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Interview with Beverly Ritz, February 2010
Interview with Beverly Ritz, image 1
I first came in contact with Beverly Ritz last fall when she called to ask about possibly doing a house concert in my home. She had read about the concerts I was doing and wanted to see if we could work something out. I asked if she had any CDs that I could hear before deciding, and she said she would send me the two most recent ones. We agreed that it was too late in the year to schedule another concert, so I suggested that maybe we could do one this year. I really enjoyed Beverly’s CDs and had it on my to-do list to call her to talk about a concert when she called me - one of those “we had to have been on the same wave-length” moments! She will be playing a benefit concert here on March 21, 2010, to raise funds for the orphans in Haiti.

Beverly has had a long career in music as composer, arranger, performer, and teacher, and currently resides in Smith River, CA, which is just south of the Oregon border. I’m sure you will enjoy getting to know her as much as I have.

KP: Hi Beverly! How are things in Smith River today?

BR: Sunny, warm, and lovely! The 2 1/2 acres where I live with my dogs and cats are flooded now, and the birds and frogs are jubilant and have been singing non-stop all day.

KP: Smith River is such a small town. How did you end up there?

BR: It’s a long story. I lived in three places where neighbors complained about my pets. When I found this isolated acreage near Oregon (just 17 miles south) I figured it would be a good place for cats and dogs as well as for writing, recording, and practicing music. It's actually south of Smith River, north of Crescent City.

KP: Are there many music gigs in that area?

BR: No, not anymore - at least not for a jazz pianist. In '05 and '06, there was a great venue, The Rowdy Creek Yacht Club, where I "spread my wings" and honed my skills. It was a dream job because the owner of the club gave me total artistic freedom to perform whatever songs I chose!

KP: That’s pretty unusual and must have been nice! You also teach. How many students do you have?

BR: Presently, I have one classical piano student and one blues/classical guitar student. Last semester I had a children's singing class, too.

Interview with Beverly Ritz, image 2
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Interview with Beverly Ritz, image 3
KP: Do you also record in your house?

BR: I have a 16-track recording studio for recording my compositions and arrangements. My 6‘7” Gulbransen grand piano is in my bedroom. My living room is "Studio B," where I teach.

KP: Where did you grow up?

BR: I was born in Washington, D.C., and grew up in Maryland.

KP: Did you grow up in a musical family?

BR: No, my parents were both economists! Yet they loved classical music and "popular" music of the 50's & 60's, which meant I grew up listening to Beethoven, Bach and Rachmaninoff, as well as Henry Mancini and Antonio Carlos Jobim.

KP: When did you start playing the piano? When did you start lessons?

BR: I probably started teaching myself around the age of 3, and started formal lessons at the age of 8.

KP: Were you encouraged to compose or improvise by your piano teachers?

BR: Yes! I created my first composition at the age of 9, which my teacher helped me write out. My mother advised me to copyright it, which I did. I've never stopped writing music since then. My second teacher introduced me to Debussy, Satie, and Gershwin, whose modern harmonies surely seeped into my compositions!

KP: One of the things in life I really regret is that my piano teacher forbade me to improvise and I was told that women could be songwriters but not serious composers (or artists of any merit). Have you encountered much of that poisonous attitude over the years? If so, how did you work around it?

BR: I think both of my piano teachers saw my direction (my destiny), as I did at an early age. I truly had a vision of myself sitting at a grand piano, giving concerts of my compositions. I also imagined hearing my music on the radio.

KP: Has your career always been in music? If not, what other kinds of things have you done?

BR: When I first graduated from college, I ended up as a graphic artist for the phone company! That didn't last very long. I started teaching music about thirty years ago, but soon after that career blossomed, I happened to hear a jazz pianist performing in a restaurant. That dining experience changed my career focus and my life! I suddenly realized that what I really wanted to do was to "touch people's souls" with my music by performing beautiful melodies with rich jazz harmonies.

KP: When did you start composing and improvising?

BR: I started composing at the age of 9 and improvising when I began studying jazz piano at the age of 30.

KP: Has jazz always been your musical passion?

BR: It has been since that evening in the restaurant where I heard piano jazz for the first time. My husband, Chuck, had taken me there for my 30th birthday. The polyphonic harmonies I heard that night actually took control of my soul! In fact, when I went home that night, I went to the piano and wrote the beginning of "Someone There to Love Me" with all those minor 9th chords.

KP: A person’s 30th birthday is usually a momentous occasion, but it sounds like yours was especially important! How many albums have you recorded to date?

BR: Eight.

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KP: Who and what are your strongest musical influences?

BR: Marian McPartland is my biggest hero because she's a great jazz pianist with a strong reverence for classical piano, and she's a great composer! AND she didn't let anyone tell her that a woman couldn't have a career as a pianist and/or a composer! I also love McCoy Tyner; his harmonies and rhythms are wonderful. Also, Horace Silver, Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, and Eliane Elias - my second hero!

KP: If someone asked you to describe your music in words, what would you say?

BR: I would tell them it’s like the singing of a creek or the mesmerizing lullaby of the sea. Dreamy, soothing, peaceful. And hope-filled.

KP: It’s wonderful that the house concert you’ll be doing here next month will raise funds for the orphans in Haiti. Are you doing a series of benefit concerts?

BR: I hope to give concerts in Portland and Eugene as well. I'd be happy to give a concert for this urgent cause anywhere.

KP: What is the story behind the name of your record label, Goldie Mae Records?

BR: Goldie Mae was my first Golden Retriever. When I completed my first professional recording in 1983, I was designing the record label and thought of the RCA logo with the dog and the gramophone. I wanted a logo with a Golden Retriever, so I drew Goldie for the 45 r.p.m. record label. Since then, Shelley Carpenter has re-designed the logo using a photo of my dog, Gracie.

KP: You must be another pet lover. How many do you have?

BR: Two Golden Retrievers and several cats.

KP: I often find that my cats and dogs like to be near the piano when I’m playing. Do yours?

BR: Lacey especially likes her song, and both dogs - fortunately - seem to like all of my music. Buddy (the cat) jumps on the bench when I'm practicing and nuzzles me! And Gigi the cat is developing quite a few riffs and revolutionary harmonies walking up and down the keys.

KP: That’s always especially inspiring in the middle of the night! How do you go about composing a new piece of music?

BR: It is always a response to a strong emotion like love or loss. When I am distraught or, at the other extreme of feelings, simply overflowing with love, I sit at my grand piano and just play. Without any intellectual effort, a song comes to me. Often the melody comes to me with lyrics.

KP: Are your “finished” pieces constantly evolving or do you usually play them about the same way each time?

BR: "Finished" pieces, even the ones I have recorded, are always being refined and re-arranged.

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KP: What kinds of things inspire you to compose?

BR: Finding love: whether it is love for a man, a Golden Retriever, a cat, a beach, a creek, or a forest. And sadness: I recently wrote "Song For My Mother" when my mother was in the hospital and I was overwhelmed with a sad, helpless feeling.

KP: What kinds of things do you enjoy doing when you’re not doing music?

BR: Hiking or running with my dogs, going to a beautiful beach in Oregon (with my dogs), taking care of a myriad of plants and flowers, feeding birds, and swimming. I look forward to swimming in the lakes in Florence! I swam in the Siuslaw River once.

KP: It’s a little chilly for that just yet! Do you have any plans for your next album?

BR: Yes! I have been arranging and practicing about a dozen songs for the next album, including a blues written for Buddy (my close personal cat friend), "Song For My Mother," Horace Silver's "Song For My Father," "Sea Journey" by Chick Corea, and some surprises.

KP: That sounds like an exciting group of pieces! Who do you like to listen to when you’re listening to other people’s music?

BR: Marian McParland, Eliane Elias, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, and especially Fred Hersch, whose Sarabande album wakes me up every morning.

KP: Do you have any favorite performers?

BR: Eliane Elias, McCoy Tyner, Fred Hersch, and, of course, Marian McPartland.

KP: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

BR: I just want to say that I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to give a concert of the music I love and to be able to help the children in Haiti whose lives have been torn apart by the earthquake.
Many thanks to Beverly Ritz for taking the time to chat with us! For more information about Beverly, be sure to visit her website and her Artist Page on MainlyPiano.com. You can also visit iTunes and Amazon.
Kathy Parsons
February 2010