Jazz flute player Ali Ryerson was born into a family of musicians. Her father, Art Ryerson, was a top New York City studio guitarist who recorded with jazz and popular music icons …
Jazz flute player Ali Ryerson was born into a family of musicians. Her father, Art Ryerson, was a top New York City studio guitarist who recorded with jazz and popular music icons Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra.
Early on she wanted to play the trumpet because her brothers played the instrument, but her mother wouldn't allow it. She told her budding musician daughter to "save your lips for something else." Ryerson explained her mother's concern. "Embouchure is how a musician applies the mouth to a wind or brass instruments. Trumpet players develop a permanent ring around their mouth - that's not what my mother wanted for her daughter."
Still, Ryerson said she always knew she would be a professional flute player.
Taos Jazz Bebop Society and the Harwood Museum present the Ali Ryerson Quartet on Saturday (Oct. 12) at 7 p.m. at the Harwood Museum of Art, 238 Ledoux Street. Tickets are $25; $20 for members of Harwood and Taos JazzBebop Society. Call (575) 758-9826 to reserve.
I spoke with Ryerson over the phone and exchanged email from Carmel, California, where she enjoyed a few days of downtime from touring. Here is what she shared.
What about Taos are you looking forward to this visit?
Aside from the fact that I love this town, there are some real jazz lovers in Taos. It's always a great feeling to perform for a knowledgeable audience. I also look forward to playing the Harwood Museum - I've heard it is a great performance space.
Why is the flute considered by some not to be a "legitimate" jazz instrument?
I think this dates back to the early Dixieland bands in New Orleans that featured horns that could be heard more easily than the flute - trumpet, trombone, clarinet and tuba. When the swing era came along, the sax section had "doublers" - saxophonists who play flute but until amplification became the norm, the flute was difficult to hear over an 18-piece big band. A typical big band has five saxes, four trombones and five trumpets plus rhythm section.As time went on, there were some big bands, such as Count Basie's, who started to feature flute more, such as saxophonist/flutist Frank Wess. During the bebop era, quintets became more common, a rhythm section plus tenor and trumpet. There were some great jazz flutists, such as Bobby Jaspar from Belgium, Buddy Collette, Bud Shank - but it was still not a common jazz instrument. With Afro-Cuban and Brazilian jazz (flute has been a part of their musical cultures), and players such as Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz popularizing these styles in the U.S., flute became more mainstream in jazz. I think the misperception that flute is not a legitimate jazz instrument has changed.
How did it feel performing in Carnegie Hall with legendary French jazz violinist Stéphane Grappelli?
It was a day I'll never forget. Back when I lived in New York City, one of my apartments was on West 57th Street. I used to walk by Carnegie every day, so you can imagine how special it felt to be performing there. It came about because I had toured with Grappelli in Europe several times in the late '80s, and he invited me to play Carnegie with him during its centennial year. Bucky Pizzarelli was our guitarist, Jon Burr the bassist. The Swingle Singers were our opening act.One great thing that happened that day - the legendary record producer Bob Thiele attended our afternoon rehearsal. He had just started up what would end up being his final jazz label, Red Baron. Thanks to his hearing me at the rehearsal, he contacted me afterwards and signed me to his label. To put this into context, Thiele had produced albums such as John Coltrane's "My Favorite Things," "Charlie Parker with Strings" and Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World" - my father played on these last two.
Early in your career (1990s) you were the principal flute player with the Monterey Bay Orchestra. Pavarotti was a guest artist - how was it to share the stage?
It was an amazing experience. He had such a huge presence, powerful. His voice was incredible, beautiful. I remember during rehearsal - there was an aria that was a duet between the voice and the flute. I remember I had to take a few deep breaths, just to calm myself before playing with him. It was an outdoor concert in Pebble Beach, at the Stevenson School, with an audience in the thousands. Exhilarating.
What can an Taos audience expect from your performance?
We'll be playing a mixed repertoire, some jazz standards, some tunes from Thad Jones, Hank Mobley, the Beatles, Ralph Towner, and some Brazilian repertoire from our album "Café Columbo."
How about future projects?
I have another Brazilian project in the works, playing the music of Léa Freire, a wonderful composer, flutist and pianist from São Paulo. I discovered Léa and her music thanks to my good friend and a fellow flutist Keith Underwood. She has a record label in São Paulo - Maritaca - and we're talking about doing an album of her music with a rhythm section and strings. Another recording project in the works is a tribute to Herbie Mann.
Ryerson's performance will include Bert Dalton on piano, Rob "Milo" Jaramillo on bass and John Trentacosta on drums.
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