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Larry Ridley: Them's That Teach Can Do

By Published: November 29, 2007
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

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.


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