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A Fireside Chat With Tim Ries

By Published: October 1, 2003

Then at some point, I remember I was in Texas and Donald Byrd had been hired to teach there for a year. During that year, he was traveling a lot with the Blackbirds. This was in '82. He wanted to start a band and he heard me play and we started talking and he asked me to put a band together. I was playing and at that time I was really into Coltrane and Wayne Shorter and he said, 'You have to spend more time transcribing yourself.'

He said that that was what Trane did. At some point, you have to make that separation and make the leap into this is your voice and this path is yours. Most of that comes through composition because to me, Wayne Shorter is a great example of that. He is one of the greatest composers ever and his music and playing are one in the same. His influence on Miles in that band clearly changed the course of music.

FJ: That mantra is evident on your Criss Cross sessions, Universal Spirits and Alternate Side, but what would you say is your compositional style?

TR: You know, Fred, it is one of those things where for many years, I had written a lot of music in a structure in dense, thicker voices and harmonies and much more vertical. I had studied composition with Bob Brookmeyer, who is one of the great composers and performers. The year and a half that I spent with him was fantastic because his whole thing was the horizontal aspect of the music where the flow has to be the most important thing, the motion forward. So I stopped thinking so much about exact chord voicings on every single beat and let's make sure that the flow is the main aspect and trying to make that my focus. I am trying to do that.

As far as what my style is, it is really hard to say. It is one of those things where I don't even know myself. In a way, each time I write a piece, I am trying to reinvent myself. It sounds like a Tim Ries composition, however, it is still moving forward and it doesn't sound like what I was writing two or three years ago. That is the goal, to just keep moving forward.

I am also enjoying simpler melodies from playing with the Stones. Not that their music is simple, but there is something brilliant in the way that they write music in the sense that it is harmonically simple, but the structure of the song isn't complex in any way. There is something brilliant about the way it is presented and it gets to a point in two or three minutes. They present a great package. The song starts and ends in three or four minutes, whereas in a jazz thing, which has been my life, a song could last twenty minutes. There is something very appealing to that.

I was having this conversation with Bill Charlap after we rehearsed this music that I'm performing and just that aspect of American culture is that way. Everything about our culture like the immediacy of people turning on the radio and listening to something and if they into it, they are into in the first thirty seconds and if not, they will move on.

I have never really thought of myself as a composer thinking that way and I still really am not. I have never been that way about music. To me, the music comes out of me or through me, whether it is me writing it or some spirit. I just try to let it come out and edit as much as I can.

FJ: Although it sounds gimmicky, there is a certain cache to reworking Stones tunes and improvising over them. You're in an envious position, having the Stones gig.

TR: Keith (Richards) said that they wrote these songs and they were two or three minute tunes and they didn't stretch on them or do anything at that time. In rock and roll, that is not what it is about. But he appreciated what I was doing because he thought I was taking it to another level. It is kind of nice to get a stamp of approval from the guy who wrote the things.

I feel blessed to have the gig. They had the chance to hire anybody, but they were gracious enough to give me the gig. It has been a thrill. It is such an amazing situation to be out there with these guys. It opens up some other doors. Even with my relatives, I have been playing jazz most of my life, some fantastic people, Donald Byrd or Freddie Hubbard, but since I am playing with the Stones, pretty much everyone on the planet knows who these guys are.

FJ: The phone must ring off the hook for comps.

TR: It is pretty amazing, yes. It has been pretty good actually. Occasionally, I will get a call from somebody who I haven't talked to in a number of years. First of all, people assume that I get these comps and it doesn't exist. It is not quite that easy.

FJ: Does Richards look as old as everybody says he does?

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