SOPAC Giant Of Jazz – Rufus Reid

Jazz Buddies,

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of attending the annual Giant Of Jazz event at the South Orange Performing Arts Center (SOPAC), located in downtown South Orange, New Jersey.  Founded in 1997 by bassist John Lee, Giants Of Jazz honors exceptional musicians, and presents a Jazz Masters Award to a distinguished artist whose creativity has had a major impact on Jazz performance and/or education. This year, the honoree was the great bassist, educator, mentor, bandleader, and composer: Rufus Reid.

As an avid album “reader”, I first noticed the name “Rufus Reid” on the three CBS albums by the great “long, tall” Dexter Gordon from the late 1970s as a member of his quartet: Sophisticated Giant (1977), Manhattan Symphonie (1978), and Great Encounters (1979).  These albums followed Gordon’s celebrated return to the states in 1976 from Europe (since 1962), a heralded, sold-out week-long engagement at the Village Vanguard in December 1976, and the incredible “live” Homecoming (1977) CBS album from the final two nights.  The aforementioned albums feature three of my all-time favorite ballads, respectively: Laura, As Time Goes By, and Ruby, My Dear (with George Cables on piano!).

Being of a curious engineering mind, I once sat next to Rufus Reid following a Stanford Jazz Festival concert at Campbell Recital Hall and asked him about his trademark angular pole that extends from the bottom of his acoustic bass… Curious minds want to know!!!

Rufus Reid is perhaps most notable for his tenure as the Director of Jazz Studies at William Paterson College (1979-1999), following in the footsteps of Thad Jones (1973-1979), when he moved to Denmark.  Other esteemed Directors that followed Rufus Reid include: James Williams (1999-2004), Mulgrew Miller (2004-2013), and Bill Charlap (2013-Present).  Jazz has been a part of the college’s curriculum since 1965, with the degree program created in 1973.

Alumni of the William Paterson College Jazz Studies program have made a huge impact in the Jazz world, and its list of “Heavy Hitters” in the dugout include the following: Eric Alexander, Carl Allen, Joe Farnsworth, Bill Stewart, Bruce Williams, Jonathan Blake, Mark Shim, Doug Weiss, Vincent Ector, Dana Hall, Jason Brown, Justin Kauflin, Freddie Hendrix, and Roxy Coss, just to name a few.  Wow!!!

The wonderful three and a half-hour program, emceed and produced by John Lee, featured 25 outstanding Jazz musicians performing 11 Jazz standards and Jazz classics, as well as two original compositions by the honoree.

Below is the program, along with the performers:

  • Love You Madly – Bill Charlap (p), David Wong (b)
  • What A Difference A Day Makes – Eric Alexander (ts), Caelan Cardello (p), David Wong (b), Evan Sherman (d)
  • Days Of Wine And Roses – Steve Davis (tb), Caelan Cardello (p), David Wong (b), Evan Sherman (d)
  • Darn That Dream – Mark Gross (as), James Austin (p), Russell Hall (b), Chris Beck (d)
  • Yesterdays – Don Braden (ts), James Austin (p), Russell Hall (b), Chris Beck (d)
  • Take The Wrinkles Out Of Your Birthday Suit – Roseanna Vitro (vc), Don Braden (ts), James Austin (p), Russell Hall (b), Chris Beck (d)
  • Bess, You Is My Woman Now – Roberta Gambarini (vc), Jeb Patton (p)
  • I Love You, Porgy – Roberta Gambarini (vc), Jeb Patton (p), John Lee (b), Tommy Campbell (d)
  • Everything I Love – Jeb Patton (p), Martin Wind (b), Tommy Campbell (d)
  • Ow! – Greg Gisbert (tr), Virginia Mayhew (ts), Jeb Patton (p), Santi Debriano (b), Tommy Campbell (d)
  • Cheesecake – Michael Rodriguez (tr), Steve Carrington (ts), Jeb Patton (p), Santi Debriano (b), Tommy Campbell (d)
  • Celebration – Freddie Hendrix (tr), Roxy Coss (ts), Roberta Piket (p), Rufus Reid (b), Kenneth Salters (d)
  • It’s Time To Shout It Out – Freddie Hendrix (tr), Roxy Coss (ss), Roberta Piket (p), Rufus Reid (b), Kenneth Salters (d)
  • Sophisticated Lady / Chelsea Bridge / Loved Walked In – Rufus Reid (b) (solo)

Several of the musicians, including Bill Charlap, Eric Alexander, Steve Davis, Mark Gross, Don Braden, Roberta Gambarini, and Jeb Patton, took the opportunity to speak briefly about their personal connections to Mr. Reid via teaching, mentoring, and/or performing.

During the intermission, three dignitaries made brief presentations lauding Mr. Reid’s dedication, accomplishments, and commitment to excellence over his long, stellar career:

  • Steve Schnall, South Orange Village Township Trustee
  • Dr. David Demsey, Coordinator of Jazz Studies, William Paterson College
  • T.S. Monk, Drummer & Bandleader

Dr. Demsey also announced the William Paterson Jazz 50th Anniversary concert on Sunday, April 23, 2023, as part of its six-concert series, that will feature Rufus Reid, Bill Charlap, and others playing the compositions of past Directors of Jazz Studies Program (Thad Jones, James Williams, Mulgrew Miller). Looking forward…

Rufus Reid’s quintet took the stage near the end of the program, playing two of his original compositions from his recently released CD, titled “Celebration” on Sunnyside Records.  Then, Mr. Reid aptly closed out the festivities in good fashion, playing a beautiful bass solo medley… Amen!!!

Overall, a wonderful evening of Jazz, in recognition of a true Giant!!!  Take care!


Giants of Jazz ## Honorees (Year)
1.      Jimmy Heath (1998)
2.      James Moody (1999)
3.      Clark Terry (2000)
4.      Frank Wess (2001)
5.      Benny Powell (2002)
6.      Dr. Billy Taylor (2003)
7.      Frank Foster (2004)
8.      Marian McPartland (2005) 
9.      Benny Golson (2006)
10.    Barry Harris (2007)
11.    Slide Hampton (2008)
12.    Randy Weston (2009)
13.    Bob Cranshaw (2010)
14.    Albert “Tootie” Heath (2011)
15.    George Coleman (2012)
16.    Gary Bartz (2013)
17.    McCoy Tyner (2014)
18.    George Cables (2015)
19.    Jimmy Cobb (2016)
20.    Buster Williams (2017)
21.    Claudio Roditi (2018)
22.    Harold Mabern (2019)
23.    Rufus Reid (2022)

• Canceled in 2020 & 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic