Ridley was born and reared in Indianapolis, IN. He began performing professionally while still in high school in the 1950s. He studied at the Indiana University School of Music and later at the Lenox School of Jazz. Ridley has been involved in jazz education, heading the jazz program at Rutgers University.
Dr. David Baker, another Indianapolis native and notable jazz musician, was one of his prime mentors. Ridley was bassist for David Baker's Big band during his studies at Indiana University.
Ridley served as chairman of the Jazz Panel of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and was the organization's National Coordinator of the "Jazz Artists in Schools" Program for five years (1978–1982). Ridley is a recipient of the MidAtlantic Arts Foundation’s “Living Legacy Jazz Award”, an 1998 inductee the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame (IAJE), an inductee of the Downbeat Magazine Jazz Education Hall of Fame, a recipient of the Benny Golson Jazz Award from Howard University, and was honored by a Juneteenth 2006 Proclamation Award from the New York City Council. Ridley is currently the Executive Director of the African American Jazz Caucus, Inc., an affiliate of IAJE. He is also the IAJE Northeast Regional Coordinator. He continues to actively teach as Professor of Jazz Bass at the Manhattan School of Music. Ridley is currently serving as Jazz Artist in Residence at the Harlem based New York Public Library/Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. He established an annual series there dedicated to presenting the compositions of jazz masters that are performed by Ridley and his Jazz Legacy Ensemble.
- 1975: Sum of the Parts (Strata-East Records)
- 1989: Live at Rutgers University (Strata-East)
- Freddie Hubbard: Blue Spirits (Blue Note), Hub Cap (1961)
- Red Garland Trio: The Nearness of You (Jazzland, 1961)
- Roy Haynes: Cymbalism (1963)
- Roy Haynes: Cracklin’ (OJC, 1963)
- Jackie McLean; Destination... Out! (Blue Note, 1963)
- Hank Mobley: Dippin' (Blue Note, 1965)
- Lee Morgan: Cornbread (Blue Note, 1965)
- Jackie McLean: Jacknife (Blue Note, 1965)
- Horace Silver: The Jody Grind (Blue Note, 1966)
- Stéphane Grappelli/Joe Venuti: Venupelli Blues (Affinity, 1969)
- Dexter Gordon: The Panther! (Prestige, 1970)
- James Moody: Feelin' It Together (Muse, 1973)
- Al Cohn: Play It Now! (Xanadu, 1975)
- Chet Baker: Chet Baker Quartet/Live in France 1978, track 6 only, (Gambit Records, 2005)
- Dameronia: Live au Theatre Boulogne-Billancourt (1989)
- Hank Mobley: Straight No Filter (1989)