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Jazz drummer Steve Reid dead from Cancer at 66

steve-reid3Biography by Thom Jurek:

Drummer, bandleader, and composer Steve Reid was born on 29 January 1944, in the South Bronx in New York. He became interested in the drums when he heard Art Blakey playing a dance in his neighborhood. The next day, Reid procured a set of drums via a friend of his mother’s and began playing. At the age of 16, Reid was already playing drums in the house band at the legendary Apollo in Harlem, under the direction of Quincy Jones. It was during his tenure there that Martha Reeves & the Vandellas came to perform at the theater, heard him play, and drafted him pretty much on the spot. Within days, Reid was behind the kit for the recording session that produced the hit “Dancing in the Street” for Motown.

While Reid was in high school, his family moved to Queens, where he discovered that he lived a mere three blocks from one of his most important mentors: John Coltrane. Reid would begin his trip to school by visiting the Coltranes every day at 7:30 a.m. and soaking up everything Coltrane had to say. One of Coltrane’s dreams was to play and record in Africa, though he never made it. Reid, however, left the United States for that continent immediately upon graduation from college — Adelphi University — and stayed three years. While there, he met and performed with Fela Kuti, and played with a number of other artists and groups, including Guy Warren, the Alpha Jazz Band, Leone Starrs, and Black Star Tour. The governments of Nigeria, Liberia, Senegal, Morocco, and Egypt sponsored some of the tours in which he played. It was while in Africa that he met pianist/composer Randy Weston, who also profoundly influenced his musical thinking. When Reid returned to the United States, he was arrested by the FBI for violating the Selective Service/Conscription Act (the draft), and was tried and convicted of draft dodging. He was sentenced to four years in a federal penitentiary. The time wasn’t spent in vain, since Reid encountered jazz legend Jimmy Heath while inside. Before entering the penitentiary, Reid had time to join James Brown’s band in 1969, and played drums on the hit “Popcorn.”

After being released from prison, Reid devoted himself to session and live work with jazz artists, Broadway shows, and off-Broadway musicals as well — anything to pay the rent and to keep developing as a drummer. He made a living by being in demand. While his primary interest was in the vanguard jazz being made in the 1970s by the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Sun Ra’s Arkestra (who he played with for a time), the Black Artists’ Group, the Tribe, and the community surrounding jazz pianist Horace Tapscott, Reid played in the States and in Europe with everyone. Indeed, his résumé as a session player and traveling musician is more than impressive for its sheer range. It includes gigs, recording sessions, and extended engagements with Walter Davis, Jackie McLean, Freddie Hubbard, Fats Domino, Weston, Martha Raye (yes, the comedian), Peggy Lee, the Barnum & Bailey Circus, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Mal Waldron, David Murray, the Sound in Motion dance troupe, Henry Threadgill, Charles Tyler (with whom he recorded and toured extensively), Horace Silver, Frank Lowe, Sam Rivers, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Chief Bey, Lester Bowie, Arthur Blythe, Charles Macpherson, Gary Bartz, Dexter Gordon, Dionne Warwick, and Olatunji, just to name a few.

Ever the independent, in 1976 Reid formed his own label called Mustevic. He recorded a number of albums including Rhythmatism (1975), Raw (1975), Nova (1976), New Live Version of the Eye (1976), Odyssey of the Oblong Square (1977), and Sounds Across America (1978). These recordings fetch handsome sums on the original vinyl. In 1983, Reid played drums on Miles Davis’ final hit record, Tutu. In the years 1993 and 1995 he was voted percussionist of the year by Jazziz magazine.

Reid moved to Lugano, Switzerland, but travels between New York and Europe extensively. He began recording with his own band in Europe and issued several fine albums, including Wave in 1993, Live in Europe in 2001, and Drum Story and Trio-Invitation in 2002. Soul Jazz Records in the U.K. reissued Nova and Rhythmatism in 2003 and 2005, respectively. The imprint also released Spirit Walk in 2005, a new recording of the Steve Reid Ensemble with his European group featuring pianist/keyboardist Boris Nevsvetaev and Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden. Reid recorded three duet albums with Hebden as well, The Exchange Session, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, which were released in 2006, and Tongues, released in 2007. Reid, Hebden, and Nevsvetaev traveled to Dakar in 2007 and recorded with a group of musicians from Senegal for the album Daxaar, his first of three projected releases for the Domino label.

One Response

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  1. avatar
    miles April 20, 2010 at 10:42 pm |

    Rugrat…

    In Crawdaddy’s obituary for Steve Reid, I found the following sentiment — “The world of music is brighter and more interesting for having him be a part of its evolution.” I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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