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  • Writer's pictureNina Cherry

Lynn Riley (b. 1956)

Updated: Aug 4, 2021


Lynn Riley enjoys a vibrant career as a jazz musician, composer, and educator, whose primary instruments are saxophone and flute. As the leader of The World-Mix, Lynn has been described more than once as "Superwoman" of the sax. Born in Washington, D.C., and raised outside of Philadelphia, PA., she received a B. A. in Ethnomusicology from the University of Hawaii. Her time spent in Hawaii was influential in developing her sensibility to, and awareness of, different musical cultures.

from Kansas City Magazine, March 1981
from The Penny Pitch, April 1981
Riley, Joan Griffith and Carol Comer

She continued her musical studies at the University of Missouri Kansas City, studied privately with Doris Sellers (principal flutist of the Kansas City Symphony), saxophone with Ahmed Alladeen, and immersed in its rich jazz tradition, apprenticed and performed with many of KC's jazz legends. She became involved with the Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival, an international festival highlighting women musicians. Riley was a member of the all woman jazz combo Calico, which was the houseband at the Women’s Jazz Festival. Other members included Carol Comer, piano, Joan Griffith, bass, and Carol Williamson, drums. There she had the opportunity to play with luminaries like Carmen McRae, Marian McPartland, Shirley Scott, Emily Remler and Blossom Dearie. After 5 years on the Board of Directors, she headed back east. Riley was an active member of the Kansas City Jazz scene from 1979–1984. Riley cites Kansas City as the launchpad for her career. Some of her fondest memories from Kansas City are from "cutting her teeth" at the after hours jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Promotional material for Calico. Courtesy of Lynn Riley

Since returning to Philadelphia, Lynn has performed with many great artists like Grover Washington Jr., Philly Joe Jones, David Bromberg, Rachelle Farrell, Charles Earland, Gerald Veasley, David Murray and Johnny Pacheco, as well as leading her own group Lynn Riley And The World-Mix. She was chosen to perform at the Painted Bride Arts Center for their series Women Leaders in Jazz in 2000. She has opened for artists such as Najee, Spyro Gyra, Nelson Rangell, Nester Torres, Andy Narell, the Indigo Girls, Brenda K Star, the Mahotella Queens and Compai Segundo of the Buena Vista Club. She has performed throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, Africa, South America and the Caribbean.

More recently Lynn has been expanding her composing vocabulary, traveling and performing in Ghana, Cuba, South Africa, Bolivia, Brazil and Columbia, adding fresh material to The World-Mix repertoire.

She received a Window of Opportunity grant from the Leeway Foundation in 2004. Her proficiency has been recognized by the Trane Stop Resource Institute, which presented her with an award acknowledging her contribution in preserving and promoting Afro-American Classical Music. The NAJE presented her with an award for Outstanding Service to Jazz Education.

The album cover for Riley's newest release

Lynn has been on the faculty of the Performing Arts Department of Drexel University since 1998. She was director of the AMLA (Latin American Musician’s Association) Roots of Latin Jazz program, presenting workshops to schools throughout the Greater Philadelphia area from 2000–2010. She was also the Artist in Residence for Opera Seabrook's 2008–09 season.

Collaboration with long time friend, co-band member and producer Rubin Edwards has generated many magical musical moments, from riveting live performances and beautiful compositions to production of Lynn's albums Too Cool (2009) and her newest release Lynn Riley and The World-Mix Say What (2014).


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