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Reggie Workman, Harlem Speaks guest on January 25, 2007 has long been one of the most technically gifted of all bassists, a brilliant player whose versatile style fits into all jazz settings. He played piano, tuba, and euphonium early on but settled on bass in the mid-'50s. After working regularly with Gigi Gryce (1958), Red Garland, and Roy Haynes, he was a member of the John Coltrane Quartet for much of 1961, participating in several important recordings as well as touring. One of their European television broadcasts (with added guest Eric Dolphy) is currently available on video (The Coltrane Legacy). After Jimmy Garrison took his place with Coltrane, Workman became a member of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers (1962-1964) and was in the groups of Yusef Lateef (1964-65), Herbie Mann, and Thelonious Monk (1967).
Since that time, Workman has been both an educator, most readily associated with The New School, while also serving on the faculty of The University of Michigan, and a working musician, and has played with numerous legendary jazz musicians including Max Roach, Art Farmer, Mal Waldron, David Murray, Sam Rivers, and Andrew Hill. In the 1980s, Workman began leading his own group, the Reggie Workman Ensemble. He also began a collaboration with pianist Marilyn Crispell that lasted into the next decade. During the '90s, Workman was not only active with his own ensemble, but also in Trio Three, with Andrew Cyrille and Oliver Lake, and Reggie Workman's Grooveship and Extravaganza.
During his expansive interview with JMIH executive Director Loren Schoenberg, Workman expressed himself with a largely philosophical viewpoint, peppered with telling and at times humorous anecdotes. As a young man, Workman bought a hearse to transport his bass as well as the other instruments, which at times included an upright piano. He recalled making these gigs with Archie Shepp and Lee Morgan at various times. Much time was spent talking about the musical community in which he was raised in and around Philadelphia. Workman and his peers, which included John Coltrane, all knew each other so well that their music was just a further expression of their brotherhood. He recalled that the energy level in the Coltrane Quartet was so intense that it took him a week to be able to do anything more than do the job at night, rest up, practice and go to work. One of the most moving moments of the evening came when Workman recalled a night in California while he was a member of Art Blakey’s band. Dizzy Gillespie and Billy Eckstine came into the club on opening night and sat in the front row. Blakey dropped his patented drum patterns and, as Workman put it, “no one who heard Art play that night will ever forget it. He brought the music so high..”, and that’s as far as he could go. The sheer sense memory of that evening brought not only Workman but many in the room to tears. Never content to rest on his estimable laurels, Workman spoke with great enthusiasm about his teaching and about the ambitious series of concerts he is undertaking in February at St. Peter’s Church.
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