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Buster Williams Remembers Ben Riley

Bassist pays tribute to his longtime friend and colleague, drummer Ben Riley (7.17.33 – 11.18.17)

Ben Riley (photo by Tom Marcello)
Ben Riley (and bassist Percy Heath) in NYC, 1977

Playing this music is about knowing the language and knowing what to say. You can know the alphabet, but that doesn’t mean you know what to say and how to say it and when is the best time to say it. How do you express that? It’s about wisdom, precision and learning the language well. It’s about perfecting it, and Ben Riley was a perfectionist. It’s as simple as that.

I remember one time we hadn’t played for a while, maybe a couple years. But Ben, Kenny Barron and I got up on the bandstand and the sound was as though no time had gone by. Ben and I looked at each other and nodded; we swung from beat one. It’s not always a given that you’re going to have that kind of relationship with the person you’re sharing the bandstand with, but when you do it’s a happy time.

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