The Artistry of… Herlin Riley

Optimistic positivity: The phrase says loudly and clearly the state of artistic affairs of drummer Herlin Riley. His words make it crystal clear: “I want to live in a world where my glass is always half full.”

A New Orleans native and drummer for the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, he sits literally in a place where he commands and surveys all that he sees. Riley also teaches at the Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

Writer Tod A. Smith describes Riley’s sound this way: “It’s gospel; it’s the blues; it’s the sound of celebration, the sound of life.”

In the musical Sweet Charity, Sammy Davis Jr.’s character, Big Daddy Brubeck, sings a groovy spirited hit, The Rhythm of Life, by Cy Coleman and Dorothy Fields, with these lyrics: “To feel the rhythm of life / To feel the powerful beat / To feel the tingle in your fingers / To feel the tingle in your feet.” The words say it all about the rhythm of life in Herlin Riley.