John Bernard Riley

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John Riley
Photo by R. Andrew Lepley (August 2004)
Background information
Birth name John Bernard Riley
Born (1954-06-11) June 11, 1954 (age 60)
Origin Aberdeen, Maryland, USA
Genres jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, Music Educator, Clinician
Instruments drums and percussion
Years active 1968 – present
Associated acts One O'Clock Lab Band
Woody Herman
Mike Metheny
Bob Mintzer
Red Rodney
John Scofield
Miles Davis
Vanguard Jazz Orchestra

John Bernard Riley (b June 11, 1954, Aberdeen, MD) is an American jazz drummer, a music educator – at the collegiate and conservatory levels — and a music clinician. Riley has performed with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Scofield, Bob Mintzer, Gary Peacock, Mike Stern, Joe Lovano, Franck Amsallem, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, John Patitucci, and Bob Berg.[1][2][3][4]


Early education[edit]

Riley began playing drums at age eight, after receiving a snare drum as a gift. In the biographies provided to the media, Riley acknowledges the early support of his parents, John and Mary Ann. While attending fourth grade in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, Riley began studying percussion privately with Thomas Sicola, Jr. (b. Mar. 1944), who, at that time, was a recent graduate of the New York College of Music (bachelor of music) and a music teacher in the nearby Cranford Township Public Schools.

While studying with Sicola, Riley gained control of the snare drum through work on the rudiments ("beats of the day"), reading, and coordination — both in the classical and jazz idioms. Sicola trained John on a variety of traditional percussion instruments, including xylophone, timpani, and drum kit. At age twelve, Riley began playing in rock bands and heard his first jazz recordings: (i) the soundtrack to The Gene Krupa Story and (ii) Max Roach's Conversation. Two years later, he played his first professional gig, which he obtained through an audition played over the telephone. Riley began studying with Joe Morello in 1971 after meeting him at a drum symposium.

Riley graduated from Scotch Plains-Fanwood High School in 1971 and enrolled at the University of North Texas.

Sicola has since retired and is now is a Deacon at Our Lady of the Mount Roman Catholic Church in Warren, New Jersey.


Riley studied music at the University of North Texas College of Music, where he was introduced to a larger world of music and percussion. While there, he played, toured, and recorded Lab 76 with the One O'Clock Lab Band. Lab 76 was nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Jazz Performance by a Big Band." Jazz drummer Paul Guerrero had been one of his influential teachers at North Texas.[5]

New York[edit]

Riley moved to New York City in September 1976 and in 1978 became a member of Woody Herman Band.[6] Following that experience, John began freelancing with a wide spectrum of world-class musicians including Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Scofield, Bob Mintzer, Gary Peacock, Mike Stern, Joe Lovano, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, John Patitucci, Bob Berg, and many others. Riley had been subbing for Mel Lewis in the Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. When Lewis died in 1990, the orchestra decided to continue as the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra and Riley became its permanent drummer, a chair he has held for twenty-five years.[6]


2001 †

, 2006 †

, 2010 UPC 820428301011

(2010) OCLC 756756638

  • Ralf Buschmeyer, Jazz Speak (2012)
  • Pavel Wlosok, Mike McGuirk, John Riley: Jubilee Suite: Live at the Grey Eagle, New Port Line, Prague (2012)
Grammy Nomination (13 albums)
Grammy Award (3 albums)

Academic positions[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Second edition (3 volumes), edited by Barry Kernfeld, Macmillan Publishers, London (2002)
  2. ^ Riley, John, Oxford Music Online
  3. ^ S. Bennett, Portraits: John Riley, Modern Drummer, xiii/6 (1989), 72
  4. ^ W. F. Miller, The Art of John Riley, Modern Drummer, xviii/7 (1994), 26
  5. ^ What Do You Know About...? Paul Guerrero, by Victor Rendón, Modern Drummer, December 1, 2011
  6. ^ a b My Story: The Ups and Downs of a Musician's Life in Jazz, by Fred W. Frailey, Kiplinger's Personal Finance, July 2006, pg. 108

External links[edit]