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At first glance, the title of Eric Reed’s current album, Everybody Gets the Blues, can seem a bit trite — but dig deeper, and it evokes a far deeper meaning.
The nine tracks — a mix of originals and personalized reworkings of tunes by John Coltrane, Freddie Hubbard, Stevie Wonder and The Beatles — are the product of a decade-plus period in Reed’s life that was marked by depression, alienation, renewal and, finally, salvation.
“The record is fundamentally emotional,” the Los Angeles-based pianist/composer says. “I heavily got back into gospel music, and that’s become more predominant in my work. The title can be interpreted in a lot of ways, but ultimately it’s about shared experience and finding your way out the blues.”
On Everybody Gets the Blues (Smoke Sessions), Reed, 49, plays with a swinging elegance that has long been his signature. Joined by younger bandmates Tim Green on alto and soprano sax, drummer McClenty Hunter and bassist Mike Gurrola, the pianist cuts a broad emotional swath, from the wistful melancholy of “Yesterday/Yesterdays,” on which he deftly interweaves the Beatles hit with the Jerome Kern standard, to the ebullient hard-bop bounce of “Road Life.” His churchy leanings are evident throughout, most notably on the warm, slow-moving original “New Morning.” Of particular note is a re-imagining of Hubbard’s “Up Jumped Spring,” a spritely waltz cliché in the trumpeter’s hands that Reed transforms into a moving ballad. In all, his 28th album as a leader resounds with a pervasive sense of rejuvenation.
Reed came down with a dire case of the blues in the mid-2000s. “I was living in a beautiful apartment in Harlem, working eight days a week, had money in all four pockets,” he says. But he was recently divorced and overconsuming alcohol. “I slipped into a deep state of depression. I wasn’t too far from suicide.”
Reed found some solace on the bandstand, but the other hours of the day were all but unbearable. Getting to gigs became a test of will. “I don’t know how many times I got to the apartment door and considered chucking it and going back to bed, fully dressed,” he recalls. “After one gig, I was on the verge of tears when I heard a voice. I believe it was the voice of God: ‘You need to move back to Los Angeles.’”
He quickly did so. Back in the safe embrace of his mother and three older siblings, Reed felt an instant sense of relief. Then came the rebuild. He took a job as a minister of music for a church, cut back on travel and, as he had done as a teenager at the start of his professional career, established himself as a prominent member of the L.A. jazz scene.
So how he’s feeling these days? “Great,” he says. “I have more balance in my life.”
You can hear it in his playing. —Eric Snider