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Jim Ridl: Opening Doors in the Big Apple

Victor L. Schermer By

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Something fresh and vital is in the air when a truly creative musician is about to release a new album. Jim Ridl's Door in a Field: Volume II: Songs of the Green River, an independent release, is full of surprises and rich in musical ideas. The album is set to be released in early Fall, and the music will be premiered live in a celebration at the 55 Bar in New York on September 18, 2016.

In a previous (2004) interview, All About Jazz praised Jim Ridl as..."an innovative force, a pianist of the highest caliber, a creative composer and improviser, and one of those rare musicians who stretches the art form even as he honors the established traditions." Originally from North Dakota, he now lives and works in the New York area. In addition to leading his own groups in NYC, Ridl has been a member of the Dave Liebman Big Band, the Charles Mingus Big Band, Ximo Tebar's IVAM Jazz Ensemble of Spain, and has played with many musicians on the NY Jazz scene, including Joe Locke, Steve Wilson, Tim Horner, Donald Edwards, Boris Kozlov, and Ralph Bowen to name a few.

Ridl's recordings as a leader embrace diverse styles and genres and include Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works, Door In a Field, Jim Ridl Trio/Live, and Blues Liberations (Solo Piano), all on the Dreambox Media label, Blue Corn Enchilada Dreams (an independent release), and Five Minutes to Madness and Joy,,on Synergy Music. As part of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Rhythm Road program, sponsored by the U.S. State Department, he twice toured world-wide, with the Mark Sherman/Tim Horner Quartet, and with the Gabrielle Stravelli Quartet. Ridl's tenure with jazz guitarist Pat Martino is legendary and documented in films and Martino's autobiography, Here and Now.

Ridl was raised on a farm-ranch in North Dakota, a locale and life experience which play a central role in his new album. In 2007, already transplanted east, and well into his career, Ridl and his wife Kathy, a musician and graphic designer noted for her CD cover art, relocated from the Trenton area to New York. In this follow up interview, All About Jazz was especially interested in his experience adjusting to the New York music world, the story of his new album, and his experience as a jazz educator.

All About Jazz: For a warm-up, what music do you listen to these days when you're not performing?

Jim Ridl: I don't listen to a lot of records, but often I'll put on some Bach, like Glenn Gould performing The Well-Tempered Clavier, or Bach's choral music and suites. Bach's music is a lifetime journey that I'll always be playing or listening to. There are the vintage jazz recordings, and other classical CDs, too. But I like to listen to music live. I'll go to one of the clubs, like Kitano, or the 55 Bar, or Fat Cat, or Smalls. Occasionally, I'll go to a classical concert. A few months ago, I heard Richard Goode perform an all-Bach solo piano program at Alice Tully Hall in Lincoln Center. He was incredible! It was very inspiring to hear him.

AAJ: Do you ever go to clubs to jam?

JR: Very rarely. Jam sessions are very important when you're a young musician coming on the scene, but I haven't done that for years.

Making It in the Big Apple

AAJ: The last time I interviewed you was in 2004. We got together at your home in Hamilton, NJ, not far from Trenton and Philadelphia. At that time, your network of musicians and clubs was largely based in and around Philly, although you were often working in New York and on the road. A couple of years after that, you moved to the Big Apple, a major venture for jazz musicians. What was your personal experience of making that change of location?

JR: It was definitely a big move. It's no revelation, but New York remains the biggest city in the world for music, in particular jazz. My history with New York goes back to when I was a boy. In 1965, my family vacationed there, and I just loved the city. I always wanted to play there, and in 1983, I was on tour with the jazz vocal group called Rare Silk, and we played for a whole week at the now defunct club called Lush Life. I was 24, just coming up, and it was amazing. A year later, we played at Carnegie Hall for the Kool Jazz Festival. At that time I lived in Denver but made it a point to get to New York every couple of years, so it was always a goal of mine to be here in New York. When Kathy and I first moved East from Denver, we ended up settling in the Trenton area—we had some family there—but it was always our intention to live in NYC eventually. Trenton is halfway between Philly and NYC, so I could play gigs in both places. I also attended the New York Composer's Workshop in the early 1990s, studying with Manny Albam and Jim McNeely.

In 1992, I met Pat Martino and started working with him, including some of the bigger venues in New York. After that, I started getting calls from other musicians and played more gigs in New York. Then, in 2007, Kathy and I made the move to New York, and as soon as we relocated here, my friends said, "Oh, you're living up here now? I've got a gig for you next week!" I had been commuting to New York all the time, but as soon as I moved here, I got a lot more calls. There's something about people thinking of you as a local New Yorker! Within a year, I was offered several international tours. I've gotten a lot of work in Spain and State Department tours in Asia and Eastern Europe, working with the Mingus Big Band, the Dave Liebman Big Band, also touring with some smaller ensembles.

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