Ali Ryerson has emerged as one of the most exciting and versatile flutists on the scene today.
Born in 1952 in New York, her life was set to music from the start by her father, Art Ryerson, a first-rate and widely sought-after guitarist of the Big Band era and NYC studio scene of the 40's - 70's. Her three brothers, Art, Rich, and John are also musicians and provided Ali with her first professional opportunity, performing in Rich and Art's jazz-rock band while in her teens. In most cases, being taught by an elder sibling often means learning through the school of hard knocks. In the Ryerson family, however, it was strictly a case of positive encouragement. With her father holding frequent jam sessions at home, Ali was exposed to some of New York's finest -- Milt Hinton, Barry Galbraith and Lou Stein to name just a few. Said her brother Rich, "The advantage she had growing up is that a lot of people learn jazz by playing along with records. She got to absorb it right there."
The rich exposure and early training in playing and improvising with other musicians proved invaluable. "The essential element in jazz is using your ears," says Ryerson. "You're put in the middle with other musicians and you learn to play -- it's the way you develop the true jazz feeling." From 1973 to 1977 Ali toured extensively with the singing team Sandler and Young and entertainer Billy Fellows. In order to continue her musical education, Ryerson then enrolled in the Hartt school of Music in Connecticut where she studied classical performance and graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Music degree in 1979. Ali has studied under the mentorship of Harold Bennett of the New York Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, John Wion of the New York City Opera Orchestra and Julius Baker of the New York Philharmonic.
All of this training is wonderfully evident in her warm, full-bodied tone that emanates from a flawless and spirited technique. But perhaps her most accomplished attribute as a jazz flutist is her uncanny ability to swing, a characteristic incorrectly assumed to be outside the scope of the instrument. She simply disproves the myth with a tasteful juxtaposition of spacing and note-bending ability, all of which help to create a rich rhythmic weave that sets off and highlights a variety of sound texture. From gently lucid to boldly percussive, her playing embodies the spirit and stylings of past greats, such as Miles Davis and Bill Evans, two of her early influences.
In 1980, she moved to Montreal for 8 months, with a duo contract at the Meridien Hotel. Drawn back to New York in 1981, she played in leading jazz clubs, among them Sweet Basil and Bradley's. In search of further opportunities to enhance her career, Ali spent the '80s traveling back and forth between Europe and the United States, establishing her homebase in Belgium. Ali has become a regular on the Belgian jazz scene and continues to maintain close relations there. Her involvement has resulted in numerous recordings with some of the most gifted musicians of Belgium, like Steve Houben (saxophone), and an ongoing partnership with pianist and composer Charles Loos.
It is a tribute to her versatility as a musician and her value as an artist that she has been able to perform with such diverse talents as Dr. Billy Taylor, Kenny Barron, Stephane Grappelli, Frank Wess, Red Rodney, Laurindo Almeida, Art Farmer, Maxine Sullivan, Roy Haynes, Julius Baker, and (as principal flutist with the Monterey Bay Symphony) with Luciano Pavarotti.
Ali has toured the USA, Canada, Europe, Japan and Africa, and has performed in many major jazz festivals, including the famed Monterey Jazz festival, the JVC in New York, Guinness Festival in Scotland, Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, and Carnegie Hall. Ali has released over a dozen jazz albums, the first four on European labels. She was then signed by legendary record producer Bob Thiele who produced two albums on his Red Baron label. Ali then signed with Concord Jazz for an additional three recordings. Jazziz put her Concord debut album on its Critic's Picks for 1995. Ali recently performed with Dr. Billy Taylor at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. This performance was taped for national broadcast on NPR. In December 2001 Ali performed as guest soloist with the Fort Wayne Philharmonic. Ali was musical director of the Catskill Jazz Festival 2001, and was recently appointed the musical director of the Jazz at the Point festival being held in Catskill, NY in August, 2002.
"TWO SUCCESSFUL SOLO CAREERS ARE A NATURAL BLEND," New York Times, May 7, 2000. In late 1996, Ali encountered guitarist Joe Beck. They formed a duo, named ALTO (due to the special guitar Joe invented for this formation) and have been touring extensively (a.o. a full month at the Blue Note in Japan) and recorded two albums.
With Belgian musicians, she recorded :
1988 CHARLES LOOS/ALI RYERSON (European Music Distr.)
1991 VAGABONDAGES (IGLOO) with Charles Loos and Steve Houben
1992 ALI RYERSON, BLUE FLUTE (RED BARON) with Red Rodney, Kenny Barron, Santi Debriano, Roy Haynes (feat. Thinking of You, by Michel HERR)
1993 NO WALL, NO WAR (B SHARP) a jazz ballet with Charles Loos and John Ruocco