Teresa Riley has always wanted to be a musician.
The only problem? "[My] parents wanted me to have a real job," she says over the phone from her home in Vancouver. "They frowned upon the artist thing."
To compromise, she got a day gig as a commercial pilot while continuing to pursue music—and it's kind of worked out perfectly.
"I do long-haul flights," she says. "The longest we have is Sydney, Australia—and then I get a lot of time off because the flights are so long. It gives me a lot of time to do my music."
While Riley started out as a solo rock act, she also went to music school, where she focused on jazz music because "there was no school of rock at the time."
That choice proved to be a good one down the road. Years ago, during a layover in London, she was walking around a park "lamenting why I wasn't home making music," she says. "This song came into my head and I wrote it in five minutes. It was a '40s swing, big band tune."
While the track was markedly different from her rock set, she decided to mix it in at a live show. Afterwards, a man approached her. "He said, 'Would you like to do a music video for free?'" she recalls.
It wasn't a scam; he liked the track and was looking for experience behind the camera. To prepare for the video, Riley set out looking for traditional swing dancers to star in it. She had no luck at the time, but long after the project wrapped, she received a reply from someone who told her about a swing dance night at a venue on Commercial Drive.
"I went to check it out anyway," she recalls. "It was like walking into the 1940s. People knew all these moves I didn't and I started taking lessons."
Initially, she resisted focusing on a new genre, but her music career began to unfold so organically, it was hard to ignore.
She met singer and trumpet player Bonnie Northgraves who, in turn, introduced her to many of the talented musicians in Vancouver's jazz scene. Together, they formed T Riley and the Bourbon Rebels.
"I usually play with the same five or six people, but I like having guest players so it can be a little bit of a different experience," Riley says. "It's always fresh and fun and exciting. You know it's going to be good because they're such good players."
While she also kept playing her solo rock material, she continued to get more gig requests for her jazz music. That recently culminated in a slot kicking off the Arts Whistler Live! series at the Maury Young Arts Centre next week, as well as a gig at a festival in Cork, Ireland in October.
"This is just supposed to be a fun band and now we're getting hired to go to Ireland and getting all the gigs. I thought, 'We better have an album and a name,'" she laughs.
To that end, T Riley and the Bourbon Rebels will be releasing their debut album in October, ahead of the festival. The record won't be ready in time for Whistler, but that won't stop the dancing.
Riley will be hosting a swing dance lesson ahead of the show. "I love to teach dancing," she says. "I just taught 100 people at the Fort Langley Jazz Festival ... People say, 'I'd love to try that,' but they're too afraid. If you're going to a show anyway, you might as well take the dance lessons. It's a good icebreaker; we make people switch partners every so often and by the end of the lesson, the energy is so good."
See for yourself on Friday, Sept. 13. The swing dance workshop takes place at 7 p.m., with the show following at 8 p.m.
Tickets are $15 in advance or $20 the day of the show. (The show is 19-plus with a bar.) Get them at showpass.com/t-riley.