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Steve Reid: Staying in the Rhythms

By Published: December 24, 2007

AAJ: You were in the clink for a couple of years. How had the music scene changed when you came out?

SR: As soon as I came out, I met Charles Tyler, and he hired me, and we stayed together for almost thirteen years and made twelve records. The music scene had opened up, of course. When Coltrane died, we lost a leader, and so that really hurt the music.

The adventurous spirit of the music has got to survive, so that's why I like the internet 'cause it's bringing a new audience in, and as far as the young are concerned, there's no difference between the Black Eyed Peas and Sun Ra. It's all good to them.

With old timers, they say, "Oh, that's this and that's that. The young don't look at it that way, so that's why I like the young audience. The audience my age, they're retired. They're not going out; they don't want to buy CDs. [laughing]

You know I have children, and one of my children is into hip-hop and rap so I know, you know. Every generation has to have its music.

AAJ: You mentioned Sun Ra. How long were you involved with him?

SR: I played off and on from '65 to the '80s. My first time with him was with Jack DeJohnette. It was me and Jack DeJohnette on drums, and it was some very wild shit too as I recall.

Sonny [Ra], man, he brought out the best! You needed discipline—he gave you that. He had one of the best harmonic systems that any musician has ever had, you know, his use of harmony. And to carry a big band like that all those years was really [long pause] a miracle! [laughing]

AAJ: Particularly as he had to commute from Saturn every day.

SR: [laughing] Yeah, and he wasn't playing "One O'Clock Jump or "Take The A Train. It was really a different scene. He was one of my greatest influences. Man, he was way ahead. Look at the costumes and stuff, and look at how these groups are doing it now. He was way ahead—the whole show thing, you know, to put some interest into it other than just guys sitting up playing.

And the musicians he had in the band, man—John Gilmore, Pat Patrick, Marshall [Allen] and all the musicians who passed in and out of the band over the years. It was just an excellent band to be involved with.

AAJ: You set up your own label in the seventies, Mustevic Records.

SR: Yeah, it's music with Steve in the middle. Most people miss that.

AAJ: I missed it.

SR: [laughing] They used to think it was a foreign record company. I set it up, not because I was fighting the system, but because I went to all these different labels—Impulse, Columbia—and they didn't record the shit that we were playing at that time, and so I decided that we could just do it ourselves. And it was amazing that to this day the Mustevic catalogue is still being reissued.

Steve Reid

AAJ: I was going to ask you about that because two of your albums, Nova (Mustevic, 1976) and Rhythmatism (Mustevic, 1976) have been reissued on ... is it Sounds of the Universe or Soul Jazz Records?

SR: It's Soul Jazz Records, and its website is

AAJ: Has there been much interest in your re-released albums?

SR: Yeah, they've been doing very well. They've stood me well over the years. Giles Peterson used to use the rhythm of "Nova for his theme, over ten years ago. I hope to reissue the others. There's one in particular I want to get reissued: Odyssey of the Oblong Square (Mustevic, 1977) from '77 with Arthur Blythe and Charles Tyler, live on the radio in New York.

AAJ: We've talked about Kieran Hebden and your African Ensemble, but you have another working band, the Steve Reid Ensemble. Do you have a regular line-up of musicians?

SR: Yeah, Boris Netsvetaev is my keyboard player, who is really good, and he's into the music and not going for the money. And Simon Fell is my bassist. And Joe Rigby [saxophone] who plays on the original Nova album.

AAJ: Your relationship with Joe Rigby goes back a long way. Can you tell us a little bit about your relationship with him?

SR: We played in the Master Brotherhood together at the time when Pharaoh Saunders was out there, [saxophonist] Gary Bartz with the NTU Troop, and things like that were going on. So that's how we first hooked up. He's come into the Ensemble in the last couple of years. He's a great, underrated saxophonist.

AAJ: I read an interview with Joe Rigby where he said he'd seen Coltrane play about two hundred times, so he must have absorbed a lot of Coltrane. Is that what you like about his playing?

AAJ: I like his playing because of his excellent musicianship. He brings the Coltrane spirit of adventure. You know, it's hard for the saxophone players, man, because Coltrane hypnotized them! [laughing] For a while Bazza [Gary Bartz] stopped playing tenor saxophone because of that! You know, there were two different Coltranes, and most of the guys follow one or the other. But yeah, I like the flavor that Joe brings.

AAJ: Steve, you travel all over the world to play your music. When you're in a country like, say, Japan, do you go out of your way to dig up new rhythm while you're there?

SR: Yeah, yeah, but Japan is another part of the world and has got its own sound chamber. Jazz is really interesting to the Japanese because it's something they haven't been able to copy, and so they're still working on it. [laughing]

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