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Artist Profiles

Dizzy Reece

By Published: December 30, 2005
To grasp the art and life's work of trumpeter-composer-philosopher (not necessarily in that order) Alphonso Son "Dizzy Reece, a short biographical sketch and recording data, though not thrown completely out the window in terms of relevance, are only relevant insofar as one gets an idea of the artist as a whole. Facts of his birthplace (Kingston, Jamaica, 1931) and relocations to London (1948) and New York (1959) and the collection of recordings for Tempo, Savoy, Blue Note, Prestige, Futura, Beehive and other labels throughout the past fifty years are surely crucial sonic tools that one can use to discover certain aspects of Reece's work and the time and place in which they occurred, but grasping a few nuggets of Reece's knowledge and experience requires a grander query than what motivates one to assemble a record date or lead a large orchestra through a series of charts.

In the course of learning who Reece is and what the sum of his interests and experiences are, his approach calls for an understanding of those close to him — not only musically or proximally, but even (or perhaps especially) those interested in his work. Instead of this interviewer asking Reece how he came to study music, Reece asked how I came to him — what my interests are musically and how his work fits in to my own studies, and how I got interested in jazz. Delving into what attracts one about a certain approach to music, Reece contends that interconnectedness is a primary facet of what imbues the jazz idiom with its massive emotional, tonal and rhythmic possibility — "everybody plays the blues; Indians have it, the Chinese, every nationality has the blues. The Portuguese have the Fado, reflected in most of the Brazilian music that you hear. The soul is the Fado and we call it the blues. This is a common thread for everybody, and every music has it — I've studied every music. North Africa — I used to listen to the UNESCO recordings of drummers from all over... East African drummers, Czechoslovakia, Chinese drummers, I listened to everybody. It is a sound that is endemic not only to the horn player (or the vocal 'cry' of the blues), but also something in the rhythms of the music, and by virtue the body, something that girds every system of life — it is no wonder that rhythms and their juxtapositions infuse Reece's recordings like Asia Minor (New Jazz, 1962), the perversely pan-tempo "Blues in Trinity (from the 1959 Blue Note session of the same name) or the cutting minor themes of From In to Out (Futura, 1970).

Reece firmly states his interest as "beginning in modern jazz, [as] it tells the story of everything that has been before in the blues idiom, a sort-of 'jumping in the middle' where one's formative dabblings are not long past but one's being is fully ensconced in one's art — not coincidentally, in interview Reece preferred to start with the beginning of his New York sojourn in 1959-60. "It came down through Louis Armstrong and Lester Young, but here comes Charlie Parker — you know, he was a summation of everything that came before, he loved the blues, but [with Bird] we get to the level of intelligence now, we take it to the next level. That's what the modern jazz era is about, and that's what I've been dealing with... Charlie Parker [and by default, modern jazz] was already a finished product. Yet, for Reece, it certainly comes back not only to what is vertical in the music (harmonics), but to what spans the temporal experience of the music — rhythm. "That started with Charlie Parker and Max Roach; sure, of course the rhythm aspect is the whole thing. He plays drums on the saxophone. It goes into intelligence — in the '40s, we covered Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, the skyscrapers were going up, the political scene was changing, and [other music] would not suffice to express it... Hemingway, Picasso, it's all related. Reece's most regular partner in rhythm was drummer Art Taylor, who appeared on three of his Blue Note leader dates (a fourth, unissued until recently, had Art Blakey in the drum chair) and From In to Out; Reece even encouraged Taylor to compile Notes and Tones, a book of musician-to-musician interviews (Da Capo, 1977). Reece has also penned several volumes, by instrument, of his own musician-to-musician research, much of which centers on organizing and analyzing players with respect to personality — psychology being just one of the sciences Reece has found his interdisciplinary calling in.

Reece acknowledges what he calls the "diffuse nature of the musical and cultural climate we have today, and the difficulty in making a scene in what this writer calls a "blasé cultural sensibility. "I used to be on Broadway — Broadway was my beat; you had Birdland and so much music that was great. You could walk up Broadway and meet people from Hollywood, arrangers, everybody. Music all over the streets — it was a different thing, it was alive and that's what's missing. You didn't have that period, and you can feel that it's missing. I had it and I know what it is... I was one of the last figures on Broadway; I used to hold up on 52nd Street and Broadway, some of that energy and its residue is still there. Coming to New York in the late 50s, Reece was certainly on the tail end of that scene, for 1959 was the year that Ornette Coleman brought his group to New York for a several-months run at the Five Spot, a move which history tells us turned modern jazz on its head. Yet Reece maintains that the negativity attached by some critics to Bird and the lingering animosity felt toward this music carries on even today: "A lot of people are still resisting it, because it's intelligence and it's on another level. We can play as much free jazz and as much technical — some of the cats are very technical — but nobody plays as fast as Charlie Parker... all the fruits of technology, that was already expressed in the music. That was an expression of what's to come. This is not to say that the sensory overload that has girded much of our 20th Century experience is the only thing mirrored by Bird and Picasso; "there is the soul — that's why we always talk about soul, the other side of it — of course, something else supports the material. It's called spirit, it's called soul, whatever, and I call it the essence... [modern experience] really doesn't add anything to your soul. It's still not comfortable, and people are still not comfortable with technology. But it's a part of nature, so there it is and you work with it, and you still have to deal with your soul.

This Encore was culled from several hours of discussion on philosophy and music; stay tuned for online publication of the entire text.

Selected Discography:

Dizzy Reece — Progress Report (Tempo/Jasmine, 1956)
Dizzy Reece — Mosaic Select 11 (Blue Note/Mosaic, 1958-1960)
Dizzy Reece — Blues in Trinity (Blue Note, 1958)
Dizzy Reece — Asia Minor (New Jazz/OJC, 1962)
Dizzy Reece — From In to Out (Futura, 1970)
Dizzy Reece — Manhattan Project (Beehive, 1977)

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