Whenever problems arise, it’s always helpful to remember that we’re not alone. On his new album, Everybody Gets the Blues, pianist Eric Reed draws strength from his mentors and heroes, the celebrated and the unsung, in order to face down struggles both personal and global. The album finds Reed reaching back into his roots in the church to find a singular way forward.
Due out April 12 via Smoke Sessions Records, Everybody Gets the Blues digs deep into personal emotions to expose universal truths, discovering a few unexpected connections along the way. Whether bridging the generations between Cedar Walton and Stevie Wonder or inventing a fresh take on such a familiar favorite as Freddie Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” Reed finds the inspiration to move forward by following the paths forged by those who’ve come before.
“I always look for answers in the past,” Reed says. “What is there in history that I can draw from? Who else has gone through what I’m going through? Who has felt what I’m feeling? That helps me to answer the questions that I have in life right now.”
For Reed, “the past” inevitably leads back to the church, and to gospel music. It was the sound that he first heard and first played, and was at the core of his earliest love of jazz. “When I first started playing jazz as a child, my fascination with the music of Horace Silver, Ramsey Lewis, or Dave Brubeck resonated with what I heard growing up in church, listening to piano players like James Cleveland and Herbert Picard and Curtis Dublin. I said, ‘Wait a minute, this doesn't sound like the stuff I play in church, but it’s very closely connected. What’s going on here?’”
In recent years, however, Reed has found himself at a personal and professional crossroads, realizing that he’d deviated from those roots. On Everyone Gets the Blues, he reorients himself along the right path, rediscovering the gospel lifeblood that fuels his jazz passion.
A native of Philadelphia, Reed began playing piano in the storefront Baptist church where his father sang and preached. His parents encouraged his gift, signing him up for private piano lessons. After relocating to the Los Angeles suburbs with his family, Reed studied at the Community School of Performing Arts (now The Colburn School), where his talents were recognized by no less an authority than Wynton Marsalis, who later enlisted Reed for the piano chair in his Septet.
Beginning in 1990, Reed spent the better part of two decades in New York City, where he became a regular at the legendary club Bradley’s and had the opportunity to learn at the side of many of the music’s pioneering figures. At the same time, he was swept up in the tide of the Young Lions movement, garnering a reputation as a strict hard-bop traditionalist that became an increasingly uncomfortable fit.
“For too many years I ignored my own instincts,” the pianist says. “I started out playing different kinds of music with all different kinds of people, but I took a detour. This record is a turning point; it’s finally time to start doing what it is that I want to do.”
To realize that goal, Reed has assembled a stellar group of musicians who share his rejuvenated, wide-ranging vision, as well as his gospel bent. Both saxophonist Tim Green and drummer McClenty Hunter share his religious roots, while bassist Mike Gurrola has deep roots instilled by the inspiration of Ray Brown and his apprenticeship under John Clayton.
Everybody Gets the Blues opens with the title track, a deeply felt original that finds comfort in the fact that whatever we’re going through, others have faced a similar darkness before. Taken from a slightly different perspective, it also provides an invitation: if everybody “gets” the blues, here’s a warm example to welcome listeners into the communal emotions of the album.
The spirit of the last piano legend Cedar Walton looms large over the album, beginning with Reed’s tribute, “Cedar Waltzin’,” which finally bursts into the hopeful strains of Stevie Wonder’s classic “Don’t You Worry ‘bout a Thing.” Walton is also represented by his own composition, “Martha’s Prize,” as well as Reed’s new arrangement of “Up Jumped Spring,” which featured Walton on its first known recording, on Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers’ 1962 album 3 Blind Mice.
Freddie Hubbard was also a direct mentor, though Reed’s take on “Up Jumped Spring” was a personal challenge, a successful attempt to offer a fresh new take on a tune that’s become almost ubiquitous. “It’s become one of those songs, like ‘The Days of Wine and Roses’ or ‘Take the A Train’, that were great songs when they were first written and they’re great songs dozens of years later, but they’ve become kind of hackneyed.”
John Coltrane’s “Naima” finds Reed taking more risks, approaching the ballad on Fender Rhodes and reharmonizing the tune – an approach, he realizes, that purists might see as sacrilege. “It’s the kind of thing that I always felt oppressed by in my 20s,” he says.
Both “Naima” and “Martha’s Prize” pay homage to their composers’ then-wives, another aspect that Reed wanted to recognize: the under-sung support system provided by musicians’ families. “Naima essentially saved John Coltrane’s life. They got married young, Coltrane was struggling with substance abuse and was spiritually searching, and she gave him stability. I enjoy celebrating and honoring people who might be forgotten.”
Reed takes an elegant solo turn that begins with The Beatles’ “Yesterday,” then invites the rhythm section in as the song transforms into Jerome Kern and Otto Harbach’s standard “Yesterdays” – a connection that is far more emotionally profound than simple wordplay. On a pair of originals, Reed pays one more act of homage on the tender “Dear Bud,” then offers a ray of hope on “New Morning.” The album ends with a robust romp through James Williams’ “Road Life.”
Through a range of moods and styles, Eric Reed recognizes that Everybody Gets the Blues, offering a spirited act of communion for those wanting to commiserate and a vigorous set of swing for those who’ve come out the other side.
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- AVAILABLE NOW: Eric Reed’s “Everybody Gets the Blues” - Available Now on Smoke Sessions Records Eric Reed Finds Solace in Shared Experience on Everybody Gets the Blues, Reimagining the Music of Cedar Walton, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, John Coltrane and Freddie Hubbard Veteran Pianist Reaches New Heights in his Lifelong Pursuit to Revitalize the Gospel Roots Intrinsic to Jazz Whenever problems arise, it’s always…
- Eric Reed | “Everybody Gets the Blues” | Available April 12 via Smoke Sessions Records - Eric Reed Finds Solace in Shared Experience on Everybody Gets the Blues, Reimagining the Music of Cedar Walton, Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, John Coltrane and Freddie Hubbard Due out April 12 on Smoke Sessions Records, the Veteran Pianist Reaches New Heights in his Lifelong Pursuit to Revitalize the Gospel Roots Intrinsic to Jazz New York…