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Drummer on a Roll: Karriem Riggins comes home for Jazz Fest shows
It’s not every young musician who starts out studying trumpet with the late Marcus Belgrave and winds up as a world-class drummer.
Karriem Riggins is that exception.
It was, in fact, with Belgrave’s blessing that the Southfield-raised Riggins, who comes home for a pair of performances as the 2017 Untitled Featured Artist at this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival, made the switch at age 7.
“Marcus actually gave me a set of drums,” Riggins, 42, recalls by phone from his current home of Los Angeles (though he still keeps a house in Southfield). “He would tour and people would always break into his house and steal a lot of instruments, so he left those drums at my house for safe keeping. He finally gave my dad permission, ‘Go ahead and give ’em to Karriem.’
“That’s when I set ’em up and went at it — and drove my mom crazy.”
The move was fortuitous, of course. Riggins became a drum prodigy, joining Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead band when he was 17 and moving to New York City when he was 19. He accumulated a lengthy résumé as a sideman, working in the Ray Brown Trio and with Hank Jones, Milt Jackson, Roy Hargrove, Esperanza Spalding, Oscar Peterson and others on the jazz side while also playing with rap acts such as fellow Detroiters Slum Village, Dwele and J Dilla along with Kanye West, Common, the Roots and more.
As part of Diana Krall’s band, Riggins also backed Paul McCartney on his 2012 standards album “Kisses On The Bottom.”
“That was something I never could have imagined,” Riggins, who also plays piano and upright bass, says of the McCartney sessions. “The Beatles, they’re like one of my favorite groups and such a classic group that my mom and dad loves. To be able to make music with the man Paul, Sir Paul, was an incredible experience.”
Despite the stature, however, Riggins notes that the encounter “was relaxed from the beginning ’cause he has such a positive spirit, and it’s kind of like the possibilities are endless with him. You never know what to expect. He’s just optimistic about where the music can go, which is how I like to be, too.”
Overall, Riggins says his collaborative work has “been a blessing for me to be able to play with so many different artists. I’ve learned so much just about different interpretations of music, different genres. I like to fuse everything together that I’ve learned as a sideman and incorporate that into being a leader and finding the direction I want to go in as a band leader.”
Riggins has done that twice so far, on 2012’s “Alone Together” and this year’s “Headnod Suite,” on which he “set out to make a suite of music that will lock you into a trance of head-nodding, like an unconscious thing.” Riggins also scored the documentary “13th” about the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution, while on the horizon he’s producing a new album for singer Kandace Springs and finishing another project with Common.
And his plate is likely to fill even further in the not too distant future.
“Sometimes I can’t believe I’ve made it this far into my career,” Riggins says. “It’s just such a blessing to be able to witness the growth, growing on an instrument and learning to be able to interpret the music or find a sound for an artist. That’s something I really love to do. I didn’t imagine the career going down this path, but I’m sure glad it did.”
• If you go: Karriem Riggins plays a pair of “Music With A Purpose” shows as the 2017 Untitled Featured Artist at this year’s Detroit Jazz Festival. He performs with Common and a special guest at 4 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, on the JPMorgan Main Stage near Campus Martius Park; and with Esperanza Spalding at 5:45 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4, on the Absopure Water Front Stage in Hart Plaza. For a full schedule and other details, visit detroitjazzfest.org.
True to its title, the Detroit Jazz Fest regularly features musicians from the metro area in addition to visitors such as Herbie Hancock, Stanley Clarke and this year’s Artist-In-Residence Wayne Shorter. Besides drummer Karriem Riggins, here are a half-dozen local heroes to try to catch during Labor Day Weekend:
• A George “Sax” Benson celebration at the Hometown Jam Session with the Rick Margitza House Band, Wendell Harrison, Marion Hayden and more at 11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 1, in the Renaissance Ballroom at the Detroit Marriott.
• The J.C. Heard JazzWeek@Wayne All-Star Youth Ensemble, 12:15 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3, on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage in Hart Plaza.
• Guitarist Ron English and his Dectet, 2 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 3 on the Absopure Water Front Stage in Hart Plaza.
• Bassist Rodney Whitaker and his Quintet at 1:20 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4, at the Carharrt Amphitheater Stage in Hart Plaza.
• Violinist Regina Carter and her “Simply Ella” program at 3 p.m. Monday, Sept. 4, on the JP Morgan Chase Main Stage near Campus Martius Park.
• Bassist Robert Hurt’s “Black Current Jam,” also 3 p.m. Monday on the Wayne State University Pyramid Stage in Hart Plaza.
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