It wasn’t too long ago that pianist Arthur Riddles was a part of Deep Ellum’s music scene. Now, the East Dallas resident has chosen to tickle the ivories at downtown’s swanky Pyramid Room (inside the Fairmont Hotel) for the black tie and cocktail crowd. Of course, he and his quartet hold court every Sunday night at the Balcony club, but the bulk of his performance schedule is centered around the popular Dallas hotel.
“I actually started out playing jazz on the hotel and restaurant circuit when I was younger,” he says. “At that age, however, I wasn’t quite settled enough to stay in that stable environment. I didn’t want that at the time. There were so many other things I wanted to do. I wanted to play shows in rowdy clubs with a band that made people get up and dance.”
Up until last year, Riddles did just that. Since 1988, he was a member of Dallas’ longtime reggae combo, Leroy Shakespeare and the Ship of Vibes. Prior to that, he spent much of the early and mid ’80s jamming with area musicians in Deep Ellum and lower Greenville.
In 1998, Riddles bid a sad farewell to the Ship of Vibes (with whom he still remains friends) and concentrated on his jazz quartet. The band (guitarist Greg Ray, bassist Dan Pitzer and drummer Dennis Howard) found a home, playing Sunday nights at the Balcony Club. Soon, however, they began to discover enthusiastic audiences at other venues particularly at various Borders Books and Music locations.
It was during one fateful performance at the Old Town Borders (on Lovers Lane and Greenville) that Riddles’ combo caught the ear of Cyril Isnard, the Fairmont’s General Manager.
“He wasn’t even in there to hear the music. He was just shopping,” says Riddles. “But he said he got drawn towards where we were playing and started watching the people in the crowd. Their facial expressions and response made such an impression on him, he started booking us for banquets and other events.”
One thing led to another and Riddles became the hotel’s prime source for entertainment, playing solo and with his quartet’s Ray and Pitzer throughout the week.
“Each show we did, we performed really well,” he says. “We just took advantage of the situation and made good on the opportunities we were given.”
Outside of being grateful to Cyril Isnard for the chance he was given, Riddles remains eternally thankful to his late grandmother, Evelyn McAdams, who taught him the piano as a boy here in Dallas. There’s little doubt that she’d be proud of her grandson. Outside of his career at the Fairmont, he was invited to perform at the Texas Commission on the Arts and State of Texas symposium on the diminishing role of the arts in public schools.
As for his career, Riddles has little regrets about not becoming a reggae superstar or remaining in the nightclub limelight. For him, it’s all about playing and as long as the Pyramid and Balcony Club provide the outlet, he’ll do just that.
“I’m fortunate to still be playing,” he says. “But then again, I’ve never put any kind of timetable on my musical career. I was never going to become fixated on getting signed to a major label. My whole thing is, as long as I’m having fun and have a band I enjoy playing with, that’s fine with me.”
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