Jazz trumpetist Riley Mulherkar • Courtesy

Jazz trumpetist Riley Mulherkar can be seen across several Seattle stages during early 2024, and this winter, he is also releasing his first solo album entitled Riley.  

On February 5, Mulherkar launched the season with a performance at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley in honor of Clarence Acox, a “titan of Seattle jazz education.”  

“I was a guest artist with the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra, and it was a real honor to be able to pay tribute to my former band director,” said Mulherkar.  

On February 15, Mulherkar showed at The Royal Room, debuting music from his new album, which has been in the works for years. The inspiration for Riley, which he describes as an “autobiographical statement,” came from the musician’s producers and collaborators Rafiq Bhatia and Chris Pattishall, mentors Frank Kimbrough and Ron Miles, and bandmates Russell Hall and Kyle Poole, among others. 

“It’s very special to get to celebrate its release in my hometown,” he said. Mulherkar has lived in New York since 2010.

This spring, he’ll be back in town in April to host Seattle JazzEd’s Gala

“JazzEd is an organization that is near and dear to me,” said Mulherkar. “I always try to come back for their annual gala to support their work and hone my emcee skills!” 

Mulherkar’s first encounter with the trumpet, and with jazz music in general, was seeing the Garfield High School Jazz Ensemble play at the Mount Baker Community Center during one of their annual concerts.

I would go every year to hear my babysitters play in the band,” he said. “The trumpet players always looked like they were having the best time, so I knew right then and there that I wanted to be one of them.” 

He later attended The Juilliard School, completing a bachelor’s degree in 2014 and a master’s in 2015. While a student, Mulhekar was mentored by Wynton Marsali and Frank Kimbrough, who he said shaped him as a musician today. To this day, his Julliard peers continue to be among his closest friends and collaborators.

“Juilliard was an incredible experience, being surrounded by so many artists of different disciplines was transformative from day one, and I owe so much to both my teachers and peers there,” said Mulherkar.

While still in school, Mulherkar co-founded a brass quartet called The Westerlies in 2011. All four original members grew up in Seattle, participating in programs at Garfield High School, Roosevelt High School, Washington Middle School, and Eckstein Middle School, before moving to New York to study music in college. 

Feeling homesick, the group would get together to make music. “Fast forward twelve years and it’s been quite a journey,” he said. “More hours on the road than I can remember, incredible collaborations with musical heroes of ours, and most significantly, a continued discovery of our own unique and personal sound as a band.” 

These days, Mulherkar is not only a musician, but also an educator and community activist and advocate. He is the Artistic Director of non-profit Joye in Aiken, where he curates concerts and educates students in local schools about jazz and improvisation. He also works with Jazz at Lincoln Center as a member of their Artist Advisory Council, doing strategic planning for the organization’s future.

The biggest challenge with a career in music, he said, is achieving balance between running a small business, or multiple small businesses, while also staying focused on what matters most: the music. “It’s a constant dance, but I do my best to always honor the music above everything else,” he said.

Despite this balancing act, Mulherkar finds teaching and advocacy gratifying rather than a distraction. “These activities never feel too different from performance to me,” he said. “The goal is always to bring people together and share my love of music.”

Riley Mulherkar performs on April 4 at Seattle JazzED Gala, Amazon Meeting Center, 2031 Seventh Avenue, Seattle.

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