Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

The Gig: In the Tradition(s)

Karriem Riggins broadcasts on multiple frequencies

Karriem Riggins

Karriem Riggins first caught my ear in the late ’90s, and for a minute I thought I had him pegged. An instinctive young drummer with a firm grasp of jazz conventions, he was then apprenticed to Ray Brown, the giant redwood of jazz bassists, and otherwise affiliated with a clutch of soulful postbop pianists: Mulgrew Miller, Stephen Scott and Eric Reed. I knew that Riggins hailed from Detroit, and that he could deliver a mean pocket while swinging hard and fast. I figured him for an uncommonly sharp custodian of the tradition, and figured that distinction was enough. Of course I was only half right.

The earliest sign of my misapprehension came in 2000, around the same time that Riggins appeared on Live at Starbucks by the Ray Brown Trio. I can recall admiring Riggins’ impeccable swing on that outing, and his collegial bond with pianist Geoffrey Keezer. I remember the boppish clarity of his solo on one Duke Ellington staple (“Mainstem”), and the sleek authority of his ride-cymbal pattern on another (“Caravan”). It all fit squarely into my young-lion framework for Riggins-which is why I was startled, a few weeks later, to spot his name in the credits of Like Water for Chocolate, by the rapper Common. More to the point, Riggins was listed not as a drummer but as the producer of that album’s closing track, a cooled-out jazz-funk groove.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published