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Doug Riley: 1945-2007
Doug Riley
'Dr. Music'
Pianist, Organist, Composer, Arranger

Born: April 24, 1945 in Toronto, Ontario
Died: August 27, 2007 in Calgary, Alberta

Canada's 'Dr. Music' played with Ray Charles, Anne Murray

by James Hale
Copyright © 2007 James Hale

Doug Riley was so ubiquitous on Canada's music scene that he was known as Dr. Music. "Doc" died of a heart attack onboard a flight bound for his vacation home in Prince Edward Island, following a performance at a jazz festival. He was 62.

A prolific composer and arranger, Riley played on more than 300 recordings, including sessions by Ray Charles, Moe Koffman, Bob Seger, the Brecker Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot and Anne Murray. With Murray alone, Riley recorded more than 25 albums.

After suffering polio as a child, he began studying piano at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music at the age of four. After moving to Montreal, he studied organ with Harry Duckworth and piano with Paul DeMarky -- Oscar Peterson's former teacher.

In his teens Riley played R&B with the Silhouettes at the Toronto nightclub the Blue Note. By the time he was 20 he was also a prolific jingle composer. While little known by name outside the Canadian music community, his influence on the sound of Canadian popular music after 1970 was enormous. Throughout the 1970s he was also active in Toronto-based television production, as a sideman for various jazz and pop artists, and as the leader of Dr Music, a 16-piece vocal and instrumental ensemble. Riley himself began to be known by the nickname "Dr Music."

Riley's band Dr Music made three LPs, including one largely of jazz compositions by Riley and band members Claude Ranger and Don W. Thompson. Riley's own recordings include Dreams (an aggressively contemporary jazz recording), an album of solo blues and jazz piano, Freedom, a quartet recording with Phil Dwyer, Con Alma, and organ and flugelhorn duets with Guido Basso, A Lazy Afternoon.

In 1990 Riley began to focus more on live performances, forming a quartet with jazz saxophonist Dwyer in 1993. In the late '90s he began spending four months of each year in Prince Edward Island in semi-retirement, although his schedule of recordings, performances and commissioned compositions remained full, and he founded a jazz festival in his adopted province.

Unlike many performers from his generation with his talent, Riley never gave up his home in Canada, turning down at least one offer from Ray Charles to join his band on a permanent basis.

Speaking to the Canadian Press about his close friend, singer David Clayton-Thomas, former lead singer for Blood, Sweat and Tears, noted that when Herbie Hancock appeared at his induction to the Canadian Music Hall of Fame in 2007, Riley was the first person he asked about.

"When Herbie came up for my Hall of Fame induction, first thing he asked: 'You still play with Doug Riley? He's amazing.'" Clayton-Thomas recalled.

Doug Riley is survived by his sons Ben and Jesse, and his wife Jan.


James Hale
Editor of Jazzhouse.org.

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