Jazz composer Rodger Aldridge believes it is never too late to follow your heart.
After 34 years as a systems professional for companies such as Fannie Mae, the 65-year old retiree is moving from profession to passion by reigniting his musical roots.
From his Olney home, Aldridge has been able to pursue the career as a composer he dreamed of as young saxophone player in Kansas City, Mo.
Because he does not need to support himself with the sale of his work, Aldridge is edging into the music business by making his compositions available for free online. By putting his scores on websites such as the American Music Centerís online library, he seeks to gain recognition by reaching out to musicians and ensembles.
Cody Calamaio: How did your passion for music get started?
Roger Aldridge: I discovered jazz when I was really little. I think I was about 7 or 8 years old. My mother had old ď78Ē records, and one day I discovered these down in the basement and just immediately fell in love with the music. When I was in third grade, one of my best friends started taking trumpet lessons so I immediately went home and asked my mom if I could take trumpet lessons. She told me she has always loved saxophone because they would sit in the front row of the big band. So I started on that and found that I really loved the saxophone. It was somewhere in my early teenage years that I really started listening to arrangers and composers and started trying to write some of my original stuff. But I didnít really know what I was doing, so Iím sure some of that stuff was really lousy. [Ö] In high school some of my music buddies and I would occasionally go down to the union hall. In those days in Kansas City, the musicians unions were segregated and so we would go to the black musicians hall and they were very open to us and liked to see young guys come in regardless of what race they were. And we would jam with these old guys, and man, they were just phenomenal.
CC: When did you move toward a career change?
RA: After I got out of the Berklee College of Music, and moved up a few notches, I worked professionally in music for a period of time and had opportunities to play with some really good people. Smokey Robinson is an example; I played in his horn section. And I taught college-level music, jazz studies, composition, that type of thing. Even in terms of having a college teaching position, I really wasnít able to support my family with music. In the late í70s, I made a career change to systems work. I found that the skills I had in music composition were just an amazing match for the kind of logic pattern recognition in systems work.
CC: How did music begin to come back into your life?
RA: I was away from music for not quite 20 years and in the early í90s, I started getting back into composition. And I just wrote whenever I would have a little bit of free time. I think I wrote over 600 things. It was just a few months ago I was finally able to retire. So now Iím able to work as a full-time composer and Iíve had this dream really since I was a teenager. So itís coming full circle to really do what I want to do.
CC: Now that you do have this freedom to create without worrying about supporting yourself, what has come out of that creation?
RA: A lot more music. Right now Iím working on a series of scores for a mid-sized jazz ensembles. Over the years, Iíd written a lot of things for big bands. But Iím just really burned out on conventional big bands. Most big bands really play music that the basic conception of the music is 70, 80 years old. Even some of the newer big band music still follows some of the formulistic patterns. [Ö] I just turned 65 so itís like, if I want to write the creative new stuff that I want to write, Iíve got to do it now. I really want to focus on the music that speaks to me. I really follow my intuition. Sometimes music even comes to me in dreams. I find a mid-sized jazz ensemble of maybe five horns and some kind of rhythm section just really speaks to me.
CC: Why do you choose to make your music available free on the internet?
RA: At this point, I donít exactly have a household name. People know Miles Davis, but they donít know Rodger Aldridge. Whatís more important to me at this phase is to get the music out there and have it be heard. So of the music that Iíve written, itís only a small sample of the stuff that Iíve put out there. I think the stuff that I am starting to write from this point on Iím going to try to sell, either through a publisher or try to publish it myself. But I think itís important to have a selection of my stuff out there to be discovered.