Dizzy Reece‘s 85th birthday was yesterday. Alphonso Son Reece was born in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 5, 1931, and after attending a school renowned for its strong music curriculum, he moved to London in 1948. From there he established himself as a leading hard bop trumpeter who recorded with the English jazz greats Tubby Hayes and Victor Feldman, and during extended periods in Paris in the mid-fifties, he played with the American expatriates Kenny Clarke and Don Byas. With encouragement from Donald Byrd and Art Taylor, both of whom appeared on his 1958 album, Blues in Trinity, he moved to New York in 1959 and recorded several critically acclaimed albums for Blue Note and Prestige over the next few years.
Like the hard bop idiom he exemplified, Reece struggled to maintain visibility and a productive career in the sixties, and he fell into long periods of inactivity and obscurity. But he remained in New York, and in 1979, with support from the Mayor’s Office and the jazz ministry at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, he mounted the NYC Jazz Festival, which ran for a few years at the CitiCorp Center on Lexington Avenue. That’s where I first saw Reece working in the company of other unsung jazz greats whom I often saw around the city at the time: pianist Albert Dailey, bassist Calvin Hill, drummer Michael Carvin, and saxophonists Harold Vick and Charles Davis. (Davis died last July). They’re all on view in this grainy footage, and so are the emcees Phil Schaap and the Rev. John Gensel.
Nate Chinen reported here for the New York Times on one of Reece’s rare, later appearances in New York when he played a concert at the Rubin Museum in 2007.