August 2013 Convention
New Orleans, LA

Ali and the Jazz Flute Big Band

All NFA members will be aware of the growing presence of jazz and world music at recent conventions, and this year’s meeting had the feeling—fittingly, given the location—of the consummation of this process. With Tadeu Coelho at the helm, the New Orleans convention gave free reign to all those who have been helping to promote these genres, and none of these shone more brightly, or deserves more credit, than Ali Ryerson. This was by way of a swan song for Ali, after five years as jazz committee chair and another five as coordinator of the Jazz Flute Big Band. It was more of a flame-out than a swan song; she seemed to be everywhere during the weekend. If she wasn’t performing, conducting, instructing, or demonstrating, she was speaking about her work at panel discussions or luncheons. And she carried off all of this with her characteristic professionalism and good humor, not to mention her enviable stamina!

Ali Ryerson

Ali was perhaps most visible fronting the Jazz Flute Big Band. While I may be biased (I was propping up the alto flute section), I think it is fair to say that the development of this ensemble has been an unqualified success. It has played to standing-room-only audiences at NFA meetings, broken into the commercial market with its first CD, and drawn far more than originally expected numbers to its off-year reading sessions, which have already been duplicated with similar success, notably at the British Flute Society meeting last summer. Ali led the group through hours of rehearsals, three performances—the Gala Concert on Thursday, a cabaret on Saturday, and Sunday’s closing ceremonies—and a reading session. She was also on hand at an exhibit hall booth to sign copies of the CD.

 “Conducting the Jazz Flute Big Band, especially on Saturday night at the cabaret, was emotional for me, almost overwhelming, but in a good way,” said Ali. “It felt like the culmination of a dream, after many years of hard work and incredible support.”

At Coelho’s request, Ryerson put together another jazz ensemble, tailored for amateur players who would like to perform jazz flute big band arrangements without the pressure of auditions or taking solos. The group was christened the Swamp Jazz Flute Orchestra, and Ali pulled it together during several rehearsals and presented it to appreciative audiences at a Sunday lobby concert and at the closing ceremonies.

Orlando "Maraca" Valle, Ali Ryerson and the Jazz Flute Big Band

Ali performed a Brazilian piece with Keith Underwood at the Jazz and World Music concert and an alto flute solo as one of the Low Flutes All Stars, and she conducted the Low Flutes Dixieland Band in two Dixieland standards she arranged at the request of Chris Potter, chair of the Low Flutes Committee. She joined Hubert Laws, Kris Keith, and Jamie Baum on a jazz flute panel, led an open masterclass with Billy Kerr, and was the guest speaker at the Flute Lover’s Luncheon. She also put in time at the Gemeinhardt booth in the exhibit hall throughout the weekend, giving demos and attending showcases. And those attending any of the late night screenings of my film, The Flute in Jazz, would have seen Ali there both as performer and narrator.

No doubt we will see Ali at future conventions, although I doubt if we will see as much of her as we did August 8–13, 2013. But the NFA will feel her influence for many years to come.

—Peter Westbrook

photos by Brian Covington