I was born into a musical family in New York City in 1952, and raised in Armonk, NY, a small town about 30 miles north of Manhattan. My maternal grandmother, Alice (my namesake), was a professional musician, along with all her siblings. She played piano on the vaudeville circuit, later working in pit orchestras during the silent film era. She had one daughter, my mother, and although my mom was not a musician, her life revolved around music and her family, all musicians.
My father, Art Ryerson, was a jazz guitarist who got his start with the Paul Whiteman Orchestra in the late 30’s. After his years with Whiteman, he returned to NY, becoming one of the top studio musicians of his day. Recording with just about everyone from Louis Armstrong to Errol Garner, Fats Waller, Red Norvo, Charlie Parker and Ella Fitzgerald, my dad was also one of the original seven-string guitar players, along with George Van Eps and Bucky Pizzarelli.
My father set the musical bar high for my three older brothers and me. We all began taking piano lessons quite young - I was five. When my brothers started playing trombone and trumpet, I wanted to play a second instrument too. I chose the flute. That love affair began when I was eight.
With jazz, it started even earlier. In large part, this was thanks to my oldest brother. Art had the stereo, the record collection, and his bedroom was right next to mine. By night, I’d be listening to Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Tom Jobim, Don Sebesky, Gil Evans, Freddie Hubbard, Urbie Green and Clifford Brown. By day, I’d be listening to Art practicing on the family Steinway. To me, he was Bill Evans. My brother Rich, who practiced the trumpet incessantly, was a cross between Maurice André and Clifford Brown. I grew up surrounded by enormous talent. But my brothers took good care of their little sister. They mentored me throughout my early years, bringing me to their jam sessions, hiring me to play in their bands, giving me the opportunity to learn all the tunes by ear. I learned by listening to them playing the music we all grew up loving, jazz.
This is part of a series about falling in love with the artform of jazz. We invited listeners and jazz professionals to share their stories with us.