Steve Reid, a New York-based drummer who moved through several forms of African-American music while rarely straying from the cutting edge, died this morning in New York at 66 years old. The cause of death has not been reported.
Reid’s professional career began at 16 as the house drummer of Harlem’s Apollo Theater, with his first recording a year later behind Motown’s Martha and the Vandellas. (Reid would eventually play on a number of Motown sessions, including the Vandellas’ monster 1964 hit “Dancing in the Street.”) From there, however, his work took a sharp left turn; after graduating from Adelphi University in 1965, Reid spent three years studying rhythm and percussion in Africa, working with—-among others—-Nigerian musician and activist Fela Kuti.
Upon returning to the U.S. he began working with similarly radical (in both music and politics) artists, including James Brown, Randy Weston, Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill, Sun Ra, and Miles Davis. After a brief career interruption in 1969, when he was arrested for draft refusal, Reid became an active participant in New York’s 1970s loft-jazz scene; he played on the recently rereleased 1977 opus Odyssey of the Oblong Square.
In recent years, Reid gained an appreciative following among post-rock audiences via his collaborations with electronic musician Kieran Hebden—-better known as Four Tet. Hebden and Reid were responsible for the two-volume The Exchange Session CDs, as well as two other discs.
Reid’s legacy, while not well-known, is tremendous. He will be missed.