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Larry Ridley: Them's That Teach Can Do


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Larry Ridley Bassist Larry Ridley has one of the most impressive pedigrees in all of jazz. After coming up in his hometown of Indianapolis, playing with Freddie Hubbard and James Spaulding, Ridley relocated to New York, appearing on some of the 1960s most important records with Hubbard, Roy Haynes, Horace Silver, Hank Mobley, Lee Morgan, Jackie McLean and Dexter Gordon. During the 1970s he recorded his first album as leader, played as a sideman with James Moody and Duke Ellington, and was Thelonious Monk's regular bassist. A prominent member of the jazz education community, Ridley was the founding faculty member of the Rutgers University jazz program and is Executive Director of IAJE's African-American Jazz Caucus. He is also jazz artist-in-residence at the Schomburg Institute for Research in Black Culture.

All About Jazz: Let's talk about this concert you have coming up at the Schomburg [Center for Research in Black Culture, in New York], where you'll be honoring three of the great pianists that you've played with during your illustrious career.

Larry Ridley: I've been doing these tributes now for fifteen-plus years at the Schomburg, as the artist in residence, their jazz artist in residence and I always try to make each one of these things very thematic, in terms of honoring people are somewhat off the radar screen because they've passed on, or whatever. And even not even to totally focus on that; there are some people who are still around to smell the roses, I try to do something to honor them too because they may not be on the commercial radar screen, so to speak.

Duke Pearson, Sonny Clark and Kenny Drew are three wonderful pianists that I had the pleasure of performing and interacting with on several occasions during my time here in New York and being involved in numerous bands. I played with Duke, I think as I remember, with Donald Byrd. Sonny Clark was a guy that was always around; we used to hang out with him. And Kenny Drew, we worked a lot together. In fact, we did a tour in Europe with Chet Baker.

So, you know, my knowledge of these people goes [beyond] more than just something that I read somewhere. I've actually had the professional privilege of being blessed by the creator to perform with a lot of these people, so it makes a difference and I just feel that it's very important to do that, I mean as far as what my mission is in life because I've been blessed. The creator enabled me to be able to perform and play and learn from all of these great people. I just don't want to see them become part of the anonymous forgotten, you know what I mean. So that's the reason why I'm doing it.

And Duke was a wonderful pianist and composer, and wrote a lot of great songs. He also did a lot of good work at Blue Note Records because he was working with Alfred Lion and Frank Wolf as a sort of A&R person at various recording sessions. Sonny was one of my favorite sort of bebop, I guess you'd say, influenced pianists; he was a great talent. He had somewhat of a tragic life in that he developed some bad habits and it sort of took him out of here earlier than one would have wished ... that he could have been around, but you just never know these things. None of us have a definite contract, so we don't know when things are going to come to an end, but while he was here, he was a fantastic musician, just a great pianist.

Leroy Vinegar, the great bassist—who was from my home town in Indianapolis—and I, we were very close and Leroy was like a big brother to me. We used to talk about Sonny often. In fact one of the first recordings I heard of Sonny Clark was a thing that he did with Serge Chaloff, the great baritone saxophonist out of the Massachusetts area—Boston to be exact, and it was a date they did with Leroy on bass and Philly Joe on drum. That was always one of my favorite albums; I liked Serge's conception of the baritone, too. And so, Kenny Drew grew up around A.T.—Arthur Taylor—and Jackie McLean and Gil Noble, all of these guys that were part of that uptown crew up in Harlem. And Sonny Rollins was also a part that package. Andy Kirk, Jr., all those guys. I knew Andy Kirk, Jr. too.


So, again, as far as what is happening at the Schomburg and you know we always try to do it as an edutainment type of thing, where I put together program notes so that people at least have some insight into who and what these people were and what some of the contributions that they made [were]. And they're always given on Sunday afternoons at three o'clock in the afternoon and we always have nice attendance at these performances. I have to thank Howard Dotson for bringing me into that situation as a jazz artist in residence.

AAJ: Why don't you talk a little about the importance of the Schomburg in the Harlem community and the jazz community? I know I frequently use it as a resource for my writing and research on the music.


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