Music / Jazz

A Taste For Jazz – Harriet Riley

By tony benjamin, Tuesday May 12, 2020

With the live music scene on furlough, it’s a good time to listen to great recordings. We’ve asked some of the city’s top jazz folk to riffle through their record collection and share some of the sounds that got them into the music they love.

Name: Harriet Riley

Instrument: Percussion, marimba, vibraphone

Percussionist Harriet Riley is a rare example of a musician who succeeds in whatever musical genre she chooses, always making her own distinctive contribution. Like her hero the great Ruth Underwood she draws on her formal classical training for an amazing technical ability that she then uses in rock, jazz, classical and traditional contexts. A professional musician since the age of 16 she is a key member of the neo-classical Spindle Ensemble, Ethiofunk band Tezeta, improvising acoustic quintet Spider Music, nu-jazz beats project Phantom Ensemble as well as Charles Hazlewoods ParaOrchestra & Friends project and The Bristol Symphony Orchestra.

Sadly her exciting new big band project Little Umbrellas’ was due to debut at this years (cancelled) Bristol Jazz and Blues Festival but remains a hotly anticipated treat for the post-lockdown world.

What was the first record you discovered that made you want to learn more about (or even get into playing) jazz?

Charlie Mingus / Mingus Ah-Um – Boogie Stop Shuffle

I learnt this piece in a jazz workshop and remember espeically the B section being super excited to learn. The difference between the drums being swing and the bass line being straight – I’m a sucker for a rhythmic device!

What tune represents an inspiration for you when you began learning to play?

Gary Burton / Next GenerationPrelude to Vibes


I remember transcribing this solo at college and having the most fun – Julian Lage’s guitar solo absolutely kills it on this album, him being so young as well! (He was 16 when they made the album).

Who is your great hero of the instrument you play? What recording shows them at their best?

Ruth Underwood with Frank Zappa

Ruth Underwood in St Alfonzo’s Pancake BreakfastFrank Zappa / Apostrophe(’)


Super mallet power master – I empathised a lot with her being the only woman in the band and having the biggest set up imaginable on some gigs including tubular bells, marimba and vibraphone (among others!)

What is your choice of record that shows the future of jazz?

LaputaHaitus Kaiyote / Choose Your Weapon

I love Haitus Kaiyote, their genre is “neo-soul” but I think it draws so much from a jazz harmonic perspective as well as influences from hip-hop , awesome synths and there’s even a song which uses the melody from the Flower Duet (from classical composer Leo Delibes’ opera Lakme).

What is a great tune from your favourite jazz project to come from the Bristol Jazz scene?

If you’re into the weird, the psychedelic, doo-wop and matching comic books then Dubi Dolczek records are for you. Stolen Body Records support some incredible unusual artists and Conrad Singh’s guitar weirdness warms my heart in Dubi in Space.

Finally: are there any other great jazz records you think might help the uninitiated to share your enthusiasm for the J-word?

Chet Baker Sings
Ella Fitzgerald sings the Jerome Kern Song Book

Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Frank Zappa – Hot Rats
Laura Desburg – Sideways
Cykada – self-titled
Brand X – Masques
Bill Evans – Portrait in Jazz

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