A first-choice sideman on scores of U.S. bandstands
Ace soloist subtly backed vocalistsHerman Riley, a tenor saxophonist who was one of the ablest and enduring sidemen in jazz and who made only one record as a leader but recorded or played with the likes of Count Basie, Jimmy Smith, Gerald Wilson, Shelly Manne, Benny Carter, Bobby Bryant, Joe Williams, Donald Byrd, Gene Ammons, Blue Mitchell, Quincy Jones, Kenny Burrell, Snooky Young, the Capp-Pierce Juggernaut and Etta James, has died. He was 73.
Riley died April 14 of cardiac arrest at Brotman Medical Center in Culver City.
Born in New Orleans, Riley's grasp of jazz history was immense. In a performance in the pit band for "Bubblin' Brown Sugar," he took advantage of a 16-bar solo break to recap the history of tenor saxophone playing from Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and John Coltrane, a couple of bars apiece that clearly brought each to mind. Then he rejoined the ensemble.
Riley was playing with trumpeter Bobby Bryant's band at a Los Angeles club on Broadway in the 1960s when he met Fred Jackson, a fellow musician who would become a lifelong friend. The two played at the Cocoanut Grove and later with the band that played for "Sammy and Company," a television show featuring Sammy Davis Jr. that aired in the 1970s.
Riley became a presence on Los Angeles bandstands, where he was a favorite of vocalists because he enhanced rather than dominated.
In the mid-1990s, Riley began playing with jazz vocalist Lavay Smith and recorded on her 2000 album "Everybody's Talkin' 'Bout Miss Thing!"