Rita Reys - since 1960 officially Europe's First Lady of Jazz- has been a professional performer for more than six decades. Even today, this jazz diva still knows how to charm audiences with her famously unique timing, legendary swing and fabulous performance.
HER EARLY YEARS Maria Everdina Reys was born on 21 December 1924 in Rotterdam, in an artistic family: her father was a violin player and conductor, her mother a dancer. At home, there was virtually no jazz music. Her parents preferred light classical music instead, so Rita grew up with the sounds of Tchaikovsky and Chopin. But the singing was already in her blood: As a teenager, Rita entered many local talent competitions and won them all.
RITA MEETS JAZZ In 1943, Rita met her first husband, jazz drummer Wessel Ilcken, who introduced her into the jazz scene. Rita Reys & the Wessel Ilcken Sextet, featuring Jerry van Rooijen (trumpet) and Toon van Vliet (tenor sax), regularly performed at the Sheherezade jazz club in Amsterdam and other Dutch stages. In the following years, Rita and Wessel also went on to perform in other parts of Europe; they performed with Ted Powder in Belgium and Luxemburg in 1945 and 1946 and toured Spain and North Africa with the Piet van Dijk orchestra between 1947 and 1950.
In 1950 Rita and Wessel founded their own combo, the Rita Reys Sextet, with which they would celebrate many successes in the following years, both in The Netherlands and in other European countries. Their first concert was on April 1st that of that year, in the Amsterdam Palace club. But most of the time the sextet performed outside of Holland. In England they played on American army bases and in several dance clubs, where Rita met people like Ronnie Scott, who later founded Ronnie Scott's jazz club in London. A picture of them was published in music magazine Melody Maker. A newspaper in Edinburgh (Scotland) wrote: "Rita Gives Swing Fans A Dutch Treat". In 1953 Rita and Wessel resided in Stockholm (Sweden) for half a year, which was the jazz centre of Europe in those days. It was there that Rita made her first recordings, for the Swedish record label Artist. On 2 March 1953, the couple recorded their first tracks with the saxophone player Lars Gullin. Six months later, they returned to the studio with the Ove Lind sextet. Rita and Wessel also attended some recording sessions Quincy Jones was doing with Lars Gullin, Clifford Brown, and Art Farmer for the Artist label, and it was in Stockholm where Rita met people like Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Oscar Peterson and Lester Young for the first time.