John Riley began playing drums at age eight, after receiving a snare drum as a gift. With the support, encouragement and patience of his parents, John played in the school band and began drum lessons with Tom Sicola, a local teacher. 

Eventually, he acquired a complete drum set and lessons expanded to included “beats of the day,” coordination and reading studies for the drum set. At age twelve, John began playing in Rock bands and also heard his first Jazz recording including the soundtrack to “The Gene Krupa Story” and “Max Roach’s Conversation”. Two years later, he played his first “professional” gig, which he got through an audition he played over the phone.

John began studying with Joe Morello in 1971, after meeting him at a drum symposium. John went on to attend University of North Texas, where he was introduced to a larger world of music and percussion. While at UNT, he played, toured and recorded with the famed One O-clock Lab Band.

In 1976, he moved to New York City and was soon called to join the Woody Herman Band. Following that great experience, John began freelancing with a wide spectrum of world class musicians including Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, John Scofield, Bob Mintzer, Gary Peacock, Mike Stern, Joe Lovano, The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, The Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, John Patitucci, Bob Berg and many others.

John has a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Education from the University of North Texas and a Master of Music in Jazz Studies from Manhattan School of Music. He is currently on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music and The Conservatory of Music at SUNY Purchase along with being an Artist in Residence at Amsterdam Conservatory, Holland. John is noted author of several books including “The Art of Bop Drumming,” “Beyond Bop Drumming,” and “The Jazz Drummer’s Workshop.” He has also taught master classes around the world.


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Modern Drummer Festival 2011: John Riley