Born January 5, 1931, in Kingston, Jamaica, trumpeter Alphonso Son "Dizzy" Reece moved to England in 1948 to continue his jazz studies, as his countrymen alto saxophonist Joe Harriott and tenor man Ken Terroade would also do. Following some time in Paris, Reece recorded with Ronnie Scott, Victor Feldman and Tubby Hayes for the Tempo and Savoy labels before making his Blue Note debut in 1958. Reece moved to New York the following year on the recommendation of Miles Davis, and recorded for Alfred Lion for the next three years. Reece was in Paris again in the late '60s, working with Hank Mobley and John Gilmore, before returning to New York in the '70s. He has recorded somewhat less since that time, though there were stints with Clifford Jordan and the Paris Reunion Band and his works for Blue Note were recently collected as a boxed set by Mosaic Records. Reece took time out on a Sunday afternoon in August 2005 to talk with AAJ-NY writer Clifford Allen about philosophy, art, cultural change, and the place of modern jazz in society.
AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ
Bird and Modernity
Recording and a Philosophy of Playing
Playing and a Philosophy of Temperament
The Drummers and the Beat
Education and Communication
AAJ Meets Reece Meets AAJ
All About Jazz: I started my line of questioning somewhat early, upon leaving Jamaica for England, but could you give an idea of the climate in Kingston at the time you left?
Dizzy Reece: I don't want to go back that far; they've got all that stuff on the market. I'd rather deal with New York City. We can go back another time, because everybody's been dealing with that. It's all out there. I'm interested in updating [people] on what's been going on in New Yorkthe Birdland scene and so forth.
AAJ: So we're jumping aheadI suppose I was curious about the '40s.
DR: Oh, the '40s? It's funny, I was talking with somebody about UFOs and extraterrestrials; are you familiar with that? Around 1947 all of this started, a big trend about UFOs, and it was the first time I'd heard of it. I was about sixteen years old, and strangely enough when I got to Liverpool in 1948, I was walking around (it was just after the war in England) and I saw an interplanetary space station. This was actually an interplanetary society, and they were issuing interplanetary passports. Strange, and this happened during that periodthat's just a brief piece of what I've been going through. I was in Lancashire, England for a while before I went to London and Paris. In Paris was the first time I saw Charlie Parker and Miles Davis; they played the first Paris jazz festival in 1949.
AAJ: So is that how you first met Miles, then?
DR: No, no, I was looking at them from the back of the hall. I was young, and I didn't meet Miles until 1958 or 1959, when he came to London and then again when I went to New York. He was into my recordings, and I did a few recordings in London with Victor Feldman, that have been reissued on Jasmine Records [originally on Tempo]. So I met Miles and I was playing in London in 1958, and I don't know if he'd heard me personally playing, but he'd heard some of my recordings. Surely enough, I met Billie Holiday, and I performed with her, Billie and her dog. She had a lovely dog, a boxer, and I think she's in one of the magazines featured with him, maybe Jazz Times. It was a beautiful dog; he'd just sit there and listen to her sing.
I arrived in the States in October of 1959 after I did my first recording for Blue Note, Blues in Trinity, and I made the second one Star Bright and the rest of those records for Blue Note. This stuff has all been reissued on Mosaic Records as a Mosaic Select.
AAJ: I've got the records, but I have seen the box, yes.
DR: Oh, you've got the vinyl? That's the real stuff. That's good, now let me inquire about you. How did you get these recordings of mine?
AAJ: Out of curiosity, I'd heard your name passed around and I think the Tubby Hayes factor was probably the reason I picked up Blues in Trinity first. I was interested in hearing more of his music and hadn't heard yours, so that got the ball rolling. The opener is so affecting with that out-of-tempo feel that it really perked my ears up. I think I got the other two Blue Notes shortly thereafter, and this was a period that I was grabbing anything and everything I could hear of musicians who didn't come up in the States, Europeans and expatriates who had come to this music from other sources and other areas. That's led to others like Joe Harriott.
DR: Oh, you're familiar with Joe Harriott? I didn't know you were into his stuff. How did you hear Joe?
AAJ: I think it would have probably been before I heard you, actually.
DR: Where was this in time?
AAJ: This wouldn't have been that long ago, maybe five or so years ago. I got some of his work in Chicago at a record store, the stuff with Shake Keane.
DR: Right, when they were getting into a new way of playing. Have you heard my work after that?
AAJ: Yes, some of it. I know the Beehive [Manhattan Project, 1977] and the Futura [From In to Out, 1970], and the New Jazz [Asia Minor, 1962]. I'm still curious about the Honeydew record [Possession, Exorcism, Peace, 1974], I haven't heard that one. I've heard a good chunk, and I got into the music first quite independently. Maybe I told you this already, but...
DR: Well, tell me again.
AAJ: My father was a jazz pianist, so...
DR: What's his name?
AAJ: Jon Allen.
DR: You know this is interesting because my father was a jazz pianist also, and he played music for silent films. Where was your father from?
AAJ: He's from Connecticut, actually. His interest in jazzwell, when I was a kid I didn't like it all that much. I don't think I even liked music that much when I was a kid. I got into it independently because he had his thing, which was piano trios mostly, and he didn't like the horn players as much. I heard a lot of stuff that now I might think was very good, but it didn't grab me at the time because I was looking for things that sounded a bit more forceful. I listened to rock music when I was young.
DR: Well, it's part of your time period.
AAJ: Yeah, it is, and I was about 19 or 20 when I picked up jazz records out of curiosity, thinking that maybe I should give some of this stuff a chance, and I started out with some of the more free thingslate-period Coltrane and Albert Aylerand it might seem like a weird place to start, but it grabbed me right away, a complete washing away of anything else I'd heard before. It didn't take me that long to decide that I wanted to hear as much and everybody as I possibly could.
DR: This is interesting because it's your decade, you know. So you are totally into jazz now, and you love jazz?
AAJ: Yes, that's pretty much primarily what I listen to, though there are other things that I could be informing my mind with as well. That's principally it, though.
DR: Well, that's a good spot. It relates to a lot of other things.
AAJ: It's led me to some other things like Indian classical music, Turkish and North African music as well, so it's not independent of those things.
DR: It's a universal music; like I've said, everybody plays the blues. Indians, Chinese, every group and nationality has the blues. The Portuguese have the Fadodid you ever hear Portuguese music?
AAJ: A little bit.
DR: We have the blues, they have the Fado. It's reflected in most of the Brazilian music you hear, Jobim and all of that has that soundit's the soul, the Fado. We call it the blues. Every nationality has it, it's a common soul for everybody, and it relates. I've studied music from everywhere, and I used to listen to recordings on UNESCO. The United Nations cultural department issued these recordings, and I used to hear a lot of drummers from all over the worldAfrica, Czechoslovakia, Chinese musicit boils down to jazz and blues. Everybody has the blues cry; the Jews have the blues cry, the Arabs have a blues cry and you hear it. It's a good focus, jazz, it goes out and it's reflected back. You have fusion jazz, you have everything, but I get interested right about in the modern jazz period. That tells the story of everything that has been before in the blues idiom.
AAJ: I feel the same way. I start around the early 50s with my attachment to it. class="f-right"> Return to Index...
Bird and Modernity
DR: The '50s is a good periodso much has been going before that, in the 30s and 40s, but it came up to the '50s and the Modern Jazz Era, which is what we termed it. It came out of everything from before Louis Armstrong up to Lester Young, and here comes Charlie Parker, and he was a summationthe blues (and he loved the blues, he's Mr. Blues). So we get to a level of intelligence now, where we take it to the next level, and that's the Modern Jazz Era. That's what I've been dealing with; that's the era that I came up in and I still think it's the greatest period. Everybody's still wrestling with it. Coltrane had been through the bebop era and Charlie Parker, and then he got into his other expressions, but you can go check out his recordings with Miles Davis and you'll see the link.
AAJ: Right, and he'd come up in Dizzy Gillespie's band.
DR: Yeah, and you have to go through the modern jazz to get to another levelhe stretched it out. There's a differencewith Charlie Parker, he was a finished product, and he didn't have to take it where Trane took it. He already had everything.
AAJ: Right, when you hear his solos with Jay McShann he seems almost fully formed at an early age.
DR: Oh, man, exactlyeverything was packaged. He could do everything that everybody's doing now, stretching out on chord changes and modes.
AAJ: I also think of modern jazz not just in terms of stretching out chordally and harmonically, but also rhythmically, and the drummerhow the drummer was able to expand time by playing all these confluences of rhythms, and that maybe was the major change.
DR: It was a big change, and it happened with Charlie Parker and Max Roach. Sure, of course, the rhythm aspect is the whole thingCharlie Parker played drums on the saxophone, and the whole thing is rhythm. It goes into intelligence, tooyou look at the 40s and you had Aldus Huxley and Brave New World, the whole world was changing, skyscrapers were going up and the political scene was changing, and modern jazz was a reflection of everything.
AAJ: The old forms wouldn't suffice to express it.
DR: No, no, they had to keep breaking through.
AAJ: It's like how in painting, representation fell by the wayside because it just couldn't capture how people were seeing their world.
DR: Exactly, it's the same thing because as much as it's actually great, [representation is] frozen. It's like music, the sound is dynamic, it's not frozen. Picasso and everybody tried the different forms, but in music you can hear a definite shift, and that's really freedom in the music. Everybody came to Charlie ParkerProkofiev and all the great composers would visit Birdland and check Charlie Parker out too. I was amazed at how all the old forms in classical music [were strong] and you had people like Prokofiev writing letters asking Charlie Parker how he played music. It's so basic, Charlie Parker was using the blues and the AABA forms, and the "I Got Rhythm" changes and he created so much out of that basic 12-bar blues and the American songbook. Classical music had access to this, but it was frozen in a way. Modern jazz is still going on, and we're just feeding the currents of it now. There are a few cats left around like myself, people who are in the current of it.
AAJ: As far as where contemporary music is going or has gone, I guess I feel that it's hard towell, I don't feel like there is as much vitality in it as there seemed to be.
DR: It's been diffused. Are you speaking culturally, or the music scene?
AAJ: I'm speaking aesthetically but it all goes hand in hand.
DR: Well, of course, the artistic world has been drainedfor what they are, the artists have devoted so much time and energy to it and there is no direct feedback from the populace. Now, in your generation, that's why I asked when you startedhere you are, young, and you're interested in the music and you're caught up in the currents of it, and you can feel the dynamic force is lacking. Is that what you're saying?
AAJ: Yeah, partly.
DR: A lot of it's been diffused from the society, there's no feedback for the artistic giver and creative forces. It's true, and that's why you get that feeling while you're alive.
AAJ: For me, I capture slices of things that I can't necessarily experience now in the flesh. I listen to a number of people who are gone now, and it's strange.
DR: It's like you've been reincarnated, huh? I don't know, sometimes I do think like I'm reincarnated. I used to walk around on Broadway and that was my beat, Birdland, and the music was dynamic and alive and it's funny looking back now. So many musicians were alive and you could walk on Broadway and meet guys from Hollywood, everybody. All over the streets you'd hear music, and it was a different thing. It was alive, and that's what's missing. If you didn't have that period, you can feel it and you know it's missing. I had it, and I knowI was a part of that as one of the last figures on Broadway, at 52nd and Broadway, some of the energy was still there. I haven't been but once in a while, and as a matter of fact I made a documentary about it. Here you come, and you didn't even experience that, and you can feel it's missing somewhere. Of course it's missing, as a lot of the younger players nowthey're great, but that slice is missing too.
AAJ: I'm not sure, but I feel it's accurate that the education system of the music, how it is passed down orally through the streets and whom you know, that it's lost in the academic situation where a lot of improvisers are coming out of music schools instead of The Music.
DR: That's why I'm talking about Broadwayyou're talking about the community aspect, and that's where the music is. It's from the community, and the community ejects out. It's good to have the academic education, but that's from another level. This is why the music's great, because it came from the people as a community, and now that's why I reference this period. They used to have jazz in the schools, and all of that's been taken out. It's running another way politically and socially, and your generation is lacking [community] now, and you can feel it because it's missing, and even if you don't know anything about it, you can tell that something is not there.
AAJ: Even, I suppose, like pop or rock music, when it was first coming out, it had this vitality to it. It seems like people have an esthetic or poetic apathy, where you hear music from that genre now, people are very blasé about it, rather than that this is something that needs to be done, a conviction in making even that sort of music. This is, I guess, why popular music
DR: It's an expression of the community, whether it's pop or rock or whatever.
AAJ: And if the community is blasé, then the music will follow it.
DR: The whole world is blasé, everything is blasé, and I've been through that in my life, and your generation has reaped the "benefits." That's why I'm interested in speaking to you, as it's now several decades from when I started, and here you are in the fruits of the music, and it has captured your imagination. I could have been talking to a veteran critic, but I'm interested in your angle. This is what you're dealing with now.
AAJ: It's funny too, because the AAJ-New York paper, most of the staff is under 40, and a lot between the ages of 25 and 35.
DR: That's interesting, and encouraging. That's why I'm interested in doing this, and I'm not into talking that much [laughs], but from my connection with the paper, I realize this and I'm encouraged. In this decade, you're still interested in this music, and I suppose that's part of it. I'm trying to capture the essence of it, and you're looking for the essence of it, but it's been diffused. Now it's mostly a microcosm, it's one and one.
AAJ: If you read an old Downbeat or something, you read the same thingthat bebop was diffusing the jazz that came before, and it's funny to me that a lot of critics thought it was negative.
DR: Well, of courseit was anti-everything. To break through into this Brave New World of Huxley, everything was changing, Picasso and Hemingway, it's all related to Charlie Parker and that period. A lot of people resisted, and they're still resisting it. It commands a different intelligence and it's another level of the body and mind. We can play as much free jazz and as much technicallysome of the cats are very technicalbut nobody plays faster than Charlie Parker today. Piano players, anybody innovative, they really captured it already. We're still trying to take it to another level, but it's already there. It's like heavenheaven is already there, but everybody's trying to get to heaven, and it's not a "New Thing," it's already there. So that modern jazz field with Bird, that new status with painters and the arts and everything, that's established. The classical periodall the fruits of technology that we've seen, high tech and everything, all that was expressed already in the musicand things to come, it's all here now. We're working around it and the music has really expressed that and it's still expressing it.
AAJ: If the music expressed it already, for me coming up in this period now, what the music foreshadowed I'm not sure I like.
DR: No, of course there is always the shadow and the substance. Technology is the reality, but then there is the soul. That's why we have to talk about soul. That's the other side of it. Of course you've got the material, but something else supports the material. This is what you're talking about, right? It's called spirit, it's called soul, whatever, that's the essence, and I call it the Essence. Of course you don't like [technology], because it's uncomfortable, it's the shadow of the real thing, and it's okay. It provides civilization and amenities, but it really doesn't add anything to your soul. It's still not comfortable, and really people are still not comfortable with high tech, but that's a part of nature. There it is, you deal with it, and you still have to deal with your soul.
AAJ: Technology is just a tool.
DR: Of course, but what you see is that it diffuses too, and it sucks your soul. With technology you have to pay a price, and you pay with your soul for technology as much as you allow it and can deal with it. Humanity pays such a pricewe spill so much blood for such a little. It's like squeezing an orangeyou get so little juice for all that squeezing. We put out all this high tech, but that's the way of humanity. So this is why the artists and people with a little soul are trying to create and the creative force is why we are here, to try and keep the balance. That balance of stuff is a big Nintendo game [AAJ and DR laugh] and if you want to play that game, you've got to look after your soul. That's why we have so many psychiatrists and everything. Everybody has a void, an inner void, and they are looking for substance, but high tech doesn't give you substance. We pay with our soul for that.
AAJ: It's so easy to get caught up with the convenience of things, too.
DR: It's a jungle, and that's what makes you grow, because you have to fight it like chopping away through the jungle. These things are set up for your muscles, mentally, and you have to situate your life just to get a little bit of shalom, peace, you got to get so much. But that's life, and you extract that from it, that's for your growth. That's why you're speaking with me now. Hopefully you try to extract what you canof course, there is the world and there is the individual. It's you against the world, and although each individual makes up the world, it's always the individual against the world.
AAJ: Right, because it's your experience of the world.
DR: Of course, this is why you have the resistance to musiclike you said, modern jazz diffused. Edgar Hoover, McCarthy, all the politics were against modern jazz. J. Edgar Hoover was against modern jazz musicians and [thought] they were communists, and if you had free thoughts, they threw you out. You've heard about McCarthy; it was all politics, and the music was a free sort of speaking and they tried to curtail it.
AAJ: I feel like I'm able to, for better or for worse, live through the exact same thing now with the political scene, although now it's not communists, but I guess even then it was a blanket term for intellectuals, like intellectualism is being shunned politically.
DR: It was always a fightit's not newthat's why artists have had to struggle with politics. It starts with oneself and one's family and community. It's always one against the community, when one is trying to take it to another level. What is an example of a leader? That's why you always have a leader, and now people are looking for leadership. That's gone from the intelligentsia, when you look at it, you've got a lot of academia and a lot of politics, but real spiritual leadership... using the term of intellectual leadership, of course, there's always a fight against that. The whole Bible story and everything is about that. It's about intelligence and leadership qualities on every level. It's lacking in many respects, and that's why there is a void and people are looking for spirituality. We're looking for ourselves and what one can fill oneself with. So, this is what I deal with in music, this is our callingfor me personally and my community. Nobody is an island; we live together and it all reflects upon one another. I was always a community person, and that's why I like to talk about my lifestyle in New York since I've lived there (I've been an American citizen for about forty years, ever since I've been here).
The musicwell there were so many other bad things that went down politically, racism, everything in trying to build a civilized society, but the music was always telling the story, and telling it truthfully as it came, raw. The music was always raw, it's expressing life as it was and politically [people] couldn't deal with that. There's always a resistance that gets us through modern jazz and modern music, and it's still being resisted. That's why it's been pulled out of the political system, out of the schools and the educational system.
AAJ: Pulled off the radio...
DR: Everything, of course, it's like the conscious has been pulled out of the consciousness, the society, the community, and the world at large. So this is what we get. Did you grow up with the Voice of America?
AAJ: No, I didn't.
DR: Willis Conover was the host. That was the biggest propaganda machine America had during the so-called Cold War with Russia, the big voice. It was the voice of jazz, and everybody was played, and it won over a lot of people from the so-called Eastern Bloc. It was the biggest tool, and it was greatthe voice of jazz was the voice of America.
AAJ: I've been reading about jazz in East Germany and Eastern Europe lately, and it's very interesting.
DR: Jazz was always the crusading voice, and it's a cry. All of humanity has that blues cry, so America was chosen for the modern world, and this is the modern form of the blues. We've got the modern intelligence, which goes back to Charlie Parker as far as I'm concerned. The interest and intelligence is incredible, really, the constructionyou can dissect it and analyze it and check it outit's everything.
AAJ: In the past several years I've been really curious about the European improvisers, and where they are coming from in their contribution to the music, and I get the feeling that London at the time you were living there in the '50s didn't really have it for you musically.
DR: No, jazz has been in Europe for a long time. When I started to research it, I found that jazz musicians had been going to Europe for a thousand years. Seriously, during the time of Beethoven and in Vienna, they used to use black musicians from America. One composer named Hightower, I think, was a composer who was African-American. He and Beethoven used to hang out in the cafés, and he used to write music for Beethoven. They were like the jazz cats then, this is known and you can research it. Black musicians and jazz have been going for thousands of years, seriously, the troubadours up from Africa came all the way down through the classical period. There was a lot of input from Spain, from Italian composers mixed with the Germans, it's all a mix. Rome was the New York of that timeeverything met there, all the influences. New York is the modern world, and the music as far as I'm concerned really reflects that. Modern jazz in Europe is old, and in Japanthey've had jazz in Japan since the '20s, and maybe you'd have someone going into a little fishing village or a hamlet in Japan playing jazz in the 1800s. It's been going on quite a while, and people talk now about expatriates as a modern thing, and Black musicians have been going [there forever]it's a big mix. This was always a big thing, Germans had propaganda against jazz. You should read about Berlin, where it was taboo, and it was the voice.
So that takes things right up to Now, this moment in time, and they're still resisting. Coltrane is one thing; Trane brought it to a period [where he] excited a religious fervor, if you want to take it in that step. But they were ready for that, and yet Charlie Parker and the intelligenceif you want to get right to the nitty-gritty, from the McShann band, and when I say Charlie Parker, I'm involving the whole retinue of the innovators. You can start with Earl Hines and Louis Armstrong, and the whole pantheon, but Bird brings it right up to now. He was in rapport with all the painters, everybody, and I've been through that period as well. I used to sit with all the painters in Paris in the '50s, and the new scene in Paris with the revolution. There was a revolution in Jamaica, tooyou read all of that, right? I was in Paris and used to sit with all the revolutionaries, North Africa, the violenceI was in the middle of all that stuff, twice. At St. Germaine with the students and the violence, and in New York with Woodstock, all of it.
AAJ: You were in Paris in the late '60s, after the Left Bank, right?
DR: I went through all of thatthere were reports from the news, and I was there with the cats. That was the revolution, race riots in Paris, taking it right up to Now. I came to New York to see what was happening and put it together in a total package, and it's quite interesting and deep, but it's interesting to converse with you and your generation about what went down before.
Everything has pretty much diffused, and that's why I tell you it's a micro-macro, a one-on-one, you got a reservoir to draw from and you might get a little bit from me and people who still have some essence. That's why everybody is still reading and looking and I've been through all of that. I've read something like thirty thousand books, and I used to read voraciously. When I was in London and when I was a boy, I used to read all the heavy booksmy mother put the first metaphysical books in my hand. I've been reading on flying saucers and everything, I read on everything that needs to be read.
AAJ: And you've written a number of tomes, too, right?
DR: I've got a trunk full of writings, the real stuff on jazz and what it is. It started in Louisiana, but my stuff goes way back to the cosmos and the essence of the soul, what it is. I suppose everybody knows this innately, we all know this, but my level of imagination started when I was very young, and I got aware of this and did a lot of reading. I read everythingall the poets, the English poets, Byron, Keats, Shakespeare, I used to read them in school. I read everything, from UFOs to right now, and that's what it takes, spending hours reading. I've been through the philosophies and everything, the Vedas, the Upanishads, all the Indian religions, the African religions, the Scandinavians [Swedenborg], everything, and I've come full circle on what it is and what it takes. Coming back to the reality of America, it all accumulated in the New World. That's why we're here and why you were born and are into it, and it's the New World. That was always my outlook and that's why I appreciate it, and that's why New Yorkevery city I've lived, I was brought up in Jamaica and I lived in Kingston, right downtown in the middle of the metropolitan area and that community, and when I went to England and London it was the same thing. Paris, New York, I was always downtown. It was the city, it was dynamic, and I'm always right there. I ended up in New York, and it's the finishing school for everything, from every part of the globe.
AAJ: And it still is...
DR: In a way, of course. That's the full gamut and the essence of what I have accumulated. class="f-right"> Return to Index...