A Fireside Chat With Tim Ries
“ I am also enjoying simpler melodies from playing with the Stones... There is something brilliant about the way it is presented and it gets to a point in two or three minutes. ”
The saxophone is a brutal instrument in jazz. Certainly, the trumpet is the hardest to play (e.g. Freddie Hubbard). But the saxophone, especially the tenor, has a legacy too intimidating for me to wish to play the horn. John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson, Lester Young, Albert Ayler, and I could write a book, are not easy artists to follow.
Tim Ries has taken his time, which shows his respect for the legacy and his maturity as a leader, in documenting his own music. While his peers were recordings one sub-par album after another, Ries is only now about to releases what amounts to his third (if you get technical, fourth) album as a leader. I admire patience. It is a virtue this time and this music certainly could use more of and Ries seems to have it. Folks, Tim Ries, unedited and in his own words.
Fred Jung: Let's start from the beginning.
Tim Ries: When I was very young, my father was a trumpet player named Jack Ries. We grew up in the Detroit area and he used to play weekend gigs, weddings, parties, and that kind of thing. He was a very talented musician and so I used to go and hear him play from a very young age. My mother played piano and I had three sisters, who were all very talented pianists and singers as well. So the household was very musical and so I grew up singing and playing from a very early age. It was just part of my life.
I remember being five, six, seven years old and my parents would take me to the weekend gig and after he would finish the gig, they would go back to one of the guy's house and do a jam session until five or six in the morning and they would be cooking eggs and breakfast. I remember waking up on somebody's couch and hear this music playing or they would bring it to our house and set up and play.
I wanted to play trumpet like my father and I think he had this idea that if I played saxophone, he would be able to use me in his band. I came to the gig once and I remember seeing the tenor player and he was sitting in a chair and very relaxed and so I said that I would play that. So he got me a saxophone when I was eight years old and I started playing and started learning standards. It was a great way to be introduced to the music. But besides that, he also wanted me to study classical as well.
I grew up near the University of Michigan and so he took me to the professors there and I started studying classical saxophone from a very early age. So by the time I was in high school, I was gigging quite frequently. I started going to Detroit and sitting in with cats there. I could go and sit in with wonderful musicians who lived in the area. Those were the early years. After going up there, I went to school at North Texas State, which is now called the University of North Texas. After that, I moved back to the University of Michigan to get my masters in composition and saxophone.
My first gig out of school was I played with Maynard Ferguson for a year and a half on the road. During that time, we came to New York frequently. I always wanted to move to New York because of the music and in '85, I made the move to New York City and started the freelance scene here.
FJ: Having studied classical music, how have you incorporated that in your improvised playing and composing?
TR: Yeah, I definitely do and I am very inspired and influenced by classical music as far as compositions are concerned. Yet, as far as the jazz, I try to have the two come together in a nice marriage. It is one of those things, when I write a composition, I almost don't want to improvise on it. I almost want to have a thoroughly composed piece that the group can play, so it is not so much melody, chord changes, solo, and then melody, although I have certainly written a lot of those tunes too.
At this point, I am trying to get away from that a little bit and write more thoroughly composed pieces. It is one of those things that by being influenced by Charlie Parker, Trane, Lester Young, and all those people, I think at some point everyone has to go through that where you have all those people that are your heroes that you try to emulate and sound like them. I remember trying to play exactly like Lester on some melody or Dexter Gordon. I used to really love Dexter because he had a beautiful sound and his solos seem almost written out, they were so perfect.