Ben Riley

Ben Riley (b. 17 July 1933) was an American jazz drummer who has worked with Thelonious Monk, Alice Coltrane, Stan Getz, Woody Herman, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Ahmad Jamal, and Kenny Barron, and was a member with Barron of Sphere.

Riley was born in Savannah, Georgia, but his parents moved to New York City when he was four years old, and he was brought up there. His father was a shipyard worker, and his mother did domestic work. After a couple of years living in Baltimore, Maryland during World War II (when his father was working for the Bethlehem Steel Corporation), the family moved to Sugar Hill, Georgia, where Riley stayed until moving back to New York.

His interest in drumming began in Savannah, where he listened to marching bands, but in New York he lived in the same neighbourhood as Sonny Rollins, Billy Taylor, Jimmy Cobb, and Roy Haynes, from the last of whom especially he learnt a great deal. He then studied with Cecil Scott, a saxophonist and band leader whose band played at the Club Sudan, near the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem, and Riley occasionally sat in with them.

Riley then started learning from another drummer, Phil Wright, who became a popular figure in their neighbourhood because of his ability to write out the drum parts from recordings. This enabled the drummers, such as Cobb and Riley, to learn the parts before joining bands. Aside from playing along to records, their main education came from listening to jam sessions organised and attended by masters such as Art Blakey. Among the master drummers who taught and influenced Riley were Philly Joe Jones and Ed Thigpen (with whom he played at The Composer).

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