Victor Goines and Herlin Riley to Perform at the McPike Park Sessions on August 8th: Rooted in the Jazz Sounds of New Orleans
Victor Goines (above left) and Herlin Riley (right) will be performing at the McPike Park Sessions as well as do some jazz education workshops the following week at various Madison venues
Part 1 of 2
By Jonathan Gramling
Victor Goines and Herlin Riley are brothers bonded in the spirit, the rhythms of and the love for New Orleans jazz. While both of them were born and raised in New Orleans, they have taken different — yet complimentary paths — to reach the heights of their profession. Both have performed with the Wynton Marsalis Sextet at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
Goines took the more formal route — but hardly exclusively — that allowed him to earn a living and fill his world with jazz at the same time.
“I started in New Orleans,” Goines said. “I attended St. Augustine High School. It’s an
all-boys Catholic school. In fact, Leroy Jones went to that same high school. I did my undergraduate at Loyola University in New Orleans and my master’s at Virginia Commonwealth University. My undergrad was in music education. My master’s is in classical alto saxophone. I’ve always studied classical clarinet along the way.”
As a talented musician, Goines could have taken any direction in his musical career. He chose jazz.
“Like most people, there’s a point where you hear something and it can either reinforce your direction or change your direction,” Goines said. “For me, it was a detour. It was the music of John Coltrane that led me to decide more to be a jazz musician from that point on. Being in New Orleans is not a bad thing. I always felt it was an unfair advantage being from New Orleans we have so much music going on. It’s part of our daily culture. From there, the opportunities were there and I was able to capitalize on them as they came along. To quote a very good friend of mine who is on the phone, Herlin Riley, ‘When opportunity meets preparation, you have the opportunity for something good to happen.’ I was fortunate for some good things happen to me. One was Ellis Marsalis as with all of us from New Orleans. We’ve been very fortunate to have the guidance of Mr. Marsalis during this time. From there, I’ve just been able to play and take care of some great opportunities.”
Goines has paired his love of educating young people with his love of the jazz art form.
“My first teaching job was actually as a mathematics teacher, not as a music teacher,” Goines said. “I was assistant band director. But I was a full-time math teacher. It was a tremendous lesson that I learned as a teacher, which was that you must have honesty in education. As soon as you are not honest in your education, you are exposed. And soon with your students who trust in you, you are in a world of trouble. That first job was very informative for me to very honesty with my students as I learned to become an educator in my initial years at my alma mater, St. Augustine High School. Beyond that. I’ve been fortunate to be in many situations with great universities: my alma mater Loyola University. I’ve taught at Xavier University. I’ve taught at the University of New Orleans with Ellis Marsalis for four years. I’ve taught at Florida A&M University. I was director of jazz studies at Julliard and now I’m at Northwestern University in that same role as director of jazz studies.”
For the most part, Riley took a more informal route. As Goines said, it’s not bad being from New Orleans. For Riley, the big advantage was being born into a musical family.
“My musical family shares the same last name because of our mother,” Riley said. “My mother’s maiden name is Lastie. Her father and brothers were all musicians and so, I got to hear the music first hand as a kid growing up, first as an infant. My uncles would rehearse in my grandmother’s house. And so when the band rehearsed, they would move my crib into the room while they were rehearsing. I got to hear the music and experience it firsthand as an infant. And then later on, I began to play the drums. My grandfather would — he was born in 1902 and played with Louis Armstrong in 1913 — show me drum patterns with butter knives on the kitchen table when I was a very young boy. I would try to imitate what he was playing. Over time, I kind of picked up on it. That was my introduction to early New Orleans tradition of jazz grooves or beats, however you want to say it. And later on, I started to be influenced by my uncles who were playing R&B music, but also crossed over to play straight ahead jazz. I heard moaning and Sister Sadie and all those kinds of tunes very early on in my life. My concept of playing grooves and swing was already in place.”
Riley’s formal training was on the trumpet. But it was his ingrained talent that eventually led to the drums.
“The trumpet was my main focus throughout my school years, elementary, junior high and high school and the little while I went to college,” Riley recalled. “That was my main focus. And then later on in 1975, I had the opportunity to play in New Orleans on Bourbon Street and to play in a burlesque club. I was playing the trumpet on one night and I played the drums on another night. As fate would have it, the trumpet started to fade away and I started to get more and more calls to play the drums. From there, as I got more and more calls, I started to do more and more things on the drums and the trumpet went to the background.”
Riley had teachers, but they didn’t teach in a classroom. They taught up on stage and Riley’s classes were in the spotlight.
“Throughout the years, I was influenced by some great mentors, the great Ellis Marsalis was definitely a mentor,” Riley emphasized. “Another guy who lived here in New Orleans, Alvin Batiste, was a great educator. He was an influence. Also there was the great Danny Barker. He was a great jazz banjoist and guitar player who lived here in New Orleans, but moved to New York in 1930. He played with Cab Callaway and Billie Holiday and Billy Eckstein, people like that. And he came back to New Orleans in the 1970s and formed a band called the Fairview Baptist Church Christian Band, which was a band of all kids from 8-18-years-old. And we played in the traditional New Orleans brass band style. He was definitely an influence. All of these people were in my life very early on. They mentored me and showed me what it was like to be a jazz musician, not only what it was like to be a jazz musician, but also what it was like to be a great human being, trying to be the best human being I could be.”
Riley’s career took him across the United States and beyond.
“I got to play with some of the great musicians of all time like Ahmad Jamal,” Riley said. “I worked with him for three years, the great Ellis Marsalis and also played with Winton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra where Victor and I shared the bandstand many, many nights.”
When asked what they were going to play at the McPike Sessions, Riley was noncommittal. While they may have a plan, you never know where the musicians, the audience and the music will take you. Such is the nature of jazz.
“We’ll be playing some of our original music as well as some standards,” Riley said. “The thing about the music is it’s a living, breathing art form. And so being inside that art form, we don’t know exactly what we are going to do. We have a proficiency on our instruments and collectively, we’re going to rehearse and have some music together that we’re going to present. But in our presentation, we don’t know where the music is going to take us. And that is the beauty of this art form. It’s a living, breathing entity. And it takes on its own kind of shape. It’s like having this conversation we are having. You may have an outline of some questions that you are asking us. But in answering the questions, we don’t know what we’re going to say from moment to moment. But we have to make a coherent statement and is digestible that you can use. We want to do the same thing in our performance. We’re going to be free, but we are also going to be within the confines of a certain kind of form. And we want to make a musical statement that is coherent and is digestible to the audience.”
And Goines and Riley will be joined by two Chicago musicians.
“One is going to be a fantastic pianist by the name of Jo Ann Daugherty,” Goines said. “And we will also be joined by a bassist by the name of Christian Villinghas. They work with me quite often. But when we reached out to them, I said, ‘Hey, are you available to play in Madison?’ They said, ‘Heck, yeah.’ They are very excited to be in Madison with Herlin. They haven’t had that opportunity yet. Believe me. They will be forever changed in that presence because all is fair game. Don’t put a metal triangle or a bottle next to his drum kit. It might become part of the drum kit. On the music stand, it’s all fair play with a drummer like Herlin Riley.”
The jazz of Victor Goines and Herlin Riley will intermingle and fuse with the summer evening air in McPike Park on August 8th. Within the realm of jazz, come to a performance that will never be heard again. Sit back and enjoy.