Ben Riley, Drummer
Ben Riley was born on July 17, 1933 in Savannah, Georgia, and his family moved to New York four years later. He began studying with noted Harlem band leader Cecil Scott while in junior high school, and in high school began playing in a school band. In 1952 Ben Riley joined the army and began to perform with the army band, ramping up his learning curve several notches. Following his discharge from the army in the late 1950's, he began working in and around New York and developed long-lasting relationships with Randy Weston, Mary Lou Williams, Sonny Rollins, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Billy Taylor, and many others. Yet the association that secured Ben's place in jazz history was his four year stint with the legendary Thelonious Monk. He toured extensively with Monk and recorded several now classic albums with the pianist, such as It’s Monk’s Time, Underground, and Straight, No Chaser. A marvelous example of Riley’s playing with Monk is also found in the black-and-white DVD released by Jazz Icons.
During his tenure with Monk, Riley also showcased his ability to play with a wide variety of musicians, including Earl "Fatha" Hines, Andrew Hill, Hank Jones, Barry Harris and Clark Terry. After leaving Monk in the late 1960's, Ben chose to take time off from the road and took a position with the Wyandanch, New York school district, where he remained for five years. Then, during the mid-1970's, the call of music became too strong to resist and Riley began performing and recording once again, this time with Alice Coltrane and as a member of the New York Jazz Quartet. From the late 70's through the 80's he performed and recorded extensively with the Ron Carter Quartet, which included bassist Buster Williams and pianist Kenny Barron, whom Ben recommended for the band. When Carter disbanded his quartet, the rhythm section of Riley, Williams and Barron remained intact, working as a trio and rhythm section for various touring artists visiting New York. Ben Riley suggested adding a permanent horn player to their trio; Charlie Rouse, Monk’s favorite tenor man in his band, joined and the cooperative band Sphere was the result. Upon Rouse’s death, Sphere disbanded but Riley continued to perform extensively with Barron. He also continued to develop musical relationships with Abdullah Ibrahim, Barney Kessel, Chet Baker, and Johnny Griffin, among several others. In 1992, because of his vast contribution to jazz music, Riley was inducted into his hometown-based Coastal Jazz Hall of Fame in Savannah, Georgia.