I first met Jay Riley on 14 May 2006. I can be so precise because I was taking photographs of my friend, guitarist Dave Nock and his sextet at The Trumpet in Bilston and Jay was the band’s saxophonist. Much water has passed under the bridge since. During that time I’ve photographed Jay with his band OiGoi at The Rainbow in Digbeth Birmingham (for the record on 30 January 2008) and encountered him at the Upton Blues Festival with good time band Dr.Teeth.
So, it was great to catch up with Jay for my Stolen Moments project on neutral ground at Chemistry Café on Stourbridge High Street on Sunday 14 August. We talked of our passion for the music and those “tingle down the spine” moments it has given us. We reminisced about our first recorded jazz discoveries. For Jay the first jazz recordings bought for his collection including a mid-’50s Ben Webster compilation, some cheesy ’80s David Sanborn, Jarrett’s Köln Concert and Naked City by John Zorn.
I took several shots of Jay at Chemistry Café but the one featured here was made in my ‘Outdoor Studio’ nearby where we encountered the Jazz Police, much to our amusement, in the form of a cheery local P.C. who turned out to be a big blues music fan.
Jay says: “My first gig was a Monday jazz night in Alvechurch. An older friend took me when I was 15. I jammed with the band during the interval on Canteloupe Island by Herbie Hancock. I had one pint of Stella Artois and I was pretty lit! I wasn’t interested in going to school the next day or ever again; I just wanted to repeat that night.”
Jay lists his influences as including Wayne Shorter, Chris Potter, Candy and Hans Dulfer, Gong, Nils Fram, Bjork, Gomez and Snarky Puppy.
“Signing with Big Bear Records with rhythm and blues outfit Dr.Teeth in the mid-’00s gave me my first experience of playing in a professional band,” says Jay. “I’d completed my music degree at Dartington College of Arts and after the contemporary nature of that place I wasn’t really expecting to join such a mainstream party band but it was an amazing experience.” He recalls fondly touring the States and Europe as an “hilarious” time. Playing 80-90 gigs a year in the UK was a great way to hone his craft he believes. “In Dr.Teeth I was lucky enough to work with some ridiculously talented musicians,” he added. They were mainly Birmingham Conservatoire alumni and “seemed to be BeBop machines!”
As a result of this experience he delved further into jazz in an attempt to raise his game. “I’ve been learning, experimenting and teaching my results ever since,” he says.
He is involved in a number of educational programmes offering jazz, blues, pop and rock to Midland schools. He also runs his own online music academy which specialises in his instruments, saxophone and piano, plus improvisation and theory.
Last year Jay added another string to his bow when he took on Stratford Jazz Club which was in imminent danger of folding. “I used to visit the club in its original venue when I was attending Stratford College in the mid-’90s,” he says. “I was always impressed by the standard of musicianship at the club.” He added playing that club to his list of ambitions. This was an ambition he realised in July when he played the club with his quartet playing self-penned compositions. The club is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this year.
Next on Jay’s list is the recording of his debut album as a leader.
Jay recommends the following 5-a-Day:
The Tim Ferris Show (podcast) – American start-up investor, self experimenter and life analyst interviews successful entrepreneurs and professionals.
bobreynoldsmusic.com – saxophonist for John Mayer and Snarky Puppy. Bob is also my current saxophone tutor and mentor
Rhinoceros Success: The Secret to Charging Full Speed Toward Every Opportunity (book) by Scott Alexander. It’s a bit heavy on Christianity for me but the principles are very sound.
The Köln Concert – Keith Jarrett (ECM Records)
Russell, New Zealand – a small town in the bay of islands where I proposed to my wife. It’s also the middle name of our eldest son.
- Find out more about Jay Riley’s activities at www.jayrileymusic.com
Photo and words © Garry Corbett