The Other “Dizzy”

The Other “Dizzy”

Blues in Trinity - his first Blue Note Album

You can’t have a conversation about the great trumpet players in jazz without the name Dizzy coming into the discussion.  Naturally, when that name is used, almost everyone will automatically assume that you’re referring to the great John Birks Gillespie.  Granted, Gillespie deserves that type of response and respect.  He was one of jazz’s truly transcendent figures; a rare jazz musician whose reach extended beyond the pages of Downbeat and into the pantheon of popular American culture. 

So while Birks inarguably belongs on the Mount Rushmore of jazz, I would like to pull your coat about a cat who should at least cause a few people to say “which one”, when we speak of a trumpet player called “Dizzy”. That cat is Alphonso Son Reece.  The son of a silent films pianist, “Dizzy” Reece was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1931.  Contrary to what you might expect, he did not get his moniker because of any similarity between himself and Birks, but his family, who noticed, as a small boy, his penchant for wandering the dangerous streets of Kingston late at night, getting into precarious situations, bestowed it upon him. 

Eventually, in an attempt to keep him out of trouble, young Alphonso was sent to Alpha Boys School, a learning institution in Kingston, run by Catholic Nuns.  Established as a school for wayward boys, Alpha developed a reputation for discipline and for turning out some fine musical talent.  In addition to Reece, its’ alumni include four members of the famed Skatalites and some of the musicians credited with developing what we now know as Reggae. Reece’s first instrument was the baritone horn; and at age 14, he switched to the trumpet.  In 1947, Reece’s mother placed him on a ship bound for England, hoping that there would be better musical opportunities for her son on the European jazz scene.  She was right. Reece worked regularly in London, Paris, Germany and Holland. He became known as much for his blistering trumpet solos as for his at times, difficult personality.  He would receive rave reviews for his playing, while being simultaneously being called such things as “the enfant terrible of British jazz”.

But this is jazz, not charm school. So while Dizzy’s exacting temperament may have occasionally ticked off a few writers and band members along the way, it did not stop him from getting the attention of visiting American jazz stars, such as Sonny Rollins, Thad Jones, Kenny Clarke and Miles Davis.  Miles was among the most vocal, telling famed writer Nat Hentoff about Reece, “there’s a great trumpeter over in England, a guy who’s got soul and originality and, above all, who’s not afraid to blow with fire”.

There was quite a bit of buzz in the jazz world about young Mr. Reece, which led to Blue Note records founder, Alfred Lion, reaching out to British jazz producer Tony Hall and asking him to produce Dizzy’s first American date, for Blue Note Records, in 1958. The resulting album, Blues in Trinity, was an auspicious debut.  It was recorded in London, with more of an international flavor than one would generally find in Blue Notes of this period.  Dizzy’s sidemen were British jazz stars Tubby Hayes on tenor and Terry Shannon on piano, Canadian bassist Lloyd Thompson and visiting Americans Art Taylor on drums and Donald Byrd as a second trumpet.  The music is high quality hard bop, typical for the period.  The eight tracks include six Reece originals, which also show off his solid writing skills.  In the liner notes, producer Hall raved, “[Dizzy Reece] is a musician of sincerity and originality, who should go to America as soon as possible. I’m convinced that in the New York environment, he could easily become one of the world’s great jazz trumpeters.”

Lion was impressed enough with Blues in Trinity, to ask Reece to come to New York, which he did.  Two more Blue Note dates soon followed: Star Bright, with Hank Mobley, Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers; and Soundin’ Off with Walter Bishop and Doug Watkins.  A final set of tunes were recorded for Blue Note in 1960, with Stanley Turrentine, Bobby Timmons, Duke Jordan, Sam Jones and Art Blakey, but those sides inexplicably remained in the vaults until they were released in 1999 as Comin’ On.

Yet, in spite of the hype and the fine recordings, Dizzy Reece did not become a star.  Perhaps it’s because the musical and social environment of New York in the early ‘60’s was extremely competitive and volatile.  Reece ran into discrimination of multiple kinds.  He was married, with a daughter when he emigrated. His wife happened to be White, which caused myriad problems, even in the allegedly open and accepting New York scene of time.  Within in a short time, his family life crumbled under the pressures. His wife, and now two daughters, returned to England.  The other problems came from, according to Reece, some Black American musicians,.  Though many New York jazzmen, such as Rollins, Kelly and Randy Weston, shared a Caribbean heritage, Reece, was not able to find full acceptance.  He remained in New York, where he lives to this day, but he has been woefully under-recorded. 

His four Blue Note dates are now available as part of a fine eponymous Mosaic Select set (which as of this writing, is on Mosaic’s “Last Call” list).  His one album for Prestige, 1962’s Asia Minor, an excellent date with Cecil Payne, Hank Jones and Ron Carter, also remains in print.  After Asia Minor, Dizzy Reece would not lead another session until 1970 and he has only recorded three more since then. His appearances as a sideman are also rare. The most notable ones are on Hank Mobley’s penultimate session, The Flip and on a rare Andrew Hill recording, Passing Ships; both from 1969.  His most recent release, Nirvana in 2006, is as its title suggests, a rather mystical affair, steeped in Eastern musical styles.

As far as I have been able to determine, Dizzy Reece is still healthy and potentially active.  The release of the aforementioned Mosaic Select set in 2004, sparked some renewed attention, there was an interesting interview/article, about four years ago in JazzTimes and there have been other posts on All About Jazz and other sites.  Dizzy Reece also has a blog spot (www.DizzyReece.com) and a MySpace page (www.MySpace.com/DizzyReece), though neither has been updated in about two years.

For whatever the reason it happened, Dizzy Reece’s musical obscurity is undeserved.  His Blue Note and Prestige recordings are definitely worth exploring, if you are interested, as I am, in the music of overlooked artists.  Again, the Mosaic set will be disappearing soon and at $44, it is a good investment (www.mosaicrecords.com).  The Blue Note albums can be found individually as pricey Japanese imports CDs.  The only two available individually as domestic release CDs, were Blues in Trinity and Comin’ On, which were both a part of Blue Note’s fascinating and frustrating “Connoisseur Series”, and they are now out-of-print. 

I am blessed, in that I currently own both the Mosaic set and a Connoisseur Series CD of Blues in Trinity, which I picked up, while browsing the bins at Manifest Records about a year ago.  It is time for me to share the wealth again.  I am offering my copy of Dizzy Reece’s Blue Note debut, Blues in Trinity, free of charge, to the first person who either DMs me on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/curtjazz) or sends me an email curtis@curtscafejazz.com.  The CD, which is in very good condition, includes a new jewel case and all inserts.  It will be sent to you in a padded envelope that will protect it during shipping. The email should include your name and full mailing address.  As with my previous offer of this kind, I give you my word as a gentleman and as an ordained minister, that I will not use your address information to contact you at any time in the future for any other purpose.

I give this disc away, in the hope that it will help to increase someone’s awareness of an underappreciated living artist and because I am nauseated by the greed perpetrated on the jazz public by some “collectors” who try to take advantage of us with outrageous price gouging on out-of-print works.  Slapping a $50 plus price tag on a used LP or CD during these economic times is a disgrace; shame on those who do it.

Thanks to all of you for reading, sorry for taking so long between posts, the music of Dizzy Reece and others can be heard on Curt’s Café WebJazz Radio; 24 hours a day, seven days a week. (www.CurtsCafeJazz.com).

Until the next time, the jazz continues…

3 Responses to “The Other “Dizzy””

  1. Thanks for turning the spotlight on the “other” Dizzy! I love Reece’s albums and his original style of improvising, and second your call for folks to check him out. The Mosaic set is well worth it.

  2. Linda Meredith Says:

    Fascinating reading. It saddens me that so many ultra-talented musicians will never be well known. Thanks for educating me about Mr. Reece.

  3. Thank you for sending the disc all the way to Cork.

    I am enjoying the music very, very much – it’s right up my street! Lots to like, lots to learn.

    I know I should take your lead and pass the disc on in due course, but I don’t think I’m going to be able to do that. I’ll certainly spread the word about the other Dizzy and about the Café, too, though – and try a little harder in the random-acts-of-kindness department generally.

    Thank you for the radio stream – and for an unusually appetizing seasonal selection!

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