Although she was one of Europe’s preeminent jazz vocalists throughout the latter half of the 20th century, with a discography that includes more than 30 albums, Rita Reys remains largely unfamiliar to American listeners. This comprehensive, three-disc, 65-track compilation provides a solid, career-spanning introduction.
The Rotterdam-born Reys, who died in 2013 at age 88, began singing in the 1940s, fronting a sextet formed by her husband, drummer Wessel Ilcken. She scored her debut hit in 1955 with Collected’s lead track, “My Funny Valentine,” recorded with Ilcken’s combo. Her style owed a strong debt to Sarah Vaughan, with subtler hints of June Christy and Helen Merrill. The following year, American producer George Avakian invited her to New York, where she cut six sides with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers; their “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” is included here. “Valentine,” the Blakey tracks, and five more with Ilcken shaped her first album, 1957’s The Cool Voice of Rita Reys. That same year, Ilcken died in a car crash. Reys began performing with pianist Pim Jacobs; they wed in 1960, their professional and personal bonds remaining strong until his death in 1996. Their Marriage in Modern Jazz (1960) paved the way for more than a dozen more joint albums. A concurrent performance at Juan les Pins earned her the sobriquet “Europe’s First Lady of Jazz.”