Larry Ridley: Them's That Teach Can Do
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?
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 problemeverybody 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 plantationthat's my perception of it that's what I call itto 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?