Herlin Riley was born February 15, 1957 in New Orleans, Louisiana into a musical family and first began playing the drums at the age of three. He studied trumpet throughout high school and for two years of college, but his interest in the instrument waned and he began to focus again on drums.
From 1984 to 1987, Riley was a member of Ahmad Jamal’s group. He then joined Wynton Marsalis in 1988, and toured and performed with the outfit until the group disbanded in 1994. He also performed music by Duke Ellington on the first Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra U.S. tour in 1992.
He has made recordings with Marcus Roberts, Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., George Benson, Bennie Wallace and Mark Whitfield. In addition, Herman has released two albums as a leader, and has played in theatrical performances, including One Mo’ Time and Satchmo: America’s Musical Legend. In 2010 he was honored with the Ascona Jazz Award from the Ascona Jazz Festival in Switzerland.
Whirlin’ Herman Riley, as he is affectionately known, is a regularly featured musician at Jazz at Lincoln Center, is a member of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and played a large part in developing the drum parts for Wynton Marsalis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Blood on the Fields. He is a lecturer in percussion for the jazz studies program at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University. The neo-bop drummer continues to perform, record and tour.
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