Earshot Jazz Festival Commission: Sheridan Riley

Sheridan Riley photo by Haley Freedlund

Earshot Jazz is thrilled to announce Jahnvi Madan, Sheridan Riley, and Carlos Snaider, as the three commissioned artists who’ll be presenting the world premiere of their works at the 2023 Earshot Jazz Festival. As we head into festival season, we’ll be introducing these three, brilliant artists here. This month, meet Sheridan Riley as they explore and connect the cosmic dots between time and memory, the theme of their forthcoming festival composition.  


There was a bit of astronomy news released recently: all of spacetime is rippling with gravitational waves. The universe—the whole of it—planets and stars; black holes and comets; are in an intricate dance. There is a hum to it all. There is a rhythm, unstable but forever, in all of it; in everything.

This is a strange way to begin describing Sheridan Riley’s coming composition, awarded recently by Earshot Jazz. The composition, due to be premiered in mid-October, is in its early stages. There are but snippets, ideas, thoughts, interpretations.

“I’m in a little house in Beaverton, Oregon right now,” they said over the telephone about the coming work, “with my drums, a laptop, drum book, transcriptions. I’m practicing, practicing, practicing. Scribbling, scribbling in some entry points.”

The time is coming for Riley’s composition. The time has come to create a new piece of art.

Time is the thing. It often is with a drummer. Essential. The 32-year-old, who lives in the Northgate area and can be seen, oftentimes, in The Royal Room in some capacity, has been thinking a lot, lately, about time. Time—how it unfurls and unfolds; how it’s circular; how it’s linear. How it’s everything.

The piece is set to explore the sensation of memory and how it informs the way people move through their lives.

“My mother has dementia,” Riley said. “It started affecting her when I was 13 years old. She’s not verbal anymore, really, but she reacts to music.”

The Beatles, specifically. Put on the Ed Sullivan-era Beatles and their mother becomes animated. Put on the Revolver album, not so much.

“Art has this ability,” Riley said, “to take you to your past in the present. It can also lead you forward. It can lead you to your hopes.”

Art, in Riley’s case, music, can do that. It does it all the time—warp time. That’s what Riley is eager to explore in the coming commissioned piece.

There’s no name for the piece yet. Again, it’s in its early stages but they imagine it’ll be in three movements. They expect that the piece will include percussion, guitar, and reeds.

It’ll be as unique as Riley is. They’ve been a member of such diverse musical acts as Avi Buffalo, John Mitchell Quartet, and Alvvays, among others.

Over the past year, Riley’s been working on different pieces and exploring different things. They’ve recently been attracted to contemporary classical music; particularly moved by the work of Steve Reich, who has influenced their own work.

“I was curious,” they said, “to play with space and delay; to explore melodic harmonic structures; to use a room as part of the piece; to form a mood.”

That mood, Riley hopes, is one of hope. “I’m trying to put a frame around one’s past.” But how does one frame time? The universe is a big place, indeed. Riley’s mother lives in it, same as the Beatles; same as quasars and Saturn’s multitudinous moons. But isn’t the grandness of all that—the infinite that is one’s life: past, present, and future—something to be joyously celebrated?

“I hope people feel happy,” Riley said of the audience upon hearing the coming composition. “I hope they feel surprised. Isn’t it a wondrous feeling to reflect? To remember? To tap into those formative experiences that brought you joy?” 

Watching the Beatles on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

Sometimes music reflects. Sometimes it’s a mirror. Sometimes it’s a light to guide one forward. Sometimes it’s all  of those things.

Riley’s practicing and Riley’s scribbling, eager to capture that and share it soon with Seattle audiences. It’ll give them something to remember—a piece of music—as the universe ripples again, a little bit larger thanks to Riley’s art.


Posted on

July 28, 2023