One year ago, against all odds, singer Ed Reed made his recording debut at the age of 78. The CD, Ed Reed Sings Love Stories," released on his own Blue Shorts label, was called transporting" (Jazz Times) and ravishing... the performance of a lifetime" (Stereophile); it evokes feelings only attainable by someone who has really lived, and can live to tell about it" (All About Jazz).
Reed's personal story--a decades-long struggle with heroin addiction, punctuated by prison stints; a hard-earned sobriety, culminating in the fulfillment of his early musical promise--made the mere existence of the CD a sweet, unlikely triumph. But response to his music from critics, promoters, and audiences alike encouraged the singer to waste no time in returning to the studio.
Last October, immediately following his New York club debut, Reed recorded a worthy follow-up with producer and multi-instrumentalist Peck Allmond. The new album, entitled The Song Is You," is due out May 20, once again on Blue Shorts Records.
I never saw this coming," Reed says of his burgeoning career. I had no idea, in my wildest imaginings, that my dreams would come true."
Ed Reed is up to the challenge of happy endings and new beginnings. He and producer Allmond, who'd first heard Reed sing at JazzCamp West in 2005 and convinced him that he needed to record, put together a simpatico band (pianist Gary Fisher, guitarist Jamie Fox, violinist Russell George, bassist Doug Weiss, drummer Willard Dyson) and the kind of sophisticated repertoire--by Ellington, Rodgers, Kern, Arlen, and Carmichael--that Reed favors. Among the CD's highlights are two duets with Fox, Here's to Life" and I'm Through with Love"; a jaunty arrangement of Where or When," which includes the rarely-performed verse used as a tag; and the buoyant title track. Because I sing so many slow songs, musicians always say, 'Let's speed it up a bit,'" Reed explains. We did it with 'The Song Is You,' and it works."
Ed Reed, who was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1929 and grew up in Los Angeles, was introduced to Charlie Parker on record in 1944, and later heard Parker and Dizzy Gillespie at a Hollywood club. He started singing around town on amateur nights at the Lincoln Theater and later in talent nights hosted by pianist Hampton Hawes at the Club Alabam and other venues.
At 17, Reed joined the army and, while stationed at Oakland Army Base, began using heroin. Between 1951 and 1966, he did three stints in San Quentin Prison and one in Folsom. During his last incarceration at San Quentin (1964-1966), he sang in the Warden's Band, with Art Pepper in the saxophone section. Art soloed on all the things that I sang," Reed recalls. We were friends."
Reed was released from prison for the final time in 1966, though it would be another 20 years before he finally quit using heroin. He now works as a health educator, trainer, and program planner at a major medical Bay Area HMO and other health agencies, helping people connect with themselves."
Ed Reed began singing in public again in the late 1980s at Bay Area venues with guitarist Alex Markels. He took singing performance classes at Berkeley's Jazzschool; later, he landed a weekly (still-ongoing) gig at the Cheese Board Pizza Collective, also in Berkeley. In summer 2005, at his wife Diane's suggestion, Reed attended JazzCamp West, where he met Peck Allmond.
The singer returns to the Jazz Standard in New York 7/22, and makes his first appearance in Boston 7/23, at Scullers. Bay Area dates include Sonoma Jazz+ Fest, 5/25; Jazz at the Aquarium, Monterey, 6/7; SFJAZZ, Stanford Shopping Center, 6/12; and Yoshi's Oakland, 8/25.
Reed admits to missing the relative anonymity of his life before becoming a recording artist. There's a lot of literature about fame and how it's like the birds come and pick you to pieces," he explains. Some people have changed towards me. I don't think I have.
It ain't about me," he says of his newfound singing career. It's about the gift. And the gift is to be shared or it'll kill you. I believe that."
This story appears courtesy of Terri Hinte.
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