Rich Halley (born November 25, 1947, Portland, Oregon) is an American jazz saxophonist and composer. He has released 21 recordings as a leader and is known for his asymmetrical and rhythmic compositions and his fiery playing.
Rich Halley is the only child of Richard Halley Sr., an economics professor at Portland State University, and Libby Anne Halley, a reading and special education teacher. Growing up, he spent much of his time hiking, camping, hunting and fishing and at an early age developed a lifelong passion for nature and the outdoors. He spent summers at the family homestead in Richland, Oregon near the Wallowa Mountains. At 15, he discovered jazz, and immediately became intensely interested in the music.
Halley began playing clarinet at age 11 and tenor saxophone at age 15. In 1965-66 He lived in Cairo, Egypt where he played in a band with an international repertoire. When he arrived at the University of Chicago in 1966 he found himself surrounded by blues music and culture and the explorations of the AACM. In 1967-68 he played in Home Juice, a blues band in Chicago that included Jeff Carp, Jordan Sandke and Paul Asbell. In 1968 he moved back to the Western US where he played in Latin bands, rhythm & blues bands and jazz groups in San Francisco, Albuquerque and Portland. His early influences included Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon, Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler as well as Jim Pepper, who was also from Portland.
Between 1968 and 1975 he interspersed periods of musical activity with time spent climbing mountains and exploring the deserts and jungles of the Western US, Mexico and Central America.
From 1977-81 Halley performed in the experimental group Multnomah Rhythm Ensemble that explored improvised music in combination with multi-media. His first recording, Multnomah Rhythms (Avocet), was released in 1983.
During the 80's and 90's, Halley was the leader of the Lizard Brothers, a three or four horn sextet that released five recordings on Avocet and Nine Winds and performed in the US and Canada. The Lizard Brothers featured complex, multi-sectioned charts combined with open improvisation. At various times the group included, reed player Vinny Golia, trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, saxophonist Troy Grugett, saxophonist Gary Harris, trombonist Tom Hill, pianist Geoff Lee, bassist Phil Sparks and drummer William Thomas.
In 1991-92 Halley played in the cooperative band Jack's Headlights that included trumpeter Rob Blakeslee, saxophonist Hans Teuber, bassist Michael Bisio and drummer Aaron Alexander.
Halley co-founded Portland's Creative Music Guild in 1991 after being disappointed with the lack of performing opportunities for non-traditional jazz musicians. Since 1994 he has been the musical director of the Penofin Jazz Festival in Northern California, which has presented many leading creative jazz artists.
In 2001, Halley formed a trio with bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Dave Storrs. This band was more oriented toward free improvisation and less toward writing. From 2001 to 2005 the group released three trio recordings on Louie Records plus a quartet recording with cornetist Bobby Bradford in 2003.
Rich Halley is also the leader of the Outside Music Ensemble, a four horn/two percussion sextet that performs in purely acoustic outdoor settings. For 13 consecutive years the OME performed annual hike-in concerts on top of the butte in Powell Butte Nature Park as part of the Portland Parks Summer Concert Series. The group includes trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, trumpeter Jim Knodle, saxophonist Troy Grugett, percussionist Dave Storrs and drummer Carson Halley.
In 2010, Halley released Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival featuring cornetist Bobby Bradford on his own label, Pine Eagle Records. Around this time he formed the Rich Halley 4 with trombonist Michael Vlatkovich, bassist Clyde Reed and drummer Carson Halley, his son. This group has released three recordings.
Halley emphasizes the importance what he calls compositional group improvisation. This is the spontaneous development of musical structures by the group as it improvises, creating a varied musical story which provides a foundation for the drama and emotion in the music.
Rich Halley has worked with poets and dancers over the years and in 2011 he released Children of the Blue Supermarket with poet Dan Raphael and drummer Carson Halley. This CD was picked as one of the best recordings of the year by Tom Hull in the Rhapsody jazz poll.