Ed Reed didn’t make his recording debut until just before his 78th birthday in 2007 with the widely acclaimed "Ed Reed Sings Love Stories," followed in 2008 by his second CD, "The Song Is You." Both recordings are exquisitely conceived and tenderly executed collections of sophisticated tunes from the Great American Songbook. The third CD, "Born to Be Blue" (2011), in the words of one reviewer, "possesses all the distilled emotion and narrative coherence of a jazz masterpiece." His fourth recording project, a tribute to the 1940s music of the King Cole Trio and their music (2013) was released to high critical acclaim, includling a 4-star DownBeat review (12/13) and selection as a DownBeat Editor's Pick (10/13).
Reed was born on February 2, 1929, in Cleveland, Ohio. In 1936, the family relocated to Los Angeles where his father worked as a waiter on the Southern Pacific Railroad and was active in the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters. At age 11, Reed learned how to sing to chord changes from his neighbor’s younger brother, then-teenage bassist Charles Mingus. The bebop bug bit Reed around 1944, when he first heard Charlie Parker on record. He began to sing on talent shows hosted by pianist Hampton Hawes and others at the Club Alabam and Last Word on Central Avenue and the Trophy Dash in Hollywood, and on amateur nights at the Lincoln Theater. At 17, he dropped out of school, ran away from home, and joined the army. While stationed at Oakland Army Base, he sold marijuana to supplement his meager military income and started to use heroin. He left the service after 30 months with a general discharge. Back in Los Angeles, Reed ahd his first professional engagements as a vocalist with a combo led by now-legendary trumpeter Dupree Bolton, but his addiction to drugs quickly undermined his singing career.
Ed Reed spent more than a decade of his life behind bars for crimes related to heroin addiction, yet those years weren’t entirely wasted, as he had the opportunity to rub shoulders—and even perform—with such jazz greats as Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, Frank Morgan, and Frank Butler. Reed’s is a story of the triumph of the human spirit over great adversity.
Reed has been clean and sober for the past 27 years and is a health educator working with addicts, alcoholics, and their families. He started singing again publicly in the early 1990s at Bay Area restaurants.
In 2005, he attended JazzCamp West where New York-based multi-instrumentalist Peck Allmond first heard him and convinced him to record. This encounter resulted in "Ed Reed Sings Love Stories," produced by Bud Spangler, followed a year later with "The Song Is You." Allmond, who plays numerous instruments on both CDs, wrote the arrangements for both albums and also produced "The Song Is You." His third recording project, "Born to Be Blue," was inspired during a 5-night gig at Marians Jazzroom in Bern, Switzerland with stellar trio Randy Porter (piano), Robb Fisher (bass) and Akira Tana (drums). Tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz was a welcome addition to the recording band.
Reed's latest recording, "I'm a Shy Guy" is a tribute to the King Cole Trio and their music. As a shy, self conscious adolescent, Reed found it easier to "talk" to girls on the phone by singing King Cole Trio ballads he heard on the radio. When the Trio came to his high school and met with members of the school choir after the performance, Ed Reed was too shy to say hello or shake the hand of his hero, Nat Cole, when Cole stopped to talk to him.
In just a few short years, Ed Reed's music has been critically acclaimed, reviewed in numerous print and online jazz publications (including Downbeat, Jazziz, and JazzTimes to name a few), Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Seattle Times, and Boston Globe.
He was a guest on Marian McPartland's icionic "Piano Jazz" radio show on NPR stations in 2008, was profiled by Nat Hentoff in the Wall Street Journal in June 2009, and placed in the Male Vocalist Rising Star category of the Downbeat Critic's Poll in 5 of the last 6 years.
Reed has performed at internationally renowned clubs in New York, Boston, Seattle, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, and Bern, Switzerland.