Barely a decade ago, tenor saxophonist Ricky Ford was more than once booted off the bandstands of jazz clubs in Boston, his home town, and told to bone up on the basics.

He did just that--seemingly with a vengeance. He telescoped his final two years of high school into one and enrolled at the New England Conservatory of Music where he became a pupil of Joseph Allard, former principal clarinetist with Toscanini, and studied theory and jazz history under veteran pianists Jaki Byard and Ran Blake. Ford will be at the One Step Down Friday and Saturday with his quartet, pianist Dave Stewert, bassist Leon Maleson and drummer Victor Jones.

Ford, whose home is now in New York, has crowded so much activity into the years since those sometimes abortive sit-ins at Boston sessions that it's hard to believe that he's still not out of his twenties. He went on the road with the Mercer Ellington Orchestra in the mid-'70s, became a member of the Charles Mingus Workshop, toured Europe and Japan with Lionel Hampton, participated in Mayor Koch's Project Sunshine, which takes entertainment into prisons and nursing homes, recorded six albums under his own name and even played the part of an alcoholic tenor saxophonist in an off-Broadway play based on Billie Holiday's life.

Ford's credits at the conservatory finally added up to a diploma this year and he graduated "with distinction." And last month he picked up the latest issue of down beat and found his name in first place for his instrument in the Talent Deserving Wider Recognition category of the International Critics Poll.