, as the artist in residence, their jazz artist in residence and I always try to make each one of these things very thematic, in terms of honoring people are somewhat off the radar screen because they've passed on, or whatever. And even not even to totally focus on that; there are some people who are still around to smell the roses, I try to do something to honor them too because they may not be on the commercial radar screen, so to speak.

Duke Pearson, Sonny Clark and Kenny Drew are three wonderful pianists that I had the pleasure of performing and interacting with on several occasions during my time here in New York and being involved in numerous bands. I played with Duke, I think as I remember, with Donald Byrd. Sonny Clark was a guy that was always around; we used to hang out with him. And Kenny Drew, we worked a lot together. In fact, we did a tour in Europe with Chet Baker.



So, you know, my knowledge of these people goes [beyond] more than just something that I read somewhere. I've actually had the professional privilege of being blessed by the creator to perform with a lot of these people, so it makes a difference and I just feel that it's very important to do that, I mean as far as what my mission is in life because I've been blessed. The creator enabled me to be able to perform and play and learn from all of these great people. I just don't want to see them become part of the anonymous forgotten, you know what I mean. So that's the reason why I'm doing it.

And Duke was a wonderful pianist and composer, and wrote a lot of great songs. He also did a lot of good work at Blue Note Records because he was working with Alfred Lion and Frank Wolf as a sort of A&R person at various recording sessions. Sonny was one of my favorite sort of bebop, I guess you'd say, influenced pianists; he was a great talent. He had somewhat of a tragic life in that he developed some bad habits and it sort of took him out of here earlier than one would have wished ... that he could have been around, but you just never know these things. None of us have a definite contract, so we don't know when things are going to come to an end, but while he was here, he was a fantastic musician, just a great pianist.



Leroy Vinegar, the great bassist—who was from my home town in Indianapolis—and I, we were very close and Leroy was like a big brother to me. We used to talk about Sonny often. In fact one of the first recordings I heard of Sonny Clark was a thing that he did with Serge Chaloff, the great baritone saxophonist out of the Massachusetts area—Boston to be exact, and it was a date they did with Leroy on bass and Philly Joe on drum. That was always one of my favorite albums; I liked Serge's conception of the baritone, too. And so, Kenny Drew grew up around A.T.—Arthur Taylor—and Jackie McLean and Gil Noble, all of these guys that were part of that uptown crew up in Harlem. And Sonny Rollins was also a part that package. Andy Kirk, Jr., all those guys. I knew Andy Kirk, Jr. too.

Larry

So, again, as far as what is happening at the Schomburg and you know we always try to do it as an edutainment type of thing, where I put together program notes so that people at least have some insight into who and what these people were and what some of the contributions that they made [were]. And they're always given on Sunday afternoons at three o'clock in the afternoon and we always have nice attendance at these performances. I have to thank Howard Dotson for bringing me into that situation as a jazz artist in residence.

AAJ: Why don't you talk a little about the importance of the Schomburg in the Harlem community and the jazz community? I know I frequently use it as a resource for my writing and research on the music.

LR: Well, it's just invaluable, and one the world's leading institutions as far as the type of information they have that relates to African or black culture; I've heard people use the terms. And thank God for Arthur Schomburg, who was the one who started that. He was part of that group with James Weldon Johnson and Langston Hughes and all those great people that came together, and were the literary giants in the Harlem community. It's one of the greatest repositories of intellectual and artistic artifacts that exists in the world. And I think that the new remodeled place is just really, really nice and the fact that it became a part of the New York Public Library system was also a very important affiliation to occur, which gave it additional clout and added to its fiscal solvency, as well.

And it's there and they do a fantastic job at keeping the facility in; you know, everything is done very well and they don't let people come in and just beat up the place. Sometimes I've had some people say that they're kind of stuffy sometimes, but hey, you've got to do that if you're going to keep something so that it's nice and attractive and you know, it's a gem that has to be kept polished. And a lot of people use it—the resources there—and, like you, it's one of my favorite places to do research. Also, all the years I was at Rutgers, being involved with the Rutgers Institute for Jazz Studies, these are two very important repositories containing information that should be utilized even more.



You know, we've got this whole thing as far as curricula development and I think that more of the teachers and the teaching boards of various public schools and private elementary, middle and secondary schools should be utilizing these facilities more to incorporate this wealth of material that exists in both of these repositories. I'm also involved with something that's a historic first at a historically black college and university. We've been approved by the state of North Carolina at North Carolina Central University to develop a jazz research institute there, which is really just going to be great.

Larry AAJ: And that's part of your work as the chair—is that your title—at the African American Jazz Caucus of the IAJE?

LR: I'm the executive director of the African American Jazz Caucus. I helped start the caucus back in 1977 when I was attending the then NAJE—National Association of Jazz Educators—and they have since become international with the International Association for Jazz Education, because they've also brought in more of the industry as a particular component of what the organization is all about. I wear several hats there. I'm also the Northeast region coordinator for IAJE that covers several states in the Northeast region, which is a new position I took on, but I'm trying to keep all of this balanced because my first and foremost thing is being a jazz musician because I love the music, and I've just had such fantastic mentorship from so many of the greats through the years—the Ellingtons, the Thelonious Monks and Dizzy Gillespies and Horace Silvers and on and on and on. All of this stuff is on my website which iswww.larryridley.com.

AAJ: Well you're resume is quite impressive for anybody.

LR: For a young guy, right [laughs].

AAJ: And then, on top of it though, you were one of the first real players—jazz musicians, active African American musicians—who got into the jazz education field. You were one of the founding members of the Rutgers jazz faculty, I believe.

LR: I'm the one that brought in Ted Dunbar, Kenny Barron; we had Don Friedman at one point, Jimmy Giuffre, Freddie Waits, Michael Carvin, Frank Foster, just a number of people who I brought in. Because I kind of had this idea back in the fifties when, in 1955, I won a violin scholarship to Indiana University School of Music and David Baker and all of us were there and a lot of fine musicians. That was before jazz was really into the university system; about the only thing that had been set up on sort of like a university type level was the Berklee College of Music, which was started in 1947.



But the think was, when I got there to Indiana University—and it was such a great institution—there was such a great wealth of opportunities to perform in the symphony orchestra that they had there, as well as performing in the opera orchestra, so I got a well-rounded experience, but we used to get together and play jazz in the rehearsal halls there at Indiana University and I saw all of these great players from the European classical tradition, the Berkshire Quartet, Sidney Foster, on and on and on, the people that were there on the faculty. And they'd go in and out and travel all over the world, performing with the Met or with various orchestras and they'd come back and teach.

Larry

So I said this is a good idea for me to do and that's why I majored in music education and not just a straight bachelor or music degree, because I saw that it was an opportunity and I've always felt that jazz needed to have a similar type of thing and that was really the catalyst for me getting involved in jazz education, because I always felt that the music academy, quote-unquote, was not going to ever accept jazz a legitimate art form or music because there was always this thing about, "Oh do you play legit or "Do you play serious music. And I said, "Of course I'm serious. [laughs] People come up to me and say, "Oh you have such wonderful technique, you must have studied legitimately. I said, "Well I think so. And they would be ranting and raving about this that and the other thing.

AAJ: And you got your post graduate training with Thelonious Monk.

LR: Thank you. And that was one of the best schools. That's one of the things I've always tried to incorporate, and that's why I brought in people like Kenny Barron and different ones because there are many schools—and this is not a negative knock at any of these institutions that have jazz degree programs—but I read some of these ads that they put out and they say come and study with some of the greatest jazz musicians and I look at some of the names and I don't know who these people are or who they performed with.

AAJ: Like guys who played with Stan Kenton for three months in 1952.

LR: [laughs] Or even less than that; lesser names than Stan Kenton. But you know, as the jazz education thing has taken off, it has become a niche market for people who aspire to play jazz and what have you, and the whole jazz education thing has just grown like topsy. Some of the programs that I've seen, you sometimes question the credibility of them because one the main things they fail to keep incorporated is that whole spiritual aesthetic of the music, which is the feeling of the music that comes from Mother Africa through the whole African/American experience. You know there's so many attempts to revise the history of the music and to promote people who have backing from record companies or other sources to be given some sort of commercial success, and I think about some of these great musicians, many of them never studied, but interestingly enough there were a number of people that came through the historically black colleges that were some of the top musicians. You know Cannonball Adderley and his brother Nat came through Florida A&M ...

AAJ: All the way back to Fletcher Henderson.

LR: Oh yeah, there's a whole list of these things. I did an article once for Local 802, a couple of years back during Black History Month. Michael Elsimer asked me to do an article and they had a chart of all the people that came through various historically black colleges—Jimmy Lunceford, Erskine Hawkins, Noble Sissle, I mean just a whole bunch of folks.

Larry AAJ: Which also helps counter the argument of the "noble savage playing this music. That somehow if you didn't come from the street you couldn't play real jazz.

LR: But the thing was, was that these guys were in the street, but they were also in school. It came from the source.

AAJ: Right, but it wasn't just intuition that made them the great—not just the great musicians, but the great people that they were.

LR: That's right, and every now then when I see Nancy Wilson she talks about her days at Wilberforce. You know, there's just so many. Alvin Batiste from Southern University down in Louisiana, there's so many people that we can name, and the jazz bands, like the Alabama State Collegians, you know, they were just like the Fisk Jubilee Singers. These historically black colleges have always had to fight to get economic resources just to keep the doors open, and those bands went out and did the same thing—you know there's always the mention of the Jubilee Singers from various historically black colleges—but the jazz bands always did the same thing. At Tennessee State they used jazz as far as the marching bands and everything. And so it's always been a part of, but it's never been that much on the radar.

AAJ: Well how do you feel since Rutgers really kind of broke the barrier to make it where actively playing African/American jazz musicians became part of academia and passed on the tradition to students in the classroom, rather than informally on the bandstand and that is now the way of the world? How do feel, like you opened a Pandora's box or are you the proud papa of a system that is now producing more jazz musicians than we can find work for? Not that your generation could find enough work either, but we have a lot of people who can really play now, but with very little bandstand experience outside of the school, which is not to say that that is not legitimate experience to play in a school ensemble directed by Reggie Workman or Charles Tolliver, but it's certainly different than the way things were.

Larry LR: Right, well I'm just one of the proud papas, because people like Dave Baker and Alvin Batiste also, we were sort of like a little junta that kept in touch and we were always actively supporting and reaching out to do what we could in all of this. But the thing that I always stressed, and the reason why I always structured, made sure that the curriculum and all of those things, that the apprenticeship thing is the thing that I have always felt that is lacking.



I see that even today. You get a bunch of young guys who are fine talents, but I was very fortunate to have worked and traveled with a Duke Ellington, a Horace Silver, a Dizzy Gillespie and on and on and on. You know, there's that OJT, the on-the-job training and just living the music and spending an apprenticeship working under these people and being mentored, and I think that's the way the jazz programs have to really operate. I always told students, take your ego and put it in your back pocket and sit on it and just keep your humbleness so you really understand and that you keep learning. My mother used to use a phrase all the time and she still does, thank God. She's 93 years-old now and she says "Once you stop learning, you're dead. And the minute you let your ego get carried away and think you're the great "I am, you know, then you're in trouble.



That's the main thing that I want to see maintained in these programs. It's not just about how you can play the augmented this or the diminished that and rip and run all over your instrument. It's like Lester Young used to say, "What is your story? You have nice technique, but what is your story. The guys used to always be running up to Pres and trying to rip and run and do all kinds of stuff; that's one of the great metaphors from Lester Young and so many other of these great guys. With that sort of mother wit ability to just capsulate everything and bring it down to the least common denominator that would say reams other than just running off with diarrhea of the lip. So I think that that's important.



You see all these improvisation books come out, and they want to act like they're giving you the Swanson TV dinner for learning how to play instant jazz. But there's much more than that. There's an aesthetic that comes from the spiritual element and I learned a lot of that working with Randy Weston. Randy has always been a champion recognizing the roots of this music and all this compartmentalization now with the smooth jazz and all this stuff like, it's not just about commercialism, it's about understanding that we're talking about an art form. Music is something that just goes beyond how big a bank account you've got or if you can drive a Bentley with all the bling-bling and all the bling-blang or whatever.

AAJ: Well you call your band the Jazz Legacy Ensemble, so that speaks volumes right there. It's obvious that you have a mission with the music that you perform.

LR: Well, when I retired from Rutgers back in 1999 after 28 years there and building the undergraduate and the masters degree program in jazz, I told my wife I was going to just concentrate on performing, but then I looked out here and I saw what the landscape was and I said, "Well it looks like a plantation and it acts like a plantation, so it must be a plantation. So why, with my awareness, should I want to subject myself to that, when I can try to be opening up more doors where we can have a system, or at least contribute something?

align=center>Larry



I'm not trying to be some sort of Messiah or Christ on the cross or anything like that, but just to offer an alternative to what I see is the problem—everybody scuffling to convince Lorraine Gordon to give them a week down at the Village Vanguard, or hustling trying to get in the Blue Note. Well it's got to be broader than that and it's got to be based on something other than just having to put yourself on a plantation—that's my perception of it that's what I call it—to be successful as a jazz musician.

AAJ: Well you're doing that with this Schomburg program. Let's talk about the ensemble, the band. Who is your band and what music will you be playing on this three pianist tribute?

LR: Well, I started the Jazz Legacy Ensemble back in 1985. In fact I incorporated all of that and got my copyright and patent and all that stuff from the Department of Patents and Trademarks. Richard Wyands is just a Godsend; I mean I love this man. He's a fantastic pianist, he has such a professional demeanor, we never have any hassles about anything. You know, I know that jazz musicians can be very temperamental and I've been around a lot of them [laughs], but when you're trying to have an ensemble it's important to have people that you feel simpatico for and with and he is just fantastic. He is so adaptable to so many different circumstances, that's why a lot singers enjoy having him accompany them because he's like a composer at the piano. He and Cedar Walton are two guys that I've worked with that are alike, that they're like Beethoven, Bach and Chopin wrapped in one. He's just great to work with and I always use him on all the gigs and workshops and everything that we do.

Doug Harris is now my current tenor sax, soprano sax and flautist. He's been with me now for I guess about a year or so now. Doug is a wonderful instrumentalist and he's also an educator, too. He's worked in the public school system here in New York. For a number of years he was a district arts coordinator out in Brooklyn, working under Dr. Lester Young, Lester Young's son, who recently retired. But he worked under him and Doug brings another kind of energy to the group in terms of his performance. He's one of the Texas tenors. He's out of Houston, Texas and came up under Conrad Johnson, another one of the unsung heroes, one of the older guys who trained a lot of those guys who came out of Texas and he's got to be in his late eighties, early nineties now, too. So when we do workshops and clinics and things like that, Doug is just outstanding in addition to his musicianship.

I have a young lady on violin ...

AAJ: You're first instrument.

Larry LR: Yeah, you're right. I started out when I was five years old, man, playing the violin. She's from Indianapolis and she's a wonderful young lady. Her name is Krystle Ford, and she comes from a jazz family in Indianapolis, too. She just graduated about a year ago from Butler University and she had also studied in Europe and she's just a fantastic young lady. I've taken her under my wing and I'm like her big brother and uncle and any other kind of parental figure that I can be for her because she's a fantastic talent and she's just of the verge—she's only about 21-22 years old, but she's a tremendous talent. And I have Greg Buford on drums.

AAJ: I know Greg from way back when I was at WRTI in Philadelphia.

LR: Yeah, Greg is great, man. He was one of my students at Rutgers and I first met him through Philly Joe. He was studying with Philly Joe Jones and he came to Rutgers and he's just an outstanding gentleman. He's doing very well as a performer and he does all kinds of things. He was involved in some of the early hip hop stuff, too, so he's got a very broad expertise musically, and he also has a studio, recording studio. In fact, my last recording we did in Greg's studio in New Jersey. And he's been with me now for about a year. A lot of great guys have performed with me in the past, like Charles Davis and T K Blue and Virgil Jones, who unfortunately would still be working with me, but he's not doing very well—he's in a nursing home now. I feel so bad for him because we go back to when we were kids.

AAJ: He's another one of unsung players in this music; probably one of the greatest trumpeters who never really got his due. He certainly made a living, he performed in so many ensembles, but unfortunately the powers that be never decided to give him a record date of his own.

LR: Well that's why I'm glad that the last CD I did turned out. Charles Davis was supposed to have been on the date. It was going to be a quintet date with my Jazz Legacy Ensemble at the time, but he went to Europe with the Sun Ra Arkestra, so I had the studio time booked, so I said, Hey, Virgil has never been given his due, so I'll just feature Virgil. We did it with Richard Wyands on piano, Jimmy Wormworth on drums and myself as a rhythm section and we just did it as a quartet date and Virgil just plays beautifully on it. It's available on my record label, Naima Records.



Virgil and Freddie Hubbard and Jimmy Spaulding and Mel Rhyne and all of us, we all came up together in Indianapolis under the Montgomery Brothers and all the great guys—JJ Johnson and all of them that came out of Indianapolis. But Virgil was always not as aggressive—and this is not saying anything negative about Freddie—but Freddie was always so much more out there, you know pushing and moving straight ahead, and Virgil was always more laid back. But Virgil, to his credit, always kept a steady gig, He worked in the Dick Cavett band on TV and he did all those great Broadway shows, so he kept himself in the running as a performing musician, even though it wasn't always just being on the road. He did stuff with Charles Earland and ...

Larry AAJ: He was in John Stubblefield's last band and that was quite a group; that's a lot of fire power in the front line, John Stubblefield and Virgil Jones.

LR: Oh yeah, that's right. Stubbs was another great player that I had at Rutgers, too. I felt so bad when he passed and Ted Dunbar, too. Two great human beings, great musicians and just very professional guys and I miss those guys.

AAJ: Well the band you have now is inter-generational. You have a twenty year-old, a thirty year-old and a forty year-old somewhere in there, but you've got a lot of decades being covered there in the group.

LR: Yeah, there's another young lady that works with the band, too. At this point I haven't had her slated for this particular concert, but she's a vocalist and she was also a student of mine at Rutgers and her name is Jackie Jones. She works a lot over in New Jersey, she lives in Jersey and she works a lot over there too in some of the places like that place that a lot of the people play over in Newark where they have those jazz concerts. She may still end up doing something on this concert, but at this point we're focusing primarily on the instrumental.

AAJ: Can you give us a little sneak preview of what the program will be?

LR: Well we're going to be [doing] Duke Pearson's music and Sonny Clark's and Kenny Drew's, focusing on their compositions and maybe even some songs that are not their personal compositions, but they're very much tied into. You know Duke wrote things like "Jeanine and "Cristo Redentor, and he did a lot of stuff with Donald Byrd. Kenny Drew—he's on a lot of important dates, and Sonny Clark, he wrote some really, really nice music, some we're going to be focusing on their compositions primarily.

AAJ: Who will be doing the arrangements?

LR: Well it's a combination of myself and the guys in the band, Doug and myself primarily.

AAJ: It's an interesting frontline with violin and saxophone, especially since Doug is so versatile.

LR: And the thing is that I had always, being a violinist myself early on, I always had a thing for the violin and when I got a chance to play with people like Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli, Joe Kennedy, Jr. and Ray Nance, oh man! When I was coming up as a violin player early on, I was never introduced to Eddie South and a lot of those guys. My whole introduction to playing the bass came when I went to a Jazz At The Philharmonic concert and I heard Ray Brown with Herb Ellis and Oscar Peterson's trio, and Ella Fitzgerald was singing with them, and man they were just stomping down so hard I said, "Now I know what instrument I want to play as far as jazz is concerned.

Larry

Because I was hearing it in my household. My mother's youngest brother was a bebop fan, and then Freddie Hubbard's brother and I—that's when I became aware of Oscar Pettiford and Charlie Mingus and Curly Russell and on and on, and George Morrow with Max Roach. That's another loss because Max was just, oh man, he was just something else. The experience that I had with him was just tremendous. And it's that kind of stuff when people talk about, "Well I have my graduate degree in jazz studies. I say, yeah, but I feel like I have a double doctorate because I had the chance to play with the Max Roach's, the Philly Joe's and the Roy Haynes' and on and on an on. And Thelonious Monk. You can't even explain to people what that's like and what you learned from them.

AAJ: Well the good thing is that you've been able to impart some of that experience to your students, so at least they've been touched by it peripherally.

LR: That's true, that true and I have so much respect for all those people. And Duke Ellington, you know. Just being on the bandstand with that man, you can't even tell people what that was like. I remember one situation I was playing at the Rainbow Grill with him, it was a smaller version of the band and Duke would always let the band start playing. This was really my first experience of working with the band, and Joe Benjamin had been involved in an automobile accident coming through the toll booth on the turnpike in Jersey, and so Mercer called me and I ended playing the gig up there. Actually that was my first time, and when Duke sat down at that piano the band was cooking, I mean with Harry Carney and Cootie Williams and Russell Procope, you know you couldn't miss with that.



When he sat down to that piano it was like—at least this is what I felt—it was like magic. It was like the whole band, we became an extension of his fingers on the keyboard. I tell people that and it's hard to explain, and people say "Aw, you're crazy, but you know it was a very emotional kind of thing to feel that happening. You knew why he was the maestro and the great Duke Ellington, because there was no doubt about who was in charge and yet still everybody had the freedom to be themselves. That was one of the beautiful things about the way Mr. Ellington was, that he incorporated all these virtuosos in the band and playing in that band, and playing the bass and having to be on the bottom with a Harry Carney, man, you can't even describe to people what that was like. I mean it was so much in terms of hearing the tone, hearing the emotion that he put into each and every note. It was just like you just get on a jet plane with a good pilot and you just go along for the ride and enjoy [laughs].

AAJ: I'm sure through the years your own teaching style has incorporated, consciously and subconsciously, all the things that you've learned through your years of experience.

Larry LR: Well I hope so and I thank God for giving me the opportunity and I just try to live every day trying to do the best I can and staying away from negative situations and people, and just trying to keep my eye on the prize as far as the music is concerned because the music is greater than all of us. If I can just instill that in the people and convey it to any level of humbleness ... because we've got some great talent to come out of my Rutgers program like Steve Nelson, David Sanchez and Adam Cruz—and, oh man, there's a whole bunch of guys like Dave Schumacher and ...

AAJ: Ralph Peterson.

LR: Ralph Peterson. The alto player who passed away, Chapin, Tom Chapin; really, really great talent who was unfortunately taken away too early, because when I first heard this kid I said, "Wow.

AAJ: Yeah, Ray Drummond had him in his band for a minute, too, but he was an all around musician, he was multidirectional. He was covering a lot of ground. Okay, is there anything that we haven't talked about here for the article that we should get to?

LR: I guess that I did mention about the Jazz Research Institute at North Carolina Central University, so that is something that I'm very excited about too, and the topics that we covered in that were dealing with the African/American community, jazz and the church, the historically black colleges and universities and their jazz programs and marching bands. We covered a lot of bases with all that, the media, so we'd just like people to go to our website, www.aajc.us and keep abreast of what we're doing.



AAJ: The racial aspect of jazz as black music no longer seems to be the pressing issue that it was back in the sixties and seventies. Do you feel that the young African/American community is being made aware of what a great legacy this music is as part of their heritage?

LR: Well that's the beauty that I have found in working on this project and dealing with the historically black colleges, because one of the things that I started when I became the executive director of the African/American Jazz Caucus was I got tired of hearing guys talking about that folks are stealing our music and this, that and the other, and we're not getting access to the kind of PR that really lets people know that this is still our legacy and part of our heritage.

Larry

So I started this student all star big band to get some of the cream of the crop from the historically black college to commit to a blind audition. We have a professional panel that chooses them, I have a great committee of jazz band directors from the historically black colleges and universities who have been working their butts off and really pulled this thing together, and we've been performing and you'd be surprised how many young African/American kids are involved and know about the music. But the thing that gets the commercial PR is the hip-hop, which is not negative, totally, because we're also doing some interaction and interfacing with the hip-hop community in a positive way.

AAJ: Hip-hop would probably be on a higher level if there was more interaction. If the hip-hop artists understood jazz more it would probably elevate the genre.

LR: That's the interesting thing about it. I moderated a panel at the hip-hop summit that was given at North Carolina Central University back in February, with Chris Martin, who is from Kid 'n Play and Ninth Wonder, and Mike E and a lot of these guys that are big names out there in the hip-hop community. Kwage Clemmens is head of the program at North Carolina Central and we're interacting together because they have a hip-hop curriculum down there and they told me that guys my age, for the most part, the jazz musicians wanted to kind of look down their noses at them. And this is one of the things.



I love Wynton Marsalis, but you know sometimes his opinions sometime get overblown in the media about his feelings about some of the commercial or pop kind of things. And this is not a negative thing at Wynton, because he's done a fantastic job and I love this young brother. I've known him since he was kid; I know his mother and father, [and] when I used to play down in New Orleans I used to go by their home.



But they say a lot of musicians of my generation kind of look down their noses at them and they were just so thankful and, man, the respect that they show me, I'm talking about the fact that I take time to discuss things with them and make them aware of it because I had one young lady who was on the panel and she started talking all this stuff, acting like hip hop is something new. I told her you have to understand—I did this as part of the panel—I said that hip-hop movement is just another link in the African continuum chain and there were people doing ... we had the signifyin' monkey and ...

AAJ: People like Slim Gaillard

LR: You know Slim Gaillard and I mentioned all these names, so I want you to go back and do your homework, I said. I understand where you're coming from, but I'm just trying, and don't get me wrong I'm not trying to jump on your case, but I just want you to expand your research and do your homework so that you really understand that, because some of them get a little adamant about what's going on with their acceptance and I'm saying to them just relax. Come on let's maintain a dialogue. Stop these monologues and start working together, because my mantra is working together works.

align=center>Larry l:r: David Baker, Slide Hampton, Larry Riley



That's the only way it's going to happen, but there's a tremendous amount of talent out there and a lot of them sometimes, I have some students give me horror stories about going to some of the predominantly white institutions and being involved in their jazz programs and the way they are treated at some of these institutions, which I find appalling that people would treat them like that. But then again there a lot of these so-called jazz educators that want to create this disconnect from understanding where the music comes from, so naturally they would be insistent, but they found a niche for themselves, so some of them get holier than thou in terms of I'm doctor so-and-o or I'm professor so-and-so and get their little attitudes, and I tell that somebody is going to issue you a parachute at some point [laughs]. Get it together, you know.

AAJ: Yeah, you can fall out the window in the ivory tower, very easily.

LR: Hello! And what's the need for that anyway because Yo Yo Ma is Chinese, he plays European classical music and he has no reservations to say that that's what he's doing. Leontyne Price is a great operatic singer. On and on and on, we can point out the names of people that have no problem acknowledging the fact that they are doing what they do. Wynton Marsalis is a great trumpeter in the European classical tradition, as well as being a wonderful jazz artist. So come on let's just cut the bullshit and get down to what the real deal is. We're all legitimate musicians and we're all serious musicians so let's cut out all those little ridiculous clichés.

Selected Discography

Larry Ridley and the Jazz Legacy Ensemble, Other Voices (Naima, 1999)

Philly Joe Jones, Look Stop Listen (Uptown, 1983)

James Moody, Feelin' It Together (Muse, 1973)

Dexter Gordon, The Panther! (Prestige-OJC, 1970)

Lee Morgan, Cornbread (Blue Note, 1965)

Jackie McLean, Destination Out! (Blue Note, 1963)

Photo Credit
Courtesy of Larry Ridley



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