Obscure Trumpet Masters #6 – Dizzy 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”. – Miles Davis (about Dizzy Reece)
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 assume that you’re referring to the great John Birks Gillespie.
Let me introduce you to another “Dizzy”; Alphonso Son Reece. The son of a silent films pianist, “Dizzy” Reece was born in Kingston, Jamaica in 1931. Contrary to what you’d expect, he did not get his nickname because of any similarity between himself and Birks, but because as a young man, he liked to wander the dangerous streets of Kingston late at night, getting into precarious situations.
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 also turning out some fine musical talent. Reece’s first instrument was the baritone horn; and at age 14, he switched to the trumpet.
In 1947 Reece moved to London, seeking more musical opportunities; he found them. He 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. But this is jazz, not charm school. So while Dizzy’s temperament may have 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.
Blue Note records founder, Alfred Lion, heard about Reece and reached out to British jazz producer Tony Hall, asking Hall to produce Dizzy’s first American sides – for Blue Note – in 1958. The resulting album, Blues in Trinity, was an auspicious debut. The 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.
From Blues in Trinity, Dizzy Reece plays “I Had the Craziest Dream”
Lion was impressed enough with Blues in Trinity, to ask Reece to come to New York, which he did. Two more Blue Note albums 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 (in his Blue Note debut), Bobby Timmons, Duke Jordan, Sam Jones and Art Blakey. 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. Nevertheless, he remained in NYC, where he lives to this day.
His four Blue Note albums were available as part of a now out of print Mosaic Select set. His one recording for Prestige, 1962’s Asia Minor, an excellent date with Cecil Payne, Hank Jones and Ron Carter, is also now OOP but not hard to find. 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 Duke Jordan’s Flight to Jordan; and two albums from 1969: Hank Mobley’s penultimate session, The Flip and on Andrew Hill’s Passing Ships. His most recent release, Nirvana in 2006, is as its title suggests, a rather mystical affair, steeped in Eastern musical styles.
For whatever reason it happened, Dizzy Reece’s musical obscurity is undeserved. Check his music out. Then, the next time someone asks if you dig Dizzy, you may say “which one”.
- Blues in Trinity (Blue Note) – CD (CD-R) in print; mp3 available
- Star Bright (Blue Note) – CD OOP; mp3 available
- Asia Minor (New Jazz/OJC) – CD – OOP, but fairly available; mp3 available
- Comin’ On (Blue Note) – CD (CD-R) in print