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Jim Ridl: Solo Piano Livestream

Victor L. Schermer By

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Jim Ridl: Solo Piano
Global Music Foundation Online Concert Series
Broadcast Live on ZOOM
July 12, 2020

This hour-long Zoom-cast featuring Jim Ridl on solo piano in his home proved to be especially gratifying for a number of reasons. First and foremost, Ridl delivered a set that was enjoyable, stimulating, and at times had the virtuosity and creativity that only a master could deliver. In addition, Ridl was a warm and articulate host, so the usual Zoom and pandemic feeling of social distance faded away, and you felt like you were right there with him. Another wonderful feature was the fact that you could see Ridl's hand movements on the keyboard through the entire set, giving a rare opportunity to observe continually his fingering and left-right hand independence, an opportunity which is not only helpful to pianists, but somehow adds something to the music itself.

There were about 40 minutes of mostly original music followed by a 20-minute Q&A with the Zoom participants. The set began with "Grazed by Light" from his highly praised album Your Cheatin' Heart and Other Works (Dreambox Media, 2005). Ridl often composes what can only be called "country-ish" songs that have a Nashville sound but also reflect his origins in North Dakota. This one is a ballad, and it touched the heart while it exemplified the jazz imperative of "telling a story" through the music.

Ridl said the song "Palisade" came from the sounds of the town he lives in which has become a residential extension of the Big Apple on the Jersey side of the Hudson River. His improvising caught sensations analagous to those in Gershwin's Concerto in F which emulated the sounds of Paris. Ridl produced some remarkable melodic improvisations in the left hand, of which only a special club of pianists, such as Art Tatum, Herbie Hancock, Brad Mehldau, Keith Jarrett, and Fred Hersch, are capable. Throughout the set. Ridl's strong independence of left and right hands enabled him to generate contrapuntal improvisations in addition to the usual single linear lines with harmonic and rhythmic accompaniment.

The pianist than took J.S. Bach's chorale "Oh Sacred Heart," played it as a church hymn, and improvised around it as a hymn-like blues (one of Ridl's frequent cohorts, trumpeter Nate Birkey, did a whole album like that (Just a Closer Walk, Household Ink, 2014)). Ridl then slid seamlessly into his original "We Have History," as if to make an educational point about Bach's contribution to jazz.

"Powell to the People" was of course inspired by Bud Powell and provided a showcase for Ridl to double for Powell, even though Ridl's own development went outside of the Powell legacy.

There followed an opportunity for the Zoom participants to ask the host pianist some questions. Although the questions varied, Ridl throughout emphasized how he views the piano not so much as a single instrument but as having all the possibilities of an orchestra, so that his arrangements and improvisations have a multi-layered quality with many things going on simultaneously.

For a wrap-up and encore, Ridl performed a version of Duke Ellington's "In My Solitude" that—how do you say it— was more Ellington than Ellington! His playing alluded not only to Ellington's piano, but you could hear allusions to all kinds of things from all the great masters in the Ellington bands over half a century, In other words, Ridl captured Ellington's idiom in all its complexity.

This Zoomcast was part of a series sponsored by the Global Music Foundation, a European-based organization which produces and promotes year-round jazz performances, educational events, intensive courses and workshops, and just about any kind of jazz event you can think of. Their director, Stephen Keogh, introduced the show in a simple, straightforward manner, a small thing that set the proper tone for a rich musical experience by a humble North Dakotan who also happens to be a jazz master.

Set List: (Ridl originals except where noted) Grazed by Light; You Know How it Is; Palisade; Medley/ composition: J.S. Bach: Oh Sacred Heart; We Have History (original); Powell to the People; Encore: In My Solitude (Ellington).

Personnel: Jim Ridl: piano.

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