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'My Smile Is Genuine': Herlin Riley On The Drums At Jazz, TX

Courtesy photo

Drummer Herlin Riley has been playing the drums since he was a toddler. The sound and feel of his native New Orleans is in his soul, and on the bandstand. “The rhythm of a particular area identifies the culture of the city, you know, whether it be [in] Cuba whether it be Jamaica, whether it be Africa. When you hear certain rhythms you can identify a certain culture. And so New Orleans is very, very strong in its culture.”

A decade ago, Hurricane Katrina threatened to wash away much of Riley’s native city.

“People lost their homes, people lost instruments. You know, I lost part of my home,” Riley says. “[The water] washed away a lot of things but it couldn’t wash away the spirit of the city, and it couldn’t wash away the culture of the city, and it could never wash away the rhythm of the city.”

Today, Riley still says the drums are a “fun, fun instrument to play,” and they offer an escape from the world. “When I get behind the drums, I have so much peace. This is my comfort zone, on the stage and playing drums, and whatever troubles I’m having, I can put them aside for that little while… [while I’m playing] my smile is genuine.”

Riley continues, “I play with the same kind of exuberance and excitement if I’m playing for one person [or] if I’m playing for 100,000. Doesn’t matter. It’s the same energy, the same passion, and I feel very privileged to have music as an occupation.

Herlin Riley is joined by Doc Watkins on piano, Pierre Poree on sax and vocals, Mike Porter on bass and Kris Vargas on trumpet for this edition of "Live at Jazz, TX." Hear the program Saturday night at 7:00 on Texas Public Radio, or preview the show using the player below.

Nathan has been with TPR since 1995, when he began working on classical music station KPAC 88.3 FM, as host of “Tuesday Night at the Opera.” He soon learned the ropes on KSTX 89.1 FM, and volunteered to work practically any shift that came his way, on either station. He worked in nearly every capacity on the radio before moving into Community Engagement, Marketing, and Digital Media. His reporting and criticism has been honored by the Houston Press Club and Texas Associated Press.