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Kathy Kemp Ridl: Creator and Creative Muse

Victor L. Schermer By

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Creativity is non-competitive. No two people are creative in the same way, so don't waste time comparing your own creative output to that of others. I find a great freedom in this attitude...
Kathy Kemp Ridl is the wife of “rising star” jazz pianist, Jim Ridl. In keeping with the expanding role of women in our society, she herself is a gifted and active creative artist both visually and musically. Coming from a musical family, Kathy is not only a skilled classical and jazz violist and bassist, she is also a talented artist and graphic designer, and is currently a premiere designer of CD album covers for many top jazz musicians. Her cover designs for Dreambox Media Records have, in a short time, already become inspiring “classics” of their own, not unlike Gil Melle’s memorable artwork for the earliest Blue Note recordings. They are very striking to see, and when you look at them, you can almost hear the music that's inside.

When I interviewed Jim Ridl at their home, I was struck by the beautiful artwork there, and when Jim showed me Kathy's home office (Kathy was not in at the time), one wall was lined with some of the best quality CD cover designs I’d ever seen. They were all hers!

I thought that our All About Jazz readers would like to know about Kathy and her work, not only in terms of what she can offer to the jazz community and record industry, but also with the hope that she can be an inspiration to other women among our readership. There is considerable talent among the women in the jazz audience and the families of the musicians, and perhaps Kathy’s experience can encourage them to further utilize their creative gifts.

So, I asked Kathy if she would do an interview, and she gladly came on board. She also provided some images of her CD covers, displayed here .

All About Jazz: Well, let’s get started with a deliberately ambiguous question: “What’s it like to be Jim Ridl’s wife?”

Kathy Ridl: Boy, talk about a loaded question! I rarely think of myself purely as “Jim Ridl’s wife,” except maybe at class reunions and the like, as I’m certain Jim doesn't think of himself purely as “Kathy Ridl's husband”. But if you asked me what it's like to hang out with Jim (for over 20 years now), I’d say it’s great! He’s wonderfully fun to be around. I love how he approaches life, at the piano or in the kitchen or in the garden. I truly admire who he is as a person and partner. It is a constant joy for me to hear the music that comes from Jim, and to witness the birth of his new ideas. So, yeah, it’s great to be “Jim Ridl’s wife”...but I guess I think of us more like “not-the-same sex life partners.” The “wife” title, however, has its benefits, like complimentary tickets to Jim's concerts, etc.

AAJ: Jim is such a powerful force in contemporary jazz. He seems to possess a limitless source of creative energy. Do you ever feel overwhelmed or overshadowed by him and his work?

KR: I have never felt overshadowed by Jim, because (not meaning to be too metaphoric) I think we see each other in full light. We have different talents and interests that keep us very much individuals, and there is a lot of respect in our home for those differences. As an artist, it is an inspiration for me to be around Jim's endless creativity, but the inspiration comes not by comparison, rather through admiration for the attention he pays to his music, the honesty of his art, and the creative stretching he always does. We work well together as a team, and we both enjoy the other's individuality. I also think it's important to have a life together outside of “what you do”...to have a figurative place where you both can be “who you are” as well. And we laugh alot...that tends to keep things out of the “shadows.”

AAJ: How do you reconcile your role as a caring wife with your own career? I’m sure our women readers would welcome some tips about this.

KR: Being a good partner to someone while having your own career is a natural and necessary combination in today’s society. They don't have to exist separately, and rarely do. Relationship roles aren’t as defined as they once were, thank goodness, so couples get to find their own balance between work and home, not based on anyone else’s example. I think being in the arts makes it easier to find a good balance because we are used to creative, sometimes unconventional, problem solving. So it’s all about finding your own balance, and then, right when you think you’ve got it all figured out, being willing to change it without getting crazy. One week you do a little more of the “caring partner” thing, and the next week, you may need more independence. That's a big lesson we have learned. Things change: roll with it. If one of us is in the middle of some ongoing creative surge and it’s his or her time to do the dishes, it’s not breaking any rules to switch up the plan...or to let the dishes wait a little longer. A good healthy dose of friendship and flexibility keeps it all in balance for us.

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