Ricky Ford: Shorter Ideas (1984) Muse

Under-appreciated…everything (including his tailor!) Hidden Gems Volume 1

Selection 1: Miyako (Shorter)


Selection 2: DanceCadaverous

Listen to Jimmy Knepper picking up the tune and dancing in the dark, beautiful.


Ricky Ford (tenor saxophone), James Spaulding (alto Saxophone, flute), Jimmy Knepper (trombone), Kirk Lightsey (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Jimmy Cobb (drums)  recorded at Englewood Cliffs, August 28, 1984,  engineer and mastered by Rudy Van Gelder.

Ricky Ford (1954- )

Neither Ricky Ford nor Muse have earned a place in the repository of all jazz recording knowledge, JazzDisco Project. No recognition of artist or label, seriously underappreciated.  OK, LJC will make it in its own marking.

All About Jazz gives Ford faint praise: “A strong, authoritative tenor player, Ford’s fluency in most idioms of modern jazz has perhaps hindered the development of an individual voice”.  He makes good music to me. Somebody compared him to a combination of Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins, a comparison which I guess is the fate of any player following in the great tradition, but not necessarily a bad thing.

Gunther Schuller is more generous to this second generation of jazz musicians: “Ford’s music is neither narrow nor isolated; it is satisfied with neither yesteryear’s avant-garde clichés nor the financial blandishments of today’s jazz rock. It is solidly rooted in the past; its heart is big; its ears are wide-open, and so is its mind. It is more than a revival—it is an important new beginning.”

Ford recorded extensively for Muse and the revived Candid label in the ’70s and early ’80s, however towards the end of the eighties the vinyl format was abandoned in exchange for The Evil Silver Disk, and thence falls into the audiophile abyss. Nevertheless there is still a satisfying body of work to enjoy on vinyl. Ricky Ford found refuge in the traditional educator role, at the unusual choice of a University in Turkey, but still recording and playing today.


You get the dark but luminous compositions of Wayne Shorter in his creative prime, the mid to late ’60s, subtle and slow-building compositions of great technical prowess. It’s not Cole Porter or My Fair Lady, but Blue Note “new standards”, twenty years on.  They take on a life of their own with Ricky at the helm. It is an odd tribute from a man born too late to be a player in the 60s, but picking up where Shorter went off to Report on the Weather, in his own manner and not obviously Shorteresque (if there is such a word) and not Short of Ideas of his own.

The contribution of the other players is not to be overlooked,with Jimmy Knepper’s distinctive trombone voice rooted firmly in the original bop era, and James Spaulding’s alto likewise, a hybrid of old and new voices which works unexpectedly well.

In addition to four Shorter tunes, Ford contributes two of his own compositions, and one reprise of Duke Ellington, in homage to his own place in Mercer Ellington big band in the mid ’70s.

Vinyl: Muse MR 5314

Mastered by The Master, Van Gelder, for Muse, a good vinyl combination.

Ricky’s suit, I will refrain from comment.

Collector’s Corner

Never judge an LP by its cover.

LJC-DunceOff the back of reader recommendations on Muse, I wandered (in the rain) to my local record store for a browse, and laid my hand on this Muse. The cover ensured its neglect for some years, but this time I stopped to read the liner notes. The credentials of the musicians, produced by Michael Cuscuna, featuring many of the guys who played on the Shorter originals, what at first seemed a stupid idea, a Shorter tribute band? suddenly transformed into an audacious one. Van Gelder at the desk, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Knepper, Spaulding, Lightsey (again) FFS, why didn’t I know about this??

Here’s a few more Ricky Ford Muse albums I didn’t know about, (until I looked)


Well, that’s not strictly true, I had one already, the Red Rodney Three R’s, but hadn’t name-checked Ricky Ford, filed under Red Rodney. Only when you connect all the dots do you get the fuller picture.

It makes you think, how much of what you think you know is just like Swiss cheese, full of holes? Not that there is anything wrong with Swiss cheese. As you buy it by the kilo, the holes are free anyway, but they enable the slice to mix better say, with ham. So, a rare occasion when nothing is better than something. How often can you say that?

11 thoughts on “Ricky Ford: Shorter Ideas (1984) Muse

  1. Beautiful sax player who was with Charles Mingus in his early days; also played and recorded with Abdullah Ibrahim, specially like his solo on the LP Water from an Ancient Well.
    Ford lives in France in Toucy and also, being a great painter, runs an art gallery

    • I knew nothing of his final residence, thank you, Ton. I write this under failing light in Provence, Alpes Cotes-d’Azur, surrounded by sea of yellow jerseys, Swedish football fans. With Wales beating Russia, and the prospect of England in the finals, if we haven’t left Europe tomorrow, who know what the future holds.

  2. I recommend The Danny Richmond Quintet on Gatemouth records for fine Ricky Ford on a great record, awesome version of Mingus Cumbia and Jazz Fusion.

  3. First Lightsey, and now Ricky Ford, both seen recently at the Foix jazz festival. Foix is a small town in the pyrenees, hardly a great pull for jazz greats. But i’m here to tell you that Ford’s set was one of the best jazz nights I’ve experienced – and I lived in London for twenty years. A hugely underrated player.

  4. You had a very worthwhile venture into the rain – these are great selections. Ford apparently picked up his talent for multi-horn arrangements during work with Mingus, Ellington, and Abdullah Ibrahim. His playing with Ibrahim can be highly impassioned and bluesy (and sometimes recorded/mixed by vanGelder) – it’s worth seeking out.

  5. Great record! This, “Manhattan Plaza” (w/ Jaki Byard) and “Flying Colors” (w/ John Hicks) are all classics in my book! Great record. Muse is really a special label, one that as time goes on will either be rediscovered by young jazz-heads, or completely forgotten in the race for original Blue Notes. David Schnitter is tenor who made some good records for the label. An Jazz Messenger alumnus, he’s got some great ones. Muse For Life!

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