Detroit-born drummer Karriem Riggins’ primary employers in recent years have been the champagne-and-caviar jazz singer Diana Krall and the celebrity rapper Common — artists who don’t share much besides a boatload of Grammy Awards, a high tax bracket and good taste in drummers.
At 37, Riggins is the rare musician to have achieved equal stature in straight-ahead jazz and hip-hop. His elite resume and reputation allow him to live anywhere he chooses, and in 2009 he returned to his hometown from Los Angeles. Even though he plans on returning to L.A. later this year to be closer to his 6-year-old son, he remains committed to spending as much time as possible in Detroit.
“I think the spirit of the music is still here in Detroit,” he said. “I lived in New York for six years in the ’90s, and I feel like I got a good piece of it when it was still really popping. Los Angeles was slower. I always felt like I was on vacation. I didn’t feel inspired; I just felt like going out on my balcony every day. But the sound is here in Detroit, and it’s a more relaxing place to live. I love Detroit. I feel like we need to help rejuvenate the city, and maybe me being here has sparked some things and opened ears.”
Riggins’ versatility will be on display Monday in Ann Arbor for an ambitious University Musical Society program called “From Cass Corridor to the World: A Tribute to Detroit’s Musical Golden Age.” The concert promises to dip into jazz, Motown and hip-hop with a gaggle of guest artists, from saxophonist James Carter to the Original Vandellas. The major-league house rhythm section for the night is D3 — pianist Geri Allen, bassist Bob Hurst and Riggins — a working trio that marries three prominent Detroit-bred musicians who have graduated to the national jazz scene since the 1980s.
Jazz and hip-hop have been conversing for more than two decades, but while the number of multilingual musicians is growing with players like pianist Robert Glasper, Riggins’ separate-but-equal identities remain special. His starry jazz employers have included Mulgrew Miller, Roy Hargrove, Ray Brown and Ravi Coltrane. He has done hip-hop production for the Roots, Slum Village, Madlib, J Dilla, Kanye West and Erykah Badu. Riggins even counts a Beatle among his credits, appearing on Paul McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom.”
Read more: Detroit Free Press