Sometimes life can beat you down. Some times it can beat you up. Life can say to a young man, “Step back into this alley, I got somethin’ for ya.” And sometimes we are just dumb enough to do it. That was Ed Reed’s life through a good part of the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Born in Cleveland and raised in L.A., he fell in love with jazz he heard on the radio. He started singing with the teenage brother of his neighbor, Vivian. That brother was Charlie Mingus, the legendary bass player. Drafted into the army, he developed a heroin habit that got him discharged. Returning to L.A., where he tried to cleanup his act and develop a singing career. But the heroin had other ideas. Ideas that saw him spend three sentences in San Quentin throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s.
Despite that, he managed to hold on to singing jazz. While in prison, he played for the Warden’s Band and met jazz giant Art Pepper. By ‘86 he was clean, and by the ‘90s he finally started that career. Finally, at the age of 78, just four years ago, he recorded his first album. That album, The Song Is You was critically acclaimed and garnered comparisons to Nat King Cole, Bill Henderson, and the ethereal tenderness of Jimmy Scott mixed with the savoir faire of Bobby Short.
That lead to touring opportunities which landed him in Bern, Switzerland in 2009 with a five night run at Marians Jazzroom where for the first time he played with pianist Randy Porter, bassist Robb Fisher and drummer, Akira Tana all at one time. But it didn’t sound like it. Together they were tight. There was a symbiosis that lead them to make this album. They added saxophonist Anton Schwartz for the California Bay Area sessions, and a masterpiece of jazz vocals was born with the blues.
As Reed says, “I believe that everybody is born to be blue. So many of us hold onto our sadness, but we need to shout about it, sing about it, so that we can let go of it.”
The album is full of sad songs or songs with a blue bent. In addition to the opening tune, Old Country (checkout the video) which along with track ten, Never Kiss and Run are most associated with Bill Henderson, there’s the title track, made famous by “The Velvet Fog” Mel Torme. There is also Monk’s Dream, which Jon Henderson wrote with Monk. Then, there is the Sinatra tunes, End Of A Love Affair and How Am I To Know.
One of my favorites is Abby Lincoln’s Throw Away. Bobby Troup’s Your Looking At Me and Blossom Dearie’s Inside A Tear.
A true jazz singer, with a strong voice, despite the years. You’ll find that Reed uses the space in the arrangements like another instrument. His phrasing is impeccable. he takes a simple narrative lyric and turns it into a journey through a life that was Born to Be Blue.
It took awhile, but Ed Reed made it out of that alley and in four short years has caught the attention of the jazz world.
Copyright © 2012 Robert Carraher All Rights Reserved