For Rufus Reid and members of his quintet, summer is a great time to be a jazz musician. That’s because many of the gigs that he does are outdoors.
Reid will perform on Saturday, June 16, at Princeton Community Park, the second in a series of free outdoor concerts presented by Blue Curtain, a non-profit organization devoted to performing artists, founded by lawyer Stephen Allen and music producer Curtis Webster, both of Princeton.
For Reid, playing outdoors is good for the musicians and the audiences. “It can be really fun playing outside, especially if the sound system is good and it’s a festive atmosphere,” he says in a telephone interview from an Oklahoma convention of the International Society of Bassists, located at — believe it or not — the Wanda L. Bass School of Music at Oklahoma City University. “Sometimes when people hear music they may or may not know much about, it inspires them to buy recordings and begin listening. It helps us develop more of a fan base.”
If you are a fan of outdoor concerts in the Mercer County area, there will be several options available this summer — from Grounds for Sculpture to Palmer Square to Princeton Shopping Center to Stony Brook Watershed Association. See listings at end for details and websites.
The Arts Council of Princeton will hold a series of concerts Thursday nights at the Princeton Shopping Center courtyard. Some of the performers in the series include the Blawenburg Band, June 28; the Klez Dispensers, July 12; Eco del Sur, August 9; and the Billy Hill Band, Thursday, August 23.
Princeton’s Palmer Square Summer Music Series will feature acts on Saturdays at 2 p.m. Performers include B.D. Lenz, June 16; Meg Hanson Group, July 14; and Carnaby Street Band, August 18.
A three-concert series takes place Wednesdays in July at the Stony Brook/Millstone Watershed, located off Titus Mill Road in Pennington, featuring Arun Paul and Friends; Kindred Spirit (July 11), the DADZ (July 18) and Colour Reporter (July 25).
When I spoke to Reid he had spent the better part of a week performing, giving master classes, and just absorbing the atmosphere of being surrounded by hundreds of men and women from all over the world who play the instrument he has spent his life mastering.
Musicians from diverse styles all taught and performed at the convention. Names as disparate as Pablo Aslan (tango), Avishai Cohen (jazz), Yuan Xiong Lu (Chinese music), Washtub Jerry (gutbucket), and Miloslav Jelinek (classical) were on the schedule, and Reid says he enjoyed the camaraderie. “We have kids as young as 11 and people up to 80. It is really thrilling because we can give everyone a really vivid view of things that they could do if they wanted to. It is exciting to be around some of the heavy-hitter world-class people who play this instrument in almost every kind of genre.”
Reid had just finished his schedule of classes and performances and was looking forward to just hanging out with other musicians. “I tell you, I get inspiration from this,” he says. “I’m gonna go home and practice.”
Despite the humility, Reid is undoubtedly one of the top jazz bassists in existence. He has recorded more than 15 albums as a leader and has appeared on hundreds of dates with many other jazz greats such as Eddie Harris, Dexter Gordon, and J. J. Johnson.
Reid, 63, lives in Teaneck. He literally wrote the book on jazz bass (“The Evolving Bassist,” 1974) and is much in demand as a teacher, composer, and clinician. For more than 20 years, Reid was a professor of jazz studies at William Paterson University in Wayne, and director of the jazz program there. He enjoyed teaching but really wanted to be less moored to one place, so he retired from his university position in 1999.
He recently released his latest CD, “Live at the Kennedy Center.” Accompanying him on the Princeton gig is the same quintet that played on the record — pianist Sumi Tonooka, drummer Tim Horner, trumpeter Freddie Hendrix, and saxophonist Rich Perry.
Live recordings, Reid says, are great because “you see and hear what you get and you get what you see. There’s no technical manipulation of the music.”
Reid grew up in Sacramento after his mother, fresh from a separation with his dad, moved there from Atlanta when he was only six years old, and he still considers it his hometown. Reid says both of his parents were pianists; his mother played every Sunday in church. Reid himself started playing the trumpet in high school during the early 1960s, just about the time the Vietnam conflict began escalating.
“I was either going to go to college, get drafted, or get married,” says Reid. “And I didn’t want to do any of those.” It was a foregone conclusion Reid was going to get drafted, so he made a proactive move — he auditioned for the Air Force band as a trumpet player, and, at the age of 17, he won a spot. The good thing about it, Reid says, is that as a result he did not have to worry about being sent to Vietnam as an infantry grunt. The bad thing was he had to sign up for a five-year Air Force tour.
But in retrospect, Reid says, “The military was a positive thing for me. I learned how to be a man because I had to grow up fast. I learned how to be responsible for my actions, whatever they might be, and how to organize my life. The military was great for me.”
Reid was stationed in Alabama for the first part of his tour but he spent the last couple of years in Japan. He had begun playing the bass while in Alabama, and by the time he had moved to Japan he had convinced his commanding officer to let him do a rare double of trumpet and bass.
When off duty, Reid studied with a local classical bassist and tried his hardest to get into the local jazz scene. He met American exiles and traveling jazz musicians such as Ray Brown, a man whose style greatly influenced Reid’s. “Japan was great. There was music everywhere,” Reid says. “It was a wonderful, life-changing experience for me.” As soon as Reid was discharged from the Air Force, he says, “I sold my trumpet and bought a bass.” He returned to Sacramento and then went to Seattle, where he gigged with Buddy Montgomery, brother of Wes.
He then went to Chicago, where he spent seven years establishing himself, and he began studying formally at Northwestern University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in music performance in 1971.
He came to the New York area in 1976, soon settling in Teaneck with his wife, Doris, a chemist, and their son, Michel, who is now 32. When he got to Teaneck, he was amazed at how many musicians lived in the town — McCoy Tyner, Idris Muhammad, Sir Roland Hanna, Nat Adderly, Sam Jones, and many others. “It’s quiet, close to the city, and has a great school system.”
Education is very important to Reid, as is composition, which has him “smitten,” he says. The assumption of many observers, he says, is that bassists do not think melodically. But bass is not “just boom, boom, boom. I really feel as if my bass lines are melodic enough to transpose to the treble clef and give to a violinist.”
Pettoranello Gardens Amphitheater, Community Park North, junction of Route 206 and Mountain Avenue., 609-924-7500. www.bluecurtain.org.
An Evening of Jazz with the Rufus Reid Quintet and the Eddie Henderson-Greg Bandy Quartet. Rufus Reid Quintet has recently released a live DVD/CD of a recent performance at the Kennedy Center. Free. 7 p.m. Saturday, June 16.
Youth Jazz Festival
Arts Council of Princeton, Princeton Shopping Center, 609-924-8777. www.artscouncilofprinceton.org.
Showcase for six youth jazz bands from West Windsor, Plainsboro, Princeton, Ewing, Hopewell, and Montgomery. Hosted by Anthony Branker, Princeton University jazz department director. .
Bands include The Session from Princeton, The Real Band from Montgomery, Thursday Night Jazz from Ewing, the Kevin Sun Quintet from Montgomery, Seven Minus One from West Windsor-Plainsboro High School South, and a new ensemble led by guitarist Tom Healy of Hopewell.
The Modern Improvisational Music Appreciation, a group that promotes music to less fortunate students in New Jersey, will be on hand to raise awareness and funds for its cause.
Free. Saturday, June 16, noon to 8 p.m.
Music on the Green
Palmer Square, 609-921-2333. www.palmersquare.com. Saturdays, 2 to 4 p.m. Free. Bring a blanket
B.D. Lenz. Funky, highly melodic, and supremely groovin’ jazz. Saturday, June 16.
The Alice Project. Intelligent, provocative, hooky rock ‘n’ roll. Saturday, June 23.
Sun Dog. Contemporary, classic & country rock. Saturday, July 7.
Meg Hanson Group. Jazz standards & easy listening. Saturday, July 14.
Brian Keith Trio. Instrumental standards in jazz, blues, Latin rock & swing. Saturday, July 21.
Slim Quin & Country Feedback. “Softer” classic rock & oldies. Saturday, July 28.
Seven Steps. Jazz quartet highlighting swing, Latin, rock & fusion. Saturday, August 4.
TBD. Saturday, August 11.
Carnaby Street Band. Music of the ’60s featuring the British Invasion. Saturday, August 18.
TBD. Saturday, August 25.
9 Hulfish Street, Princeton, 609-921-1710. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. in Pub Alley, weather permitting.
B.D. Lenz Trio with progressive jazz. Weather permitting. Free. Saturday, June 16.
Larry Tritel. Contemporary folk. Saturday, June 23
John & Carm. Blues, bluegrass & folk rock. Saturdays, June 30, July 2, July 28, August 18, and September 1.
Rick Fiore Quartet. Jazz. Saturday, July 7; and Monday, September 3.
Bill O’Neal & Joe Kramer. Irish & folk. Saturday, July 14.
Frank & Greg. Soft rock standards. Saturday, July 21.
No Strings Attached. Soft rock. Saturday, August 25.
Grounds For Sculpture
18 Fairgrounds Road, Hamilton, 609-689-1089, www.groundsforsculpture.org.
Beatlemania Now. “When They Were Fab” features more than 30 songs and four costume changes. Sing along with John, Paul, George, and Ringo as they transport you back in rock and roll history. $25. Saturday, June 16.
Folk by Association. Folk, rock, country, world, and jazz. Over the last seven years, Folk By Association (Karen Krajacic and Jill Unger) has steadily grown from playing in local NJ bars and coffeehouses to traveling regionally and nationally, appearing at festivals, venues, house concerts, and private events. Rain or shine. Picnic baskets available. $8 includes admission to the park. Thursday, June 21.
Animus. A unique blending of culturally diverse musical traditions incorporating blues, jazz, funk, Latin, rock, Indian, Klezmer, Middle Eastern, Greek, and African rhythms. Performing with the group will be Azhia, demonstrating the ancient art of belly-dancing. Friday, June 29.
Aztec Two-Step. When Rex Fowler and Neal Shulman of the critically acclaimed folk/rock duo Aztec Two-Step burst upon the scene in 1972 they were often compared to their legendary predecessors Simon & Garfunkel. $17 to $22. Presented by Concerts at the Crossing. Friday, July 13.
B.D. Lenz. Funky, highly melodic, and supremely groovin’ jazz. Friday, July 27.
Chameleon. A fusion of the distinct jam style created by the Grateful Dead and elements of jazz. Although the group covers popular tunes they also perform their own compositions. Friday, August 10.
Hopewell Valley Vineyards
46 Yard Road, Pennington, 609-737-4465, www.hopewellvalleyvineyards.com.
Music Night. $5. Saturday, July 28.
Music Night. $5. Saturday, August 25.
Arts Council of Princeton
Princeton Shopping Center, North Harrison Street, www.artscouncilofprinceton.org. Thursdays, 6 to 8 p.m.
Animus. Thursday, June 21.
Blawenburg Band, June 28
The Rhythm Kings. Thursday, July 5.
The Klez Dispensers,. Thursday, July 12.
The VooDudes. Thursday, July 19.
Celtic Crossroads. Thursday, July 26.
Riverside Bluegrass. Thursday, August 2.
Eco Del Sur, Thursday, August 9.
Alborado Spanish Dance. Thursday, August 16.
The Billy Hill Band. Thursday, August 23.
Bill Kirchen. Thursday, August 30.
Stony Brook Millstone Watershed
Wednesdays, starting at dusk outside the Johnson Environmental Center, 31 Titus Mill Road, Pennington. Free. Bring a picnic and blanket. 609-737-3735, www.thewatershed.org
The Soteria Band, Wednesday, July 11.
The Dadz, Wednesday, July 18.
Colour Reporter, Wednesday, July 25.