Friday, August 14, 2009

My Lesson with John Riley

Yesterday evening I was very fortunate to spend a few hours with the world-renowned jazz drumming educator John Riley. John is in Calgary for the next couple of weeks teaching at a couple of workshops being held at Mount Royal College.

I've been looking forward to taking a lesson with John for some time now and my experience last night was really something else. I first purchased his book "The Art of Bop Drumming" when it first came out in the mid 90s. Growing up in Regina, Saskatchewan (a place with a limited amount of jazz drumming resources at the time - remember this is before the internet), his book became my literal drumming "bible" and gave me the tools I needed to get into McGill University and establish a strong technical and musical foundation as a jazz drummer. His subsequent instructional books "Beyond Bop Drumming" and "The Jazz Drummers Workshop" have always given me a source of inspiration (and frustration!). His new DVD is great too (how's this for product placement???)

But not only is John a great teacher, he can really play too. Whenever I was in New York City on a Monday night during my brief stay in 2004, I would catch John with the Village Vanguard Jazz Orchestra. Those performances were always lessons in themselves. And of course, he really captures the essence of Mel Lewis' style and sound while playing with that band.

Our lesson focused on specific drum related questions - things that have been on my mind for the past few months. I'm big on fundamentals (both as a teacher and as a student) so I zeroed in on questions relating to basic snare drum technique, brush work, cymbal technique (he threw me for a loop there!) and comping/phrasing exercises. He was very complementary but also was able to effective identify my problems and weaknesses, isolate them and then address them with specific exercises designed to improve on them. John was also a serious student of Joe Morello's back in the day and it was an honor for me to have him pass on some of Joe's wisdom and ideas on to me.

Alot of great information and he gave me ALOT to work on.

Back to the woodshed...
(which is being built in my backyard as I write this !!!)

John is an exceptional teacher and I certainly hope to spend more time with him in the future. He is certainly a great example to all of us aspiring jazz drummers and educators.

Anyways, here is a clip of John demonstrating his unique and amazing cymbal technique:

And here is a clip from his most recent DVD entitled "The Master Drummer":

You can check out more about John Riley here:


and here:


If you have the opportunity to study with John Riley or catch him in a masterclass or clinic or performing with the VVJO, do it !

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