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Meet Drummer Karriem Riggins, 2020 Tri-C JazzFest Artist-in-Residence

When legendary Cleveland record producer Tommy LiPuma needed a drummer for a Diana Krall or a Paul McCartney recording he called on Detroit's Karriem Riggins.

Now Riggins follows in his late mentor's footsteps joining the 2020 Tri-C JazzFest in Cleveland. 

Riggins was selected as this year's artist-in-residence to work with local music students.


Karriem Riggins leading a master class for Tri-C JazzFest  [Cuyahoga Community College]

He compared LiPuma's work as a jazz producer to his own work as a producer of hip-hop.

"It's definitely different. Tommy would be in the studio. First of all he was sensitive to the artist and what the artist wanted and he knew timing was important, like when to record a specific song," Riggins said.


Tommy LiPuma during a Tri-C recording session with Dominick Farinacci in 2015. [David C. Barnett / ideastream]

As a hip-hop producer, Riggins utilizes a drum machine that he pre-loads with recorded riffs of his own making.

"You can chop and manipulate everything to fit whatever the vibe is for the artist," he said.

Riggins sees hip-hop and jazz on a musical continuum.


Karriem Riggins leads a master class for Tri-C JazzFest [Cuyahoga Community College]

"They both live in each world. I think that everything borrows from jazz so that language is there," Riggins said.

One of Riggins' favorite hip-hop artists to work with was the late, Detroit rapper J Dilla, whom Riggins said thought like jazz musician.


J Dilla album cover for "Diary"

"He did not force anything. When we got to the studios not knowing what we were going to do and creating something that was from scratch and that was innovative, to see him at work was like just witnessing a genius," Riggins said.

More recently, Riggins has worked with rapper Common, producing his latest album, "Let Love."


Album cover for Common's "Let Love"

"[Common's] very intelligent, very forward thinking. He doesn't have any boundaries about where he wants to go musically [and] has a message," Riggins said. "He's incredible with his sense of rhythm. I think he's the Dexter Gordon of hip hop."

As artist-in-residence, Riggins hopes to introduce younger musicians to the world of jazz with his hip-hop connections.


Karriem Riggins leading Tri-C JazzFest master class [Cuyahoga Community College]

"What I'm doing here is spreading the message to the hip-hoppers about jazz," he said.

Riggins began his residency this month with area music students and continues in April with a Rock Hall tribute to inductee Biggie Smalls.


Karriem Riggins and ideastream's Dan Polletta [ideastream]

Full list of performers for the 2020 Tri-C JazzFest, June 25-27 at Playhouse Square






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