Herlin Riley

Herlin Riley is the drummer’s drummer, the go-to rhythm master who keeps the beat for Wynton Marsalis, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Ahmad Jamal, Harry Connick, Jr., and a host of other jazz greats as well as with his own combos. His impeccable chops on the kit and infectious tambourine summon the richest, most nuanced rhythms of his native New Orleans.

Riley, born in 1957, is part of the legendary musical Lastie family, with deep roots in New Orleans jazz, gospel, and blues. He began playing the drums when he was three, played trumpet in his teens, then returned to the drum kit for good. As a youngster, he was part of Danny Barker’s legendary Fairview Baptist Church youth band.
After a stint on Bourbon Street, including time with Al Hirt’s band, he went to London with Vernel Bagneris’s One Mo’ Time production. Soon after, he joined up with Ahmad Jamal, and toured with the jazz legend until 1988, when he joined Wynton Marsalis’s ensemble in New York. He gigged with Marsalis for nearly 20 years, as a member of his various ensembles and as part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. He has also toured with top-tier names such as George Benson, Harry Connick, Jr., and Marcus Roberts.

Today, Riley spends much of his time in his native New Orleans in addition to his time on the road, lighting up audiences at clubs and festivals with his effervescent smile and exquisite rhythmic sensibilities.

He has recorded four albums under his own name and nearly 30 with Marsalis, including the Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields. He has also recorded with Jamal, Roberts, Dr. John, Bennie Wallace, and Mark Whitfield, among others.

Riley is dedicated to helping younger drummers find their own voice, and has mentored many developing musicians. He conducts workshops and master classes around the world, and has lectured at Northwestern University, the University of New Orleans, and The Juilliard School.

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