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Jazz At The Joint: Nat Reeves

Jazz At The Joint: Nat Reeves

Courtesy Frank Poulin


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Nat Reeves
Jazz At The Joint
North Little Rock, AR
April 11, 2021

The April 2022 edition of Ted Ludwig's "Jazz At The Joint" welcomed Hartford, Connecticut-centered bassist Nat Reeves to The Joint's stage in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Reeves has spent the last 40 years performing and recording with the likes of Jim Snidero, Harold Mabern, Steve Davis, Eric Alexander, Joe Farnsworth. These are just some of the contemporary guys with whom Reeves has played. Add the earlier artists like Jackie McLean, Benny Golson, Donald Byrd, Art Taylor, Mulgrew Miller, Kenny Kirkland, Walter Davis, Walter Bishop, Jr., Larry Willis, and Kenny Drew. He has even worked with Little Rock's own Pharoah Sanders, taking Reeves' bona fides platinum.

In 1982, Reeves met alto saxophonist Jackie McLean who would become his mentor. Reeves performed with McLean from 1987 to 2004. He also worked with McLean at the Hartt School at the University of Hartford, where McLean had established the African American Music Department (now the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz). In addition to recording and touring, this is where Reeves instructed students in the art of jazz.

Having recently retired, the bassist returned to live performance, adding this one at the behest of Ted Ludwig. Joining Reeves and Ludwig was Memphis alto saxophonist Michael Shults and Ludwig's long-time associate, Brian Brown, on drums. From the introductions, these festivities were to be elegant, polite, and impeccably dressed, mirroring the guest leader himself. Soft-spoken and urbane, Reeves introduced himself and it was immediately apparent that we were attending a master's seminar in jazz performance and that the teacher was there to teach.

Ted Ludwig has a knack for developing provocative and challenging programs typically worked up shortly in advance with the visiting artist. One can always expect the inclusion of standards from the Great American Songbook and we were not disappointed. But before that, the show started with a jazz standard, Duke Pearson's "Jeannine," which provided the necessary momentum to heat the pistons on the performance. "East Of The Sun" provided a full group exposition while "Mean To Me" was a Reeves feature, where the bassist showed off his technical and melodic talents. A striking "I Can't Get Started" led to a brief intermission.

The final section of the show presented the popular tune, "Sunny," an exciting surprise cleverly programmed into the performance. Spirited and artful, the quartet played with exuberance and joy. The show concluded with a ballad-bebop diptych of Cole Porter's "I Love You," pushed against Charlie Parker's "Segment."

In this show, Reeves brought some suggestions to the discussion that challenged Ludwig (as he admitted). These included Reeves's long-time collaborator, alto saxophonist Kenny Garrett's "Chief Blackwater" which found its way into the recital, in the second half. This choice enabled all of the musicians to move beyond the "standard" form into something less predictable and more thrilling. Shults, who played with inspiration all evening was at his most galvanized here, as was Ludwig to accept the challenge and rise to the occasion. Reeves directed the piece with authority and aplomb. Reeves' deep humility, knowledge, and dedication to jazz added quiet scintillation to the evening, complementing all of the musicians.


Jeannine (Duke Pearson); East Of The Sun (and West Of The Moon) (Brooks Bowman); Mean To Me (Fred E. Ahlert / Roy Turk); Question and answer with the band; I Can't Get Started (Vernon Duke / Ira Gershwin); Intermission; Sunny (Bobby Hebb); Chief Black Water {Kenny Garrett); I Love You (Cole Porter); Segment (Charlie Parker).


Featured Artist: Nat Reeves: bass; Michael Shults: alto saxophone; Ted Ludwig: guitar; Brian Brown: drums.

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