Doug Riley | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Doug Riley

Doug (Douglas Brian) Riley. Composer, arranger, pianist, organist, record producer, b Toronto 12 Apr 1945, d Calgary 27 Aug 2007; B MUS (Toronto) 1967.

Riley, Doug

Doug (Douglas Brian) Riley. Composer, arranger, pianist, organist, record producer, b Toronto 12 Apr 1945, d Calgary 27 Aug 2007; B MUS (Toronto) 1967. Riley's teachers were Lawrence Goodwill (Royal Conservatory of Music 1950-6), Paul de Marky (Montreal 1956-60), and Patricia Blomfield Holt (Royal Conservatory 1961-4) for piano, and John Weinzweig and Mieczyslaw Kolinski (University of Toronto) for composition and ethnomusicology respectively. Under Kolinski, he did postgraduate work on the music of the Iroquois.

In his teens Doug 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, working in collaboration with Mort Ross, Tommy Ambrose and Larry Trudel (through Trudel Productions). 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." In 1990 Riley began to focus more on live performances, forming a quartet with saxophonist Phil Dwyer in 1993. In the late 1990s 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. He toured in 2006 with Michael Burgess and performed often, eg, at the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival and the PEI Jazz and Blues Festival, until just before his death.


Doug Riley was arranger and pianist for The Ray Stevens Show (CTV 1969-70) and Rolling on the River (CTV 1970-2, featuring Kenny Rogers & the First Edition) and music director for Music Machine (CBC 1973-4), Tommy Ambrose's Celebration (CBC 1975-6), The Wolfman Jack Show (CBC 1976-7), Ronnie Hawkins' Honky Tonk (CTV 1981-2), and specials starring Anne Murray, Lou Rawls, and others.


In 1968 Riley was the arranger and second keyboard player for Ray Charles's LP Doing His Thing (ABC). In a wide-ranging career in Toronto studios, Riley arranged music for, played piano or organ on, and/or produced recordings by Tommy Ambrose, Dianne Brooks, David Clayton-Thomas, Dan Hill, Klaatu, Moe Koffman (including his LPs of Bach, Vivaldi, and other classical material), Gordon Lightfoot, Bob McBride, Kathryn Moses, Anne Murray, Walter Rossi, Sweet Blindness, and Sylvia Tyson, and by the US performers the Brecker Brothers and Bob Seger. Riley's band Dr Music made three LPs 1972-4 for the GRT label: Doctor Music, Doctor Music II, and Bedtime Story, the last largely of jazz compositions by Riley and band members Claude Ranger and Don (W.) Thompson. Dr Music's most popular singles were 'One More Mountain to Climb' (1971), 'Sun Goes By' (1972), and 'Long Time Comin' Home' (1972), all included on the compilation Retrospective (GRT). Dr Music disbanded soon after a fourth album, Doctor Music (RCI), was recorded in 1977. Riley led a studio group for the EP Dr Music (Circa '84) (CTL).

Riley's own recordings, in addition to those with Dr Music, include Dreams (1975, PM, an aggressively contemporary jazz LP with Don Thompson, Claude Ranger, and the tenor saxophonist Michael Stuart); an album of solo blues and jazz piano, Freedom (1990, Duke Street); a quartet recording with Phil Dwyer, Con Alma (1994, Sea Jam); organ and flugelhorn duets with Guido Basso, A Lazy Afternoon (1997, Jazz Portraits); Come Sunday (2004, Justin Time); and Stride (2006, Marshmellow). Beginning in 1998 Riley led a series of live recordings of pop music classics for the CBC Radio program Finkelman's 45s.

Riley arranged two string quintet albums of Beatles material for Ofra Harnoy, and arranged and (in 1984) conducted a Gershwin program, Fascinatin' Rhythm (Fanfare), for Andrew Davis (piano) and Jeanne Baxtresser and Julius Baker (flutes), as well as a Kurt Weill program for Riki Turofsky.

Riley identified Ray Charles and Fats Waller as his main musical influences.


Doug Riley began writing jingles in 1964, and composed thousands of them. He also composed scores for the ballets Lies, Wishes and Dreams (1971, for CBC TV), Sessions for Six (1972, in the National Ballet of Canada repertoire), and Jeux en blanc et noir (premiered at the 1975 Shaw Festival), and for the feature films Foxy Lady, Cannibal Girls, The Naked Peacock, Shoot, and Dreams of America. His musical version of Mandragola (libretto by Alan Gordon) premiered 13 Oct 1977 on CBC Radio and was later issued on LP (CBC).

Riley's later compositions included Rollright (1982), a string trio played by the Armin Electric Strings; a concerto for piano and orchestra (1982), premiered by Elyakim Taussig with the National Arts Centre Orchestra; Concerto for String Quartet and Woodwind Doubler (1983), premiered and recorded by Moe Koffman with the Orford String Quartet; and Baroque Suite No. 1 for chamber orchestra (1985), written and performed in honour of the Bach Tricentennial and subsequently adapted for string trio and piano. His four-movement Prince Edward Island Suite, a symphonic jazz work commissioned by the Toronto Sinfonietta, was premiered with the Doug Riley Quartet in Toronto 27 Apr 2002.


Doug Riley was named a member of the Order of Canada in 2003, and was Jazz Report's jazz organist of the year 1993-2000.

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