Born: January 30, 1951 Primary Instrument: Saxophone
Ralph Lalama grew up in West Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, graduated from The Dana School of Music of Youngstown State University (Ohio) and was recognized there for his remarkable talent by the legendary Thad Jones, who encouraged him to come to New York. Since that time, Lalama has reached a dignified status as a widely respected master of the tenor through his achievements in the big bands of Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Carla Bley and the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra - now the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra - with whom he is a featured soloist on Monday nights at New York's Village Vanguard. His experience is vast and varied and includes appearances with Barry Harris, Harold Danko, Mel Torme, Carmen McRae, Tom Harrell and Joe Morello. He has recorded with Joe Morello, the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band (under the direction of Jon Faddis). He appears on two Joe Lovano nonet releases on Blue Note: the 2001 Grammy Award-winning, 52nd Street Themes, and the 2003 release, On This Day...At The Vanguard.
With a prolific discography and in addition to numerous recordings as a sideman, Lalama has led his own projects for the Dutch label, Criss-Cross Jazz. 1999 saw his fifth, Ralph Lalama: Music for Grown-Ups, featuring notables Richard Wyands at the piano, Peter Washington on bass and Kenny Washington on drums. Lalama is out front booting things along with that cavernous sound of his and a swing and swagger that is infectious. (Chris Hovan, allaboutjazz). Circle Line (1997) garnered 4½ stars from Down Beat Magazine and secured him a spot in the magazine's Top CDs of the Decade (Dec. 99). You Know What I Mean (1995) received wide acclaim and his Momentum CD with Kenny Barron placed him at No. 2 on New York's WBGO playlist for that year, just behind tenor giant Joe Henderson.
Lalama's playing reveals an enormous depth of musical heart and knowledge. Combined with his muscular sound, executed in a freewheeling, no-holds-barred approach to music, one understands why he so thoroughly connects with musicians and listeners alike. When not busy touring the world, he dedicates his time to teaching younger players as an adjunct professor at New York University and SUNY Purchase. He has instructed an international collective of students through Manhattan School of Music's Marca Jazz Camp in Venice, Italy. He also offers private instruction. One of his students, Jonathan Lee, received the 2003 National Down Beat Award for Best High School Jazz Soloist.