Doug Riley, Canada's 'Dr. Music,' dies at 62
Doug Riley, a Toronto-born composer, arranger and pianist known as Dr. Music, has died. He was 62.
Riley died suddenlyof heart failure at theCalgary airport on Monday on his way to his home in Little Pond,P.E.I.
Riley is known for composing, arranging and performing with numerous artists in the classical, jazz and commercial genres.
He has collaborated on more than 300 recordings, with such musicians as Moe Koffman, Ray Charles, Molly Johnson, Jake Langley, Anne Murray and Natalie McMaster.
A musical chameleon who played with symphony orchestras as comfortably as he played in smoky bars, Riley's greatest love was jazz.
"Ray Charles was my first influence outside of boogie-woogie and stride pianists like Albert Ammons and Fats Waller," Riley said in a 2006 interview with the Toronto Star.
"I was enthralled by his jazz, blues and gospel music and really his roots and my roots were the same. It was the biggest break of my life when I played organ and piano and arranged his 1969 album Doing His Thing."
Charles asked him to join his band, but Riley opted to stay in Canada, a move that led to a career that combined arranging and producing with touring and performing.
"I've toured the country, every nook and cranny of its coasts. I've worked all my life and played all my life," he recalled.
"I've toured with singers Jackie Richardson, Dionne Taylor and Measha Bruggergosman, who's a riot to hang out with. Writing is the most lucrative, and the least fun. The most fun is playing," he said.
Born April 24, 1945 in Toronto, Riley suffered from polio as a child and took to the piano as a way of expressing his creativity.
At four he took lessons in classical piano at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto. Later, in Montreal, he studied pipe organ with Harry Duckworth at St. Anne de Belleville Church, and piano with Paul DeMarky, Oscar Peterson's piano teacher.
"When I was six, I discovered jazz from my dad's stride and boogie piano 78s — Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, James P. Johnson, Fats Waller — I had perfect pitch so I learned from the records," Riley said.
He went on to earn a Bachelor of Music incomposition from the University of Toronto, while playing R&B with the Silhouettes, appearing at the Blue Note and other Toronto nightclubs.
Riley was planning to work on his masters degree in composition and ethnomusicology — he had an interest in First Nations music that was reflected in laterrecordings — when he got the offer to play with Charles.
After deciding not to move to the U.S., he formed Dr. Music, a vocal and instrumental ensemble that would have several incarnations over the next 15 years.
With Dr. Music, he had a string of Top 20 hits in the 1970s, and released Try A Little Harder, Sun Goes By and Bedtime Story, as well as the later Dr. Music Circa 1984.
He composed jingles,working with Mort Ross, Tommy Ambrose and Larry Trudel, and then worked behind the scenes on television production.
He began to acquire a reputation as a pillar of Toronto's music community, forming the Toronto Sound Recording Studio and working as asession musician.
As a composer and arranger, he has worked alongside symphony orchestras andPlacido Domingo, Ofra Harnoy and The National Ballet.
"All through the time I was writing and playing pop and jazz and commercial music I wrote three ballets for the National Ballet, a double concerto for flute (clarinet, sax) and string quartet for Moe Koffman, a piano concerto for Mario Bernardi's retirement from the National Arts Centre Orchestra and other works," he said.
Domingo commissioned him to arrange None But The Lonely Heart for tenor and orchestra, which he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra.
"I like a lot of different kinds of music,"Riley said. "Country, jazz, blues, funk, folk — I've recorded with Anne Murray (25 CDs), the Brecker Brothers, Gordon Lightfoot, etc."
He has produced and performed on countless recordings withKoffman, David Clayton Thomas, Bob Seger and Ringo Starr.
Riley alsohas numerous solo and group recordings under his own name, including Foxy Lady, Dreams, Freedom and Con Alma.
Heserved as musical director of the Famous People Players for over 20 years and participated inconcerts in support of the Easter Seals campaign, the United Way and the Princess Margaret Hospital Lodge.
In 2006, he toured throughout Canada and the U.S. with Canadian star Michael Burgess of Les Miserables and played throughout Canada withhis Doug Riley Quartet. His most recent release is Strike, recorded with Tyler Yarema and John Roby.
Riley's credits include numerous jazz festivals, including the P.E.I. Jazz Festival, which he started in the 1990s after he began spending part of the year on the island.
Doug Riley won jazz organist of the year continuously from 1993 to 2000 at the annual Jazz Report Awards. He wasawarded the Order of Canada in the fall of 2004.
He leaves behind two sons and his wife Jan.