Legendary jazz drummer George Reed adopted Elmira as his hometown, after nearly 30 years touring the United States and Europe and playing clubs in New York City, Toronto and across Central New York. Forming a partnership with the late Howard Coleman, he led the band at Elmira’s former Green Pastures jazz club as house drummer and entertainment manager, until his death in 2011 at age 89.
The music continues with the George Reed Jazz Heritage Concert, the fifth annual event to celebrate the significance of jazz to the local community. Nine-piece gypsy jazz band Djug Django, along with some of Reed’s former collaborators, will pay tribute to the legendary jazz drummer with a concert at The Park Church sanctuary in Elmira on Sunday, April 26.
This is not the first time that The Park Church has celebrated the legacy of George Reed. The 140 year-old historic sanctuary welcomed friends, fans and fellow musicians for George’s memorial service in 2011. Howard Coleman (who himself would pass a year later) asked those gathered to raise their hands if they were musicians. More than half the crowd extended their arms and Howard said, “You are George’s family.” Then he added, “We all are.”
George used to say, “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing to an audience of one thousand or just one. Anyone who listens deserves to hear your best.” While jazz is not typically everyone’s cup of tea, George was able to add enough spice to satisfy almost anyone’s taste. He used music as a metaphor for life. According to George, on the jazz stage nobody wins if anybody loses – each player must help the other to sound their finest.
Of course, that demands that everyone bring their best to the stage – and at the George Reed Heritage Concert, everyone does. Past concerts have featured George’s friends, bandmates and students; including saxophonist Chad Lefkowitz-Brown, pianist Christian Li, bassist Walter Stinson and Syracuse’s 17-piece big band, the Salt City Jazz Collective.
A Legend Lives On
George Reed lived the history of jazz. He often recalled attending early-morning jam sessions after the clubs closed, where Duke Ellington would hold court in his robe and slippers on the stoop of his Harlem home. George played with many of the greatest jazz musicians, and toured with legendary pianist Marian McPartland, a close friend and collaborator.
George often told jokes using only his drums, sometimes in the middle of a tune, to tickle his audience and amplify their delight. More than simply a musician, George was a drummer whose roots stretched back to the very beginnings of jazz. He was a catalyst in helping his bandmates to realize their best performances. He treasured the tradition of jazz and was a mentor and inspiration to young musicians.
After his death, fans and friends came together to form the George Reed Jazz Scholarship Organization (GRJSO). The purpose of GRJSO is to honor the legacy of George Reed through live performances and by encouraging young jazz musicians to pursue their passion. Concerts raise funds designated for programs that encourage kids to learn, appreciate and play jazz – a uniquely American form of music – and are managed by the Community Foundation of Elmira, Corning and the Finger Lakes.
GRJSO is committed to help bring jazz to more kids and more kids to jazz, so new generations may continue to experience its delight and learn the art of cooperative improvisation. Students can attend GRJSO-sponsored concerts for free and the organization has honored student musicians with over $3,000 in scholarships.
Jazz brings people together, and this year’s George Reed Heritage Concert will continue that tradition. The legendary musician knew how to make any gathering sparkle, and gracefully pulled a room full of people into one collective smile and synchronous bounce. Jazz band Djug Django, heir to George’s magic, will swing their way into your heart as they pay tribute to tradition and this treasured legacy.
The George Reed Jazz Heritage Concert will take place at The Park Church in Elmira, 208 West Gray Street, on Sunday, April 26 at 3:00 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults, students and children are free. For more information visit grjso.blogspot.com, follow George Reed Jazz on Facebook or contact GeorgeReedJazz@gmail.com.
by Steve Seaberg