Jazz bassist Reid discusses dynamic career

Photo provided by Wlodzimierz Batog

Jazz legend Rufus Reid performed in Sheldon Hall’s Ballroom for a faculty concert Wednesday night. Ke-Nekt Chamber Music Series sponsored the event.

Reid is a bassist, composer and educator known for his prolific body of work and stature career in music. His professional career began in Chicago during the early 1970s and led him to play with numerous “jazz giants” including Dexter Gordon, Thad Jones and Stan Getz. Wednesday’s performance included faculty members Trevor Jorgensen (saxophone), Robert Auler (piano) and Eric Schmitz (drums). Schmitz played a major role in inviting Reid to Oswego State with the help of Jorgensen and Mary Avrakotos who helped coordinate the event through ARTSwego. Reid was happy to share his experience and music career earlier that day at an “informance” in Tyler Hall.


Avery: Do you consider yourself a jazz purist or do you evolve with musical trends?

Rufus Reid: Yes. All of the above. Purist, I don’t particularly like that word. I’m an acoustic player. I do play electrically, but I predominantly play music with the acoustic concept. Although, I’ve played [what others would call] pop. For instance, I’ve recorded jazz [tunes from] Sting’s compositions, just because it’s a nice melody and has some nice changes to it. It was written by someone who is considered pop, but he is more than that, he is a great musician, period. I think the more correct thing to say is that if it sounds good to me I’ll play it. A purist is one who I believe feels that he or she are playing the ultimate of all music, and I think that is absurd.

Avery: You have played with many “jazz giants;” how has this influenced your personal music career?

Reid: Well it has influenced me greatly. Probably the most influential person of my career is Eddie Harris. He is a great [tenor] saxophone player, musician, composer and businessman. He is the one who actually encouraged me to write my book. But he had a work ethic; he was always prepared. It was always special to be around him, and he was always very demanding. Thad Jones and Mel Lewis were very influential in terms of being around people that were in big bands and composition wise, were incredible. I have had the great fortune of playing with people like J.J. Johnson, who is a great composer and arranger, and [James] Heath and [Robert] Brookmeyer, who just passed. These are all great people who have guided me and left a serious legacy for me to uphold. I’ve definitely taken away a lot from them and they’ve become a part of my makeup, for sure.

Avery: Discuss your current contribution as an educator and teacher.

Reid: You witnessed how difficult it is to come into a classroom you don’t know where there’s a myriad of people and different skill levels and to come in and engage in a certain way. Educational wise, my career has blossomed together. I used to be a director of jazz studies and performance at William Patterson University in New Jersey. I was the director for that program for 20 years. Education has been a huge part of my career as much as being a musician, [including writing a book]. To me now, it’s inseparable. I have a lot of satisfaction in doing what I do. If you’re inquisitive and your passion is to learn I’m willing to help them.

Avery: Tell me a little bit about your book.

Reid: Well the bass book is called “The Evolving Bassist.” It’s basically a method book on how to play in a jazz concept. Years ago there was no book that addressed this. [Most] were coming from the European classical concepts on how to play the bass. Most players that wanted to play jazz wouldn’t touch those books; they didn’t want those books. So, my book is a method of thought process and what I thought was needed; just the basic stuff that is needed. [This includes] being familiar with the piano and understanding harmony. I go through a series of different things like recordings. But it’s not stylized, it has been on the market since 1974. That is the most important thing, because when you put out something as a fad, just for the moment, by the time it gets to your hands that recording is old. I didn’t want that, I wanted something that would last.

Avery: Despite its many years of existence, jazz has remained a genre that is removed from mainstream popular culture. How does this play a part in what is currently happening in the modern jazz scene?

Reid: At one time it was popular music. People flocked to concert halls and filled the dance floors. But, believe it or not, more and more people are learning that it has never been as popular in the sense of rock n’ roll. Even though it’s not as popular as it used to be, it’s more popular than you think. I think the music is being revered greatly by a lot of young people. I never thought about being famous, but we’re in a society that thinks you’re not very good if you’re not making a lot of money. And most people who make a lot of money aren’t necessarily happy people. I think if you’re good and love what you do, then that’s where you should go.

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