Rufus Reid

Rufus Reid is an extremely important but under-recognized figure in modern jazz. He’s always been someone who’s had one foot in the mainstream and one in the avant-garde — he did a lot of work with soul jazz and jazz-funk saxophonist Eddie Harris in the early 1970s, before joining Dexter Gordon’s band when Gordon made his famous US comeback after years in Europe. He was also part of Andrew Hill’s band in the late ’80s, and has done a ton of straightahead records. But he was also a member of Jack DeJohnette’s Special Edition in the early ’80s, and he was one of the four bassists on Henry Threadgill’s X-75 album, and he played on Muhal Richard AbramsThings To Come From Those Now Gone, and he played with Anthony Braxton on the two Seven Standards 1985 albums with Hank Jones on piano and Victor Lewis on drums. He was also a member of the World Bass Violin Ensemble, which was a group of six bassists that made an album for Black Saint in 1984. 

Reid has also done a lot of work as a leader. He’s made a string of albums in collaboration with drummer Akira Tana and various other musicians; he’s done bass duo albums with Michael Moore; and he’s led the Out Front trio with pianist Steve Allee and drummer Duduka Da Fonseca. In 2014, he released Quiet Pride: the Elizabeth Catlett Project, an album that featured a total of 19 instrumentalists and a singer all paying tribute to a sculptor whose work focused on the Black female experience in America. Reid is also an educator and the author of The Evolving Bassist, a book originally published in 1974 that’s still a standard text for bassists. 

In this interview, we talk about Reid’s work with Eddie Harris, with Dexter Gordon, with Henry Threadgill, and with his own ensembles. We talk about a six-CD set he made with Frank Kimbrough a few years ago, recording all of Thelonious Monk’s compositions. We talk about his approach to the instrument, his influences, and about his new album, which is a duo collaboration with pianist Sullivan Fortner. This was a really enjoyable and informative conversation, and I think you’ll come away from it with a new or perhaps a renewed appreciation for someone who’s been a major figure in jazz for 50 years and isn’t stopping yet.