It’s a great day in Harlem when in a few days you can encounter three major jazz musicians, more specifically three Hall of Fame bass players—Reggie Workman, Mickey Bass and Larry Ridley.
When you are on a quest for a new iPhone, you might run into anybody. I was in the AT&T store at Broadway and 145th Street and noticed Workman at a nearby table, getting the lowdown on something or other. He finished with his session first and walked over to me and we exchanged pleasantries. “I will be performing Thursday evening at the Stone with drummer Gerry Hemingway,” he said when asked of his next gig.
At 78, Workman is still as busy as ever. The last time we had a chance to talk we discussed the progress of his memoir. “It’s still a work in progress,” he explained. “I’ve accumulated a vast amount of material, but it has to be organized before I can release it.”
Whenever that book is published, it will fill a void left by so many of his generation, particularly those formidable performers in the orbit of John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Elvin Jones and countless others who benefited from Workman’s impeccable bass. Not only has he been a reliable timekeeper, a master of tempo, but also he possesses a wealth of creativity that can be instantaneously summoned.
As always, we promised to stay in touch and I watched him leave the store, pulling his small luggage behind him, on his way to the next rehearsal, the next performance.
The next day I was crossing Frederick Douglass Boulevard near 132nd Street when a bicyclist came to a sudden stop in front of me. Underneath the helmet and gripping the handlebars was Bass. I have seen him several times on his bike, but this was the first time I actually had an opportunity to stop him and chat a bit.
After I commented on what excellent shape he’s in, he said, “Well, at 72, I guess I’m doing all right.” He is more than doing all right, and like Workman, the music never stops for him. When I asked about his latest project, he pulled a book from a bag hanging from the handlebars. He handed me a copy of “The Diminished Whole Tone Concept,” subtitled, “An Advanced Approach to Jazz Improvisation.” “You can get a copy by going to my website at Rainbowjazz.com,” he said.
Not only is the book available but also his CDs and arrangements can be purchased. Along with a biography, there are several videos of Bass in performance with such notables as trombonist Curtis Fuller, saxophonist Charles Davis, drummer Jimmy Cobb and pianists Jonathan Batiste and Ronnie Matthews, to mention but a few of the prominent musicians under his leadership or those he has accompanied.
I didn’t meet Ridley in the street, at least not recently, but we stay in touch via the Internet, and it’s not always about the music, of which he continues to lecture and to teach. His emails keep me abreast of his participation in jazz forums and workshops; they also remind me of his versatility and his concern about the planet and social issues. “Paradise or Oblivion,” a 48-minute documentary about the co-existence of humans and technology, to put it simply, is one subject he’s promoting.
Getting this alert from Ridley is typical of his wide range of interests, and on his website, like Bass’, there is a list of jazz giants who have flourished under his guidance for most of his 77 years. (He was born Sept. 3, 1937.)
Taken together, these three bass players have performed with practically every famous jazz musician over the past 60 years. What my good friend John Sinclair said in Downbeat magazine about Ridley several years ago is still pertinent today and can be applied to each of three giants: “Larry is among those musicians who are committed to making wider and deeper impressions and to do so in whatever musical context they find themselves … more than most beboppers ever thought possible. Ridley is a perfect section mate. His time is big and fat, as his sound is, and he picks lines that are a constant stimulus, creating juggernaut rhythms that move soloists to play into themselves more and to move out from that point to their listeners’ ears and not just to their feet.”