Pamela Dewell –

DATE: July 10, 2023

Herlin Riley is widely considered to be one of the best drummers in any genre of music performing today.  Two sides of his artistry form the focus of the 23rd Annual Deer Isle Jazz Festival. The Herlin Riley Quintet will headline on Saturday, July 15, playing a program of jazz standards and original compositions; on Sunday, July 16, Herlin Riley’s Traditional New Orleans Jazz Band, will play Crescent City classics.

The longtime drummer for the legendary Ahmad Jamal and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Riley now leads two groups, his quintet, and the New Orleans Groove Masters featuring himself, Jason Marsalis, and Shannon Powell.  Herlin Riley’s music has been described by The New York Times as “a shining exemplar of New Orleans rhythm — as a cultural study, a living language and a model of hybridity — since emerging on the national scene in the 1980s.”

Since coming of age in the nurturing environment of a very musical family and a distinguished bloodline of drummers, New Orleans native Herlin Riley emerged from that most creative era of all things rhythmic in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s to enliven the ensembles of such influential and demanding improvisers as pianist Ahmad Jamal and trumpeter Wynton Marsalis through his commanding yet elegant rhythmic presence. His authoritative style of melodic percussion is deeply imbued in the fertile creative soil of the Crescent City, encompassing as it does the entire length and breadth of America’s ongoing musical journey.

Riley has described his music as “like cooking a big pot of gumbo; you may start out with some very humble ingredients, but by the time you’re finished, you have a meal fit for a king. I mean, the essence of jazz music to me is that it is free, but it has form. So our music is modern, and it’s progressive… we’re trying to engage people as well.”

Joining “The Groove Master” in Stonington will be Roland Guerin on bass, Julian Lee on saxophone, John Michael Bradford on trumpet, and Dwight Fitch, Jr. on piano.

Riley hopes that his music helps spread the upbeat manifesto that he’s chosen to live by. “I always look forward, no matter what happens in life. If you’re grieving or faced with an emotional challenge, keep in mind: If you’re still breathing, there’s a chance that you can overcome and thrive. Commit yourself to Perpetual Optimism!”

Opening acts feature local talent including Yvonne Rogers, a pianist, composer, and multimedia artist originally from Penobscot, Maine, on Saturday, July 15. Growing up on the rural Maine coast, Yvonne began writing music that followed the meditative patterns and systems of nature before having any conventional understanding of theory or harmony. Rogers will be joined by Lesley Mok and Rafael Enciso.

Deep Space, the award-winning high school Jazz Combo, comes to the Stonington Opera House from George Stevens Academy in Blue Hill, Maine on Sunday night, July 16. This year, the ensemble is comprised of Austin Chandler (bass), Andy Hipsky (guitar), Tony Esposito (drums), Jenna Blodgett (sax/vox), Jillian Eldridge (sax), Iris Kimball (flute/trombone), and Mattea Black (keys/vox).

For more information or to purchase tickets in advance, visit or call the box office at 207-367-2788.  Tickets are $29 – $49 for adults and half-price for 17 and under.  Tickets may also be purchased at the door up to one hour in advance of the show, subject to availability.  Hancock County students 17 and under may attend all live performances at the Stonington Opera House for free!

Opera House Arts, a 501 [c] [3] nonprofit organization, was founded in 1999 to restore the 1912 Stonington Opera House, on the National Register of Historic Places, and its original purpose as a performance space and community cornerstone.  Professional theater, movies, variety acts, music and dance, educational programs, and special events are offered year-round. For more information and a schedule of upcoming performances and events, please visit

Herlin Riley sitting on stool holding drum sticks

Herlin Riley (by Gregory Miles)

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