On the Road With Rufus Reid

Composer and bassist Rufus Reid was just nominated for two Grammy awards for his new CD: Quiet Pride –The Elizabeth Catlett Project for Best Large Ensemble and Best Instrumental Composition. The works on the CD were all inspired by the sculptures of Elizabeth Catlett.

I have the honor of being part of Rufus Reid’s session on multidisciplinary collaboration at the Chamber Music American conference tomorrow in New York City. The session is at 9 a.m. I thought a recollection of an experience that I had when I first met Rufus might make a timely blog entry.

I first met Rufus Reid in the Fall of 2008. I was preparing for a commission I had received to create a work for MBDE to perform with a European jazz orchestra. I was scouting locations to film some of the dance and music we would be creating as part of the project. And then I had the fortune to be able to travel with the jazz orchestra as it went on a tour performing concerts of music by Rufus Reid. The first performance was in a new and spacious concert hall in a major city. Rufus Reid performed on his bass with the big band, which was conducted by Tim Hagans. Rufus also introduced the works on the program. The music was spectacular, lush, rich, varied and deep. The audience was packed and the reception was ecstatic. Rufus spoke to the large audience as if sharing with some one special a description that might enhance their enjoyment of what they were about to hear. He was joyous and genuine. The evening was both high energy and intimate at the same time.

A couple of days later, the tour led us to a stop in a small drab city that I am told is quite beautiful in the snow. When we arrived, however, it was just a chilling Fall day, with gray skies over a preponderance of what looked to me like Soviet architecture: box like buildings in dull colors in a colorless landscape. There was no one to greet the band and the lobby of the theatre was freezing. The concert had been purchased by a small arts presenter through a subsidy. There were no posters, no marketing that I could see, and when it came time for the performance, only a handfull of people in the audience. The concert hall looked almost empty.

Yes, I know what you must be thinking. I always love to tell the story of Martha Graham saying it only takes one person in the audience… if you have reached one person you have succeeded. All I could think on the occasion of this concert, however, was that this was Rufus Reid. This was incredible music played by an incredible orchestra. I was incensed as only a neurotic little Italian girl from Queens can be. Does this town not understand that these are musicians who have dedicated their lives to making art and to have this kind of turn out after hours on the bus was an insult. I wondered if Rufus would turn around and get back on the bus. I would be right behind him. The bleakness of the place was wearing. Then I thought, well, he will come out and just run through the show. Instead he came out and treated the audience just as he had done to a packed house in the enormous concert hall a few nights before. He spoke to them with respect and gratitude for their presence, and consideration for their enjoyment. There was no difference in how he talked to this tiny audience and the large audience that numbered close to a thousand at the other venue. Once again, he was joyous and intimate. My indignation fell away to enjoyment of another superb performance by him and the orchestra.

As Dewey Redman explained in an interview, when it comes down to it, we all have some ego that we think is perhaps commensurate with our ability. And just like Dewy Redman explained that experiencing John Coltrane’s lack of ego changed him, this experience with Rufus changed me. To be in a room with an amazing artist with such integrity was transcendent.

The tiny arts presenter served the most delicious coffee and cake I have ever had at intermission, made by members of the organization. Tim explained to me that it was a small mining town and that they had no budget for marketing. But those that came experienced something very special.

The tour continued for six more nights and I remember so well as the last concert started, I felt sad that this was the last time I would hear this band play this program. I savored every moment of it.


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