Music

South Water Street Jazz

Trumpet player Ritchee Price gives an impromptu soundtrack to the Riverwalk

Posted

“I played the hell out of the National Anthem,” Ritchee Price recalls. With just himself, a trumpet, two students holding rifles, and one student carrying the American flag, Price would usher in Bishop Hendricken football games in the way that he saw fit.

By this point in the conversation, Benard, a flight attendant from South Carolina on a stop-over, had already pulled up a chair just to listen in on the conversation outside of the Wild Colonial on a Wednesday evening to “hear the wisdom being shared.”

What becomes clear anytime a seasoned musician begins to tell stories is that everything is connected and the music is always that elusive, never-perfect thing at the heart of it. Make no mistake, Price is a professional, but beyond that he is an artist devoted to his craft. He has not reached the end of his journey with his trumpet and he is still, as he puts it, “trying to get better.”

“This is why a trumpet can piss you off,” Price says, then paraphrases an old joke he heard. “Sometimes it plays great and you won, sometimes it plays bad and the trumpet won, and sometimes you die and the trumpet is still there.”

When I pulled up to the Wild Colonial on South Water Street, Price was leaning on his car running scales on his trumpet. I guess this was his not-so-subtle way of letting me know exactly who he is. Price is a regular at the Wild Colonial, playing out along the river or in the parking lot enjoying a scotch (not so much these days) as the evening melts into night. He is, as he puts it, like Norm on Cheers.

In between anecdotes and musings, Price greets people on a first-name basis, catching up and making small-talk before studying music in The “Real” Book, a collection of lead sheets for jazz standards.

This is all part of Price’s “retirement program.” Wake up at 5:30, shower, go back to sleep, exercise, practice trumpet, and then later, go the Wild Colonial to play more. Price regularly plays at open jams (Murphy’s Law in Pawtucket has a Joe Potenza hosted “Groove E Tuesday” jazz night) and cobbles together impromptu quintets for events, but at the core of everything he does is the drive to keep playing and always work on “getting better,” knowing that he will never reach his best.

Price has asthma, so he first picked up the trumpet to “open up” his lungs, but it was the drum and bugle corps that made him get serious about it. Price moved to Rhode Island from amish country Pennsylvania because it sits in between Boston and New York. After attending Berklee College of Music from 1979 to 1983, Price spent two years doing odd jobs waiting to land the dream gig. When a former classmate named Doug Miller recommended him to jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, Price was off.

In a testament to life as a professional musician in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Price recalls coming off of a tour in Japan, landing in Niagara Falls, and driving directly to a gig at the Newport Jazz Festival with 30 minutes to spare in 1988. Due to 100 degree heat and being disoriented from jet-lag, Hampton allowed the band to take off their bow ties for the gig.

Price went on to play with the Count Basie Orchestra all while serving as the music director of Bishop Hendricken, Rogers, and, most recently, Portsmouth high schools from 1987 until 2016. Price’s love of drum and bugle corps drove a passion to develop the competitive marching bands at his schools to make them just as important as the sports teams. He continues to judge marching band competitions to this day.

Price is what every musician should aspire to be. He is a man ever trying to improve his craft. There is always somewhere he is trying to get to and he finds every opportunity he can to stop and just play.