Ali Ryerson: Passion Built on Trust
Oftentimes, it’s just a matter of asking for what you want. Ali
Ryerson learned that last February while working with the flute manufacturer
Gemeinhardt at the Mid-Atlantic Flute Fair in Reston, Va. Dave Pirtle, president and CEO of the company, approached her about the idea of her designing her own line of “dream flutes.” Ryerson says that it took two split-seconds to jump
on the opportunity.
At the time, she had a new album in mind and was seeking backing to pay for the recording sessions. Two record labels showed interest, but Ryerson said that they would have owned the resulting masters, and she would have had to pay for the sessions. Later that week at the Flute Fair, she asked Pirtle if Gemeinhardt would consider financing a portion of her disc. She thought of a nifty title, Con Brio!, which has a double meaning. In
Italian, it means “with vigor,” but “Brio!” also denotes the signature flute series that she would help design for Gemeinhardt.
By the end of that week, Ryerson had convinced Gemeinhardt to finance the entire recording session. “I own the album. They are not looking for a profit from the album at all,” Ryerson says, minutes after teaching the fundamentals of jazz and flute to two enthusiastic groups of kids at the Burgundy Farm Country Day School in Alexandria, Va., right outside of Washington, D.C. “Everything about the album is completely honest and from the heart. One of the beautiful things is that I don’t have any contracts
with Gemeinhardt. There is not one single thing in writing. I don’t want it. Everything is on a handshake. I would do anything for that company, and vice-versa. It’s like that old-fashioned relationship where people trust each other.”
Ryerson is not just a rubber-stamp endorser of the Brio! flutes. She advises the manufacturer on such details as headjoints, placement and height of the keys, the lip plate and the cut. For Pirtle, she’s the ideal spokesperson: “I don’t look for an artist who would just say, ‘Hey, for X amount of money, I’ll endorse your product,’”
he said. “I want someone who really believes in the product because they’re passionate about it.”
The flutist packs plenty of passion into the exquisite Con Brio! (ACR Music), teaming up with her longtime collaborator, keyboardist Pete Levin, as well as the supreme rhythm section of drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Mark Egan. Sometimes Ryerson shares the front line with guitarist Mike DeMicco; other times, it’s with Mike Mainieri, whom she was very excited to play with for the first time. “Certain instruments complement each other. When I heard Mike, I could just hear myself
with that sound and texture,” Ryerson explains.
The combination of Ryerson and Mainieri certainly entices on songs like Mainieri’s
pneumatic “Sarah’s Touch,” Levin’s tranquil “Another Time, Another Place” and composer
Erik Satie’s “1st Gymnopédie.” “I’ve played with a lot of amazing flute players in
my career,” Mainieri says. “I love Ali’s phrasing; she’s very expressive. Although she knows a lot of technique, she doesn’t necessarily play it all the time. That in and of itself emotes a lot of passion.”
Other highlights include Ryerson’s sanguine reading of John Abercrombie’s “Jazz Folk”
and her sparkling turn on Jimmy Guiffre’s “Shadows.” Back at the Burgundy School, Ryerson
emphasizes “sound” as she demonstrated the differences among the instruments in the flute
and piccolo family. She manages to sneak in a couple of cherry-picked standards—Richard
Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s “Have You Meet Miss Jones?” and Moe Koffman’s “Swingin’
Shepherd Blues”—while holding the attention of students, ranging from kindergarteners to 8th graders. “My biggest thing in flute playing is about the sound,” Ryerson says. “I’ve worked long and hard for a lot of years, studying classical
music to develop my sound.”
When asked how she got into music education, Ryerson traces it back to when she was 11
years old, when she taught piano and beginner guitar while growing up in Armonk, N.Y.
“I guess I was proactive,” she says with a smile. “And I liked earning a buck.”