"Ricky Ford always seems to possess prowess and chops yet completely understands the importance of two other essentials: soul and heart."
--John W. Poses
Those who follow jazz closely know of saxophonist Ricky Ford's previous exploits and are familiar with his accomplishments since his professional beginnings in the early seventies. Well-documented is Ford's teen-aged work with Ran Blake; so are his studies at the New England Conservatory, and his ensuing interaction with a faculty that, at the time, included such prominent figures as conductor Gunther Schuller, the forward-thinking orchestrator George Russell, and pianist Jaki Byard. Ford's association with great bassist-composer-arranger, the late Charles Mingus, surely ranks as essential; so does time spent with Mercer Ellington where Duke's presence is felt--always.
I discovered Ford quite by accident, unexpectedly. In 1980, Muse recorded and released his Flying Colors (Muse 5227). Reading Flying Colors' liner notes, written by critic Bob Blumenthal, I learned not only about Ford's earlier recordings (at that time, Loxodonta Africana, New World, and Manhattan Plaza, Muse 5188), but also the list of his impressive credits and colleagues that, since, has expanded exponentially and continues to flourish today. "I'd like to think I haven't peaked yet," quips Ford, speaking recently from his New York base, amidst a week of work with pianist Mal Waldron's quintet. "I'd like to think I'm still growing."
Commenting more than a decade ago, Blumenthal also remarked that Ford, although addressing John Coltrane's compositional majesty, clearly was not, as was/is the case with many of his peers, dominated by (obsessed with) the idea of aping the much-idolized saxophonist. Listening to Ford then--and now--it seems to me the late Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins played a much more critical role in his development, in his seeking his own voice on the horn. In fact, Ford agrees. "I didn't have a chance to bear Coltrane live. I saw Dexter Gordon in the United States when he returned from Copenhagen in the late seventies. I saw Sonny Rollins many times in the early seventies. They are as good of a set of inspiration as anyone could have. Don't you think?" he adds, rhetorically. "I was lucky to hear them." Remember, Ford's in his late thirties now; back then, he was in his impressionable early twenties.
What Flying Colors did for me a decade ago was turn me onto yet another very special player, a tenorist (presently experimenting with alto) who, from the start, adroitly handled bebop and hard bop. As we now realize in hindsight, undeniably Ford began experimenting at a very, very early age. Chronologically, Ricky Ford may have been young; he may have acted somewhat precociously, but Flying Colors and other Muse followups such as Interpretations (Muse 5275) prove the reedman was way ahead in the game. From the outset, Ricky Ford moved through and became part of important jazz circles. For the longest time, he participated as the youngest bandmember--regardless of outfit.
Times change, however and, as Ford notes affectionately, "it seems the younger generation has caught up to me." True enough. As a result, in many ways, Hard Groovin, turns the tables. With its arrival, Ford appears to have come full circle. Now, it's Ricky Ford the veteran working with the new crop of wonder kids. He's employed much- heralded pianist Geoff Keezer, an Art Blakey Jazz Messenger alumni and bandleader at age 2l, and bassist Bob Hurst and drummer Jeff "Tain" Watts, both Branford Marsalis's current bandmates, neither of whom have yet to hit the dreaded 30. Sharing the front line with Ford, and completing the quintet's personnel, trumpet sensation Roy Hargrove. Like Keezer, he's also just on the other side of 20--and a bandleader.
"When I came to New York," remembers Ford, "I was disappointed; I was one of the youngest guys here; players in their teens and twenties weren't (around). Now, there's a lot of people; it's nice to see this. It was normal in the 1930s, '40s and '50s," says the tenor, pointing to other noteworthy teens, revolutionary players such as bassist Jimmy Blanton and trumpeters Clifford Brown and Lee Morgan. "Look where Rollins and (Bud) Powell were when they were teens."
For the last six years, while splitting his time between the Big Apple and Beantown, Ford has held the position of Artist-in-Residence at Brandeis University, situated in suburban Waltham, Mass., just outside Boston. While continuing his own projects (for example, researching the works of several crucial big-band elder statespeople, players such as Jay McShann and the late Mary Lou Williams among them), Ford directs an 18-piece ensemble. He teaches, and works with private students, too. His busy schedule also includes working (Chicago Jazz Fest,)and recording intermittently with McCoy Tyner's big band. There's been some film score activity for director Clair Dennis; there are tours to Europe, specifically quartet opportunities centered in France. And there are his periodic stays with Ekaya, Abdullah Ibrahim's long-standing sextet.
--JON W. POSES, from the liner notes,
Hard Groovin', Muse, 1989.
A selected discography of Ricky Ford albums.
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