John Riley June 11, 1954



John began playing drums at age eight, after receiving a snare drum as a gift. With the support, encouragement and patience of his parents, John and Mary Ann, he played in the school band and began drum lessons with a good local teacher, Tom Sicola. While under Tom's guidance, he gained control of the snare drum through work on the rudiments and reading. Eventually, he acquired a complete drumset and lessons expanded to include "beats of the day," coordination and reading studies for the drumset. At age twelve, John began playing in rock bands and heard his first jazz recordings, the soundtrack to The Gene Krupa Story and Max Roach's Conversation. Two years later, he played his first "professional" gig, which he obtained through an audition played over the telephone. John began studying with Joe Morello in 1971, after meeting him at a drum symposium. John went on to attend the University of North Texas, where he was introduced to a larger world of music and percussion. While at UNT, he played in, 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 returned to New York and 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 on the faculty of Manhattan School of Music, and Kutztown University, and is an Artist in Residence at Amsterdam Conservatory, Holland. John is also the author of The Art of Bop DrummingBeyond Bop DrummingThe Jazz Drummer's WorkshopThe Master Drummer DVD, and has taught master classes around the world.


  • North Texas State University: Lab'76, NTSU Records, 1976.*
  • Woody Herman: Chick, Donald, Walter and Woodrow, Century Records, 1978.*
  • Woody Herman: The Woody Herman Orchestra, JazzDoor Records, 1978
  • Harris Simon Group: Swish, EastWind Records, 1980.
  • Mike Metheny: Blue Jay Sessions, Headfirst Records, 1981.
  • Richard Boukas: Embarcadero, Jazz Essence Records, 1983.
  • Richard lacona: Painter of Dreams, Morningside Records, 1984.
  • Mike Carubia: Renaissance, KamaDisc Records, 1985.
  • Greg Hyslop: Manhattan Date, Slope Records, 1986.
  • Mark Soskin: Overjoyed, JazzCity Records, 1987.
  • Bob Mintzer: Techno Pop, JazzDoor Records, 1987.
  • Bob Mintzer: Spectrum, DMP Records, 1987.*
  • Red Rodney Quintet: Red Snapper and One For Bird, Steeple Chase Records, 1988.
  • Mike Metheny: Kaleidoscope, MCA Records, 1988.
  • Haze Greenfield: Five for the City, Owl Time Line Records, 1989.
  • John Hart: One Down, BlueNote, 1990.
  • Kenny Werner: Uncovered Heart, Sunnyside Records, 1990.
  • John Scofield: Live Three Ways, BlueNote Video, 1990.
  • Bob Mintzer: Art of the Big Band, DMP Records, 1991.*
  • Miles Davis and Quincy Jones: Miles and Quincy Live at Montreux, Warner Brothers Records, 1991.*
  • Bob Mintzer: Departure, DMP Records, 1993.
  • Bruce Williamson: Big City Magic, Timeless Records, 1993.
  • Bob Mintzer: Only in New York, DMP Records, 1994.*
  • John Serry: Enchantress, Telarc Jazz Records, 1995.
  • DMP Big Band: Carved in Stone, DMP Records, 1995.
  • Bob Mintzer: The First Decade, DMP Records, 1995.
  • Vince Mendoza and the WDR Big Band: Flame, Carlton Records, 1996.
  • Bob Mintzer: Big Band Trane, DMP Records, 1996.*
  • Sigurdur Flosason: Sounds From Afar, Jazzis Records, 1996.
  • Shigeko Suzuki: Brisa, BMGRecords, 1996.
  • Joseph Allessi: New York Legends, Cala Records, 1996.
  • Bobby Paunetto: Composer in Public, RSVP Jazz Records, 1996.*
  • Claudio Angeleri: Jazz Files, CDPM-Lion Records, 1996.
  • Lalo Schifrin: Gillespiana, Aleph Records, 1996.*
  • DMP Big Band: Salutes Duke Ellington, DMP Records, 1997.
  • Hubert Nuss: The Shimmering Colours of Stained Glass, GreenHouse Records, 1997.
  • The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Lickety Split, New World Records, 1997.*
  • Bob Mintzer: Latin From Manhattan, DMP Records, 1998.
  • The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Thad Jones Legacy, New World Records, 1999.
  • George Gruntz: Merryteria, TCB Records, 1999.
  • George Gruntz: Liebermann Live in Berlin, TCB Records, 1999.
  • Bob Mintzer: Homage to Basie, DMP Records, 2000.**
  • Bobby Paunetto: Reconstituted, RSVP Records, 2000.
  • George Gruntz: Expo Triangle, MGB Records, 2000.
  • Michael Davis: Brass Nation, Hip-Bone Music, 2000.
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Can I Persuade You? Planet Arts Recordings 2001.*
  • Hubert Nuss: The Underwater Poet Greenhouse Music 2002.
  • Eijiro Nakagawa and Jim Pugh: Legend and Lion, Superkids Inc, 2003
  • Ludwig Nuss: Ups and Downs, Mons, 2003
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: The Way, Planet Arts Records, 2004**
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Live at MCG, mcg jazz, 2004
  • Hubert Nuss: Feed the Birds, Pirouet, 2005
  • Eijiro Nakagawa and Jim Pugh: E2&J2, TNC Records, 2005
  • DVD - John Scofield: Live Three Ways, Blue Note, 2005
  • DVD - David Leibman: Teaches and Plays, Jamey Aebersold Jazz, 2005
  • Vanguard Jazz Orchestra: Up From The Skies, Planet Arts Records, 2006
  • Bob Mintzer Big Band: Old School, New Lessons, mcg jazz, 2006

* Grammy nominated record
** Grammy winning record


I am very fortunate to have opportunities to play with people that continually inspire me to grow as a player. I am equally grateful to have instruments that sound and feel so good that they too inspire me to play. The first piece of gear that I purchased myself was a 20" Zildjian ride cymbal. I saved the money I earned delivering newspapers to buy it. I knew then, in the 6th grade, that Zildjian's were my sound and they still are.

For the last few years I've been using a thin version of the 22" K Custom Medium, with two rivets, as my main ride cymbal on my right. This cymbal has a fairly low pitch and a beautiful combination of "tick" stick sound and underlying wash. It's clean enough to play hard but thin enough to crash easily. To my left I've been using an 18" K Pre-Aged Dry Light Ride; this cymbal is a fine secondary ride and a great full bodied crash. My hi-hats are 14" K Constantinople and I like them on the thinner side, so that I can both ride and crash them, but heavy enough to make a good clear "chick." To my far right is a swish cymbal; it's used as both a ride cymbal and a crash. My 22" A Custom Swish, with 4 rivets, is very thin and low pitched and I put a little piece of duct tape under the bell.

A stick's weight, taper and bead each have a dramatic effect on my sound and my facility. Years back Zildjian asked me to try their sticks. They sent a nice variety of models but I wasn't totally comfortable with any of them so I took the closest model into my workshop and sanded it down until I liked the feel and sound. I sent those "home made" sticks up to the factory and, lo and behold, they decided to start producing a model based on those whittled down sticks! Originally it was called the Zildjian "Concert Jazz" Stick but has been renamed the "John Riley" model. It's basically like a 5A with a longer taper and a teardrop shaped bead. By design the stick is very responsive and the teardrop shaped bead produces a great cymbal sound. Please check out the stick specs and the full line of cymbal options at the Zildjian website -

I've recently been working with Zildjian on a combination stick/mallet and I'm really happy with the results. It's my stick with a medium-firm felt mallet attached to the butt end and it's great for cymbal rolls, melodic playing around the drums or simulating timpani rolls on the toms.

I've owned and played a lot of great drums through the years but none are finer than the Yamaha Maple Custom Absolute drums I've been fortunate to be playing for the last couple of years. Yamaha has the total package; great sound, beautiful craftsmanship and finish work and great hardware. They are very versatile instruments. When tuned high they are Bebop drums, tuned midway they work great in the studio or in a fusion band and when tuned low they're perfect in a Big Band or on a funk date.

With small groups I use a Vintage finish 18"x14" bass drum, 14"x 5 1/2" wooden snare drum, 12"x8" mounted tom and a 14"x14" floor tom. With larger groups I'll substitute a 20"x14" bass drum for the 18" and sometimes add a 10"x7" mounted tom. The lightweight 600 series hardware is perfect for every playing situation and very portable. With the big band at the Village Vanguard I'm using a "mixed" Silver sparkle kit; maple snare and bass drum and birch toms. I have those drums tuned on the low side, ala Mel Lewis, and everyone that hears them is knocked out. I've also been having fun experimenting with a Hipgig type setup. You can see them all and more at the Yamaha website -

When I was a kid, calf heads were more popular than they are today and some of the drums I played in school bands and orchestras had calf heads. I didn't see any calf heads on the drums used in the marching band. Growing up in New Jersey I played in all kinds of weather during the fall and winter marching season; calf heads were too particular to be depended on and, perhaps not durable enough to withstand the punishment we doled out with our 3S sticks. On the parade drums were Remo Weather King drum heads; they sounded great and were practically indestructible. My first drumset had Remo heads too. I've always been curious about the sound and feel of different types of drum heads and, through the years, have tried just about every head available. For me Remo heads are the universal choice, they can be tuned across a wide spectrum and always sound clear and true. There are models for everyone; heavy hitters, jazzers and orchestral players.

On my small group kit I like coated Ambassadors on the top and clear on the bottom. On the bass drum I have a Pinstripe on the batter side and a PowerStroke3 on the resonant side and no muffling in the drum. On my bigger bass drum I like FiberSkyn3 PowerStrokes on both sides and no muffling. On my Silver sparkle kit at the Vanguard I'm going for a slightly different sound and find the FiberSkyn3 Diplomat weight heads are the ticket on the snare and toms and the same F3 PowerStroke on the bass drum. Remo is constantly coming up with new sounds for the drums and I'm always looking forward to checking them out. You can see their entire catalogue, including all their World Percussion gear, at

Since my studies with Paul Guerrero, at North Texas, and my days playing with the great percussionist and teacher Frankie Malabe in the bands of Bobby Paunetto and Bob Mintzer, I've been an enthusiastic student of Latin music. LP has been the leader in developing instruments to meet the needs of students and professionals alike. I am proud to be a member of the LP family and encourage everyone to check out their vast catalogue of instruments at

The Master Drummer

"What does it take to become a great player? The Master Drummer is based on over 40 years of observing and studying the master players. Throughout this DVD, renowned player, author and teacher, John Riley, defines and explores the four key musical components drummers must develop in order to play at the highest level. John's insightful approach will help any drummer grow, regardless of level or style, and will lead to positive results in the achievement of one's musical goals."

The Art Of Bop Drumming

"John Riley has written the definitive book on bop drumming. Since bop drumming is both the turning point and the cornerstone of contemporary music's development, it is essential to any student of the instrument that he or she read and work from this book." -- Peter Erskine

Beyond Bop Drumming

Voted one of the top five drum books in the Modern Drummer Magazine Readers Poll 2000.

The Jazz Drummer's Workshop

"Noted drummer and educator John Riley has created an in-depth work for serious students of the instrument. Conceptual topics (time playing, comping, soloing), artist style and analysis (Elvin Jones, Tony Williams and others) and technique (warm-ups, Moeller, etc.) all come together in a fresh, educational and inspiring way. Destined to become an important addition to curriculum. The CD features Riley performing several of the examples."

Killer Grooves

"Devised by Carl Fischer's President, Sandy Feldstein, Killer Grooves is the coffee table book you can play. A fan's book, a drummer's, Killer Grooves is the hippest new drum book in years. Each drummer who contributed, a who's who of the best players from the jazz, pop, and rock world's, is represented by a two-page spread that includes a brief biography, photographs and a personal quote that is often an insightful look at the player's musical philosophy. There is also a logo for each product or product line the player endorses."