Larry Ridley: a passionate jazz activist

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There is a reason for every season. In this case, it's about the season of jazz and why we celebrate with the Indy Jazz Fest. Larry Ridley, bassist extraordinaire and educator, has been enshrined in the Jazz Hall of Fame. Growing up here in Indy, Ridley was extremely active, playing in the Indy bebop movement with Freddie Hubbard, James Spaulding and Killer Ray Appleton. Talking about jazz with Ridley reveals a very dedicated, passionate activist about the art he continues to serve. Having performed with most major jazz artists of the past four decades, he also holds degrees in music education and taught at Rutgers University as a professor of jazz studies.

Ridley is an ardent supporter of Indy's contribution to the composite world of jazz. "It's important for us here in Indianapolis to take pride in our contribution. One of my beefs for the longest time has been this overemphasis on New Orleans being the birthplace of jazz. Eubie Blake, Eddie Barafield, Garbin Buschell and all of these guys like Doc Cheatem and Coleman Haekins. I have sat at the feet of these masters and posed questions. In their own way, they have all said the same thing. Wherever there was a significant group of people of African descent there was always some form of improvised hot music."

Ridley adds, "That name jazz was sort of bandied about. When rock and roll first started they had all sorts of categorical titles they tried to apply to the music. When King Oliver went to Chicago off the riverboat, the musicians in Chicago were standing on the dock there, saying, "Come on in here, King Oliver, and teach us how to play jazz." They were already playing a form of jazz."

The state of jazz today is a concern for Ridley; he worries about the current trend of forgetting its core. "I think the state of jazz is sort of in a mixed area; I say that because there are a number of factors that are involved in terms of how jazz has been codified and included in academic programs and in terms of how the industry has been responding to all of this. In my opinion, a lot of the things that have happened in the course of jazz historically have been that the music has come from the root - the root being the African-American experience. Others from other ethnic persuasions become involved, but recognize the roots and lend their own expertise to it. This is one of the things I try to stress in my teachings and was a part of the academic program at Rutgers."

Dr. Larry Ridley is currently serving in an advisory capacity to the Madame Walker Theatre Center's jazz activities. His latest CD is titled Other Voices on the Naima Label.

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