One question kept popping up during the NPR taping of "Billy Taylor's Jazz at the Kennedy Center" Monday night: How difficult is it for a woman to pursue a career as a jazz flutist? The answer: very.
Not that the evening's guest performer, Ali Ryerson, wouldn't choose to do it all over again. The joy she takes in playing jazz on her chosen instrument was evident in each of her performances with the Taylor trio, as was her gift for artfully sustaining and refreshing familiar melodies. Classically trained and jazz-bred--her father, Art, made a name for himself as an accomplished session guitarist--Ryerson played both concert-pitch and alto flute, choosing the latter instrument for soulful, lushly intoned arrangements of "A Child Is Born" and "Manha de Carnaval." Other pieces, including an articulate yet swinging rendition of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way" (re-dubbed "In Her Own Sweet Way") and a lyrical reprise of "Body and Soul," offered further evidence of a hard-won jazz artistry. (There were times early in her career, she confessed, when she felt she had three strikes against her--gender, genre and instrument.)
Taylor took obvious delight in listening to and playing with his guest. The trio's arrangements consistently flattered Ryerson's interpretations while maintaining a high level of interplay and improvisation, thanks in great part to drummer Winard Harper and bassist Chip Jackson. Small wonder the audience was charmed by it all.