Lewis Riley has been a jazz musician and piano teacher based in Totnes for more than 35 years. He was born and grew up in Lancashire, coming to Devon in 1970 to study at Dartington College of Arts and Rolle College Exmouth where he qualified as a secondary teacher and, apart from a six -year period teaching music at Droitwich High School in Worcestershire, has remained in the area.
He taught music at Foxhole, part of Dartington Hall School from 1979 until its closure in 1987, since when he has been a freelance, self employed musician and music teacher specialising in jazz. He has run jazz workshops across South Devon in schools, and evening classes for adults. In 1986, he became co-director (with Keith Tippett) of the two week Jazz course at Dartington International Summer School which continued for over 25 years.
From 1987 until 2010 he worked part-time as an associate lecturer at Dartington College of Arts, teaching jazz piano and running a weekly jazz workshop for undergraduates as well as performing a variety of teaching, supervising and assessing duties. In the 90s Lewis completed a B.Phil. (Ed) degree in Music Education at Exeter University and briefly returned to part time music teaching at Churston Ferrers Grammar School. He was one of a group of local musicians to form the Totnes Jazz Collective in 1995 and ran a big band under their name, which also obtained National Lottery funding to work in schools in Devon and Cornwall, and in 1996/7 became a PRS funded Composer in Residence in three Cornish schools (Bude, Torpoint and Callington ) working with GCSE and “A” level students.
For three years (1997 – 2000) Lewis worked for Dartington Arts as a music programmer, booking artistes and running concerts, mostly in Dartington Great Hall, of classical, jazz, folk and world music, also programming for the University of Exeter Subscription Series and Thursday lunchtime concerts. In 2000 Lewis successfully obtained grants of over £60,000 to start up SaMS Saturday Music School at King Edward VI Community College (KEVICC) in Totnes.
Although Lewis is more well known as a jazz piano teacher, including working on the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music (ABRSM) jazz syllabus, he continues to teach other styles such as rock/pop piano and classical repertoire up to grade 8 ABRSM. He also teaches music theory up to ABRSM grade 8 and has taught GCSE and A-level music in schools.
Lewis has played jazz in bands of varying sizes and in many contexts, from a trio to a quartet, quintet and a big band, playing his own compositions and arrangements, Latin jazz or the more standard jazz repertoire. In the 1980s he worked mainly in the Midlands with the band Pulse which featured the late trumpeter Harry Beckett and has toured throughout the South West with a sextet playing his own material and a quintet featuring vocalist Maggie Nicols. His own band has often backed visiting jazz soloists such as saxophonists Don Rendell, Kathy Stobart and Mornington Lockett and guitarist John Etheridge. He also was involved in various Jazz In Education projects throughout the South West, including two with Maggie Nicols, teaching and performing in schools and Arts centres in Bristol, Somerset and Devon. More recently he ran The Mother People, a nine piece band playing the music of Frank Zappa, which included his daughter Harriet on tuned percussion.
Lewis also plays tabla, being a student of the late Ustad Latif Ahmed Khan of the Delhi garana, and has worked in schools running workshops in Indian music as well as being influence by it in his compositions. For a number of years he worked for “Live Music Now” which takes music to hospitals, day centres and other places where music is not a regular feature.