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  • Ed Reed (2009)

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    (Photo by (Photograph by Ashley Summer))

    "Uplifting" isn't the sort of description usually applied to the biography of a jazz musician, but it's apposite in the case of vocalist Ed Reed.

    Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1929, Ed Reed grew up in Watts, California. The music scene there wasn't just for adults: Ed was in high-school talent shows with "Little Esther" Phillips and Bobby Nunn of The Coasters, and his schools were visited several times by his first influence, Nat Cole, whom Ed describes as "so tall ... his clothes were just gorgeous". Talk to Ed about his time in Los Angeles, and he'll quite casually mention a litany of famous jazz names: Charles Mingus, Dexter Gordon, Frank Butler, Hampton Hawes, Ornette Coleman, Frank Morgan, ...

    Leaving high school before graduation, Ed joined the Army, and it was there that he became addicted to heroin. As he says now, "I knew it was crazy from the outset, from the first time: from the first drink and the first fix, I thought 'this is the stupidest thing anybody could do'": that's why it's called "addiction".

    The main result was that Ed served four stints in San Quentin and Folsom prisons on drug-related charges, but, unlike Hampton Hawes, he was not pardoned by President Kennedy. While behind bars, Ed occasionally performed with Art Pepper (the great alto saxophonist the story of whose self-destructive life is far from "uplifting"), and Ed attributes his very survival of those years to his love of jazz.

    After 40 years in a cycle of drug addiction, arrest, incarceration and release, Ed finally got his life turned around: he encountered and persevered with a program of drug and alcohol recovery, one which led to the "day job" he loves. He has created a successful health education lecture series he calls "The Art and Practice of Living Well". As he asks his students, "What are you trying to do with this experience we call living? What's your intention for this next moment? If you were the person you want to be, who is that?"

    At age 78, when most people are long retired and when most addicts--and even ex-addicts--are long dead, Ed made his first recording, "Ed Reed Sings Love Stories", something which came about thanks to the efforts of Peck Allmond and Bud Spangler. "The Song Is You" followed the following year, and, at the age of 80, Ed has a third in the works.

    Ed Reed has a great voice, and a great--even uplifting--story.

    Pick Artist Album Song Label
    # 1 Joe Turner with Art Tatum The Best of Joe Turner: The Boss of the Blues Wee Baby Blues (Blues Forever)
    # 2 Sarah Vaughan The Divine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years 1949-1953 You Taught Me to Love Again (Columbia)
    # 3 Charlie Parker April in Paris Embraceable You (Pazzazz)
    # 4 J.S. Bach Mstislav Rostropovich Cello Suites Nos 1-6 Suite No. 1 in G major, BWV 1007 (EMI Classics)
    # 5 Bill Evans You Must Believe in Spring You Must Believe in Spring (Warner Bros)
    # 6 Johnny Hodges Passion Flower 1940-46 Passion Flower (Bluebird)
    # 7 The Beatles Abbey Road She Came in through the Bathroom Window (EMI)
    # 8 Miles Davis The Complete Concert: 1964 (My Funny Valentine and "Four" & More) My Funny Valentine (Columbia)
    Book Paramhansa Yogananda, "Autobiography of a Yogi"
    Luxury Item "Mingus and Chuy, my cats"
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