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Drummer Ben Riley Dies at 84

Made vital contributions to classic recordings by Monk, Rollins, Johnny Griffin/Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and many more

Ben Riley with bassist Percy Heath in New York City, 1977 (photo by Tom Marcello)
Ben Riley with bassist Percy Heath in New York City, 1977 (photo by Tom Marcello)

A full 16 years ago, a report in JazzTimes stated that the resolutely swinging drummer Ben Riley had been suffering from “more than his share of medical problems,” including lung illness, diabetic complications and a recent foot surgery that kept him off the drum throne for months. But Riley—whose six-decade career was highlighted by a three-year stint with the Thelonious Monk Quartet during the mid-’60s—was nothing if not tenacious: He remained musically active into the present decade, leading a Monk tribute band and even reportedly playing with musicians who visited the nursing home where he resided.

Riley died on Saturday, Nov. 18, at Good Samaritan Hospital in West Islip, N.Y. He was 84. His death was confirmed by his daughter, Kim, and reported on the website of jazz radio station WBGO. No cause of death was cited.

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