It’s a dank, dreary, mid-January day in Teaneck, N.J., and Rufus Reid is relaxing in one of the two places you can usually find him at home: his kitchen. Bright, cheery lighting and some hot tea help to lift the mood. A rack of mugs with a sign admonishing “Thou Shalt Not Whine” hangs over the table, while a back window affords a view of squirrels scampering on top of a mustard-colored building with brown trim and a skylight. The structure behind the 1929 house still sports the garage door from when it contained a car. It now serves as Reid’s music studio.
“The kitchen…to me is the central place where people congregate. I like to cook, actually. Instead of sitting in the living room, to me the kitchen is just that place that seems to be the common place,” he said. “I always enjoy good food. I like to cook things my wife won’t take the time to.
“We took a cooking class for three days in Italy on our anniversary and learned a lot of the everyday food. The typical, if you will, peasant food. Not the gourmet stuff. Just the everyday stuff, the lasagnas…”
Reid said he prefers to eat at home, often tending to the grill. “I eat out a lot because I travel a lot,” he said. “So when I’m not traveling, we don’t eat out much. We eat here and eat well.
“Every Thanksgiving I put a turkey on the grill,” he said. “Even when it snows I shovel out a path.”
While he doesn’t have a particular specialty, Reid is proudest of a fresh tomato-based pasta sauce he learned to make in Bari, Italy that was also his contribution to the book Cooking With Jazz: “No canned stuff-just take time and let it cook down. Onions and scallions and whatnot. It actually tastes better after the third day.”
What little downtime there is in Reid’s life these days is squeezed in between various composer’s commissions and the production of his new DVD/CD on Motema, The Rufus Reid Quintet Live at the Kennedy Center. “I’m really excited about this because this will be my first record in about four years,” he said. “This period now for me has become incredibly buoyant, vibrant. Things are starting to happen. Of course, I’m 62 years old now, so I’m not a kid, but I have a long way to go if I stay healthy and don’t get hit by a bus.
“In fact, I have more passion now [for music] than ever before,” he added. “I actually have more to bring to the table than I ever had before.”
Reid and his wife Doris, a former hospital chemist, have lived in northern New Jersey for some 30 years, he explained. Moving from a six-bedroom apartment in Chicago with their then-10-month-old son, Michel, and settling in Manhattan, with its higher rent and restrictive parking, was not a good option.And every area musician Reid knew warned against Long Island, with the perennially traffic-clogged Long Island Expressway. Thad Jones suggested Teaneck. Reid added up the monthly cost of his commute into the city and figured that with a mortgage, it would still be cheaper living in New Jersey than in New York.
The home features such early 20th-century details as archways between the rooms, a fireplace in the living room and a detached garage (that, as mentioned earlier, has been converted into a music studio, complete with piano). Back in the house, the kitchen underwent a massive renovation that included lots of lighting, new appliances and a built-in wine nook for its foodie owner.
Reid recalled the sweltering July 4th weekend when they closed on the house and, with the help of his brother and his children, started to move in. “We’re sweating like pigs… moving is awful. I’m upstairs and my brother says, ‘There’s two guys at the front door, a short guy and a tall guy.’ And I say, ‘Nobody knows I’m here except the bank.’ I went down and it was Nat Adderley and Sam Jones. And they said, ‘Welcome to the neighborhood, mother…’ And I said, ‘Wow. Well, it must be the right place to be.’
“Sam lived here, 10 blocks away…Ernie Royal used to live here, Roland Hanna lived here, Idris Muhammad lived here and a host of other people. Nat lived here. McCoy Tyner used to live down the street when we first got here.” Reid said he found out about Tyner after remarking that two little boys he saw playing in the neighborhood looked just like the pianist. A part-time travel agent who’s still a neighbor told Reid: “One of my clients is a musician. Mr. Tyner.”
“I said, ‘McCoy Tyner?'” said Reid. “She said, ‘Yes, he’s a very nice man.’ It was really cute, though. The whole city was flourishing with musicians.”
“Years ago I used to have electric trains. Up in the attic I used to have 16 feet one way and 12 feet the other way. I had a really nice setup. But I just don’t have time to do it anymore. It was really good for your brain, when you’re really busy, to…think about something else,” said Reid. “It’s a wonderful hobby. I really would like to get it started again. They’re still upstairs…Now I have a granddaughter, Azarin. Maybe I’ll have to make sure she gets into it.”
“Ray…was a really good movie…the music was so much fun. [I also liked] the movie that wasn’t really a box office hit, the one about Cole Porter [De-Lovely]. Just to hear that music was really great. I liked The Terminal because of Benny Golson’s part in it,” he said. “That was actually a pretty interesting movie because [when] I was with Dexter [Gordon], I remember him losing his passport and having to stay a couple of days in an airport, so it’s really not that fictitious for something like that to happen.”
“I love to watch tennis. We go out here to [the U.S. Open]. Sam Jones’ widow Bobbi-we’re still very close-she lives in Florida-Amelia Island-so we went down there to visit and saw the women’s tournament down there.” Reid said he admires the stamina displayed by the top players, and that “when you have these two incredible players against each other, it’s really a mental game.”
On the Road
“Ray Brown told me years ago, ‘Listen, if you want to have some notoriety, you have to take the music to the people and then you really have to meet the people: get inside.’ And that was when I read about how Dizzy [Gillespie] would travel and get inside and meet the people. When I’m in a city, I try to see the city…
“Going to Europe or places like that, I surely get out of the hotels. It’s just fascinating. We think there’s history here, but there’s nothing compared to when you get out of this country.”
Reid lists Portugal, Argentina and Japan among his favorite countries to visit. “I’ve been to Cuba,” he said. “[It’s] fascinating. It’s a shame that we’re so close but so far.”
“As a young player, you listen to all your heroes: Ray Brown, Oscar Pettiford, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez. But going to school I had to listen to a lot of classical music, a lot of times because you had to. But I listen to all kinds of music now.