American jazz drummer Steve Reid has played with a wide range of artists including the likes of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, James Brown, Four Tet’s Kieran Hebden, Fela Kuti and Sun Ra, and has worked as a session drummer for Motown.

He began playing drums at the age of sixteen when his family moved to New York and, before going on to study at Adelphi University, worked at the Apollo Theatre as a musician under the direction of the legendary Quincy Jones. With a re-release to promote, The Steve Reid Ensemble are set to play the Jazz Cafe on 9 Nov 2009, with support from Sankorfa.

CMU spoke to Steve to ask their Same Six Questions.

Q1 How did you start out making music?
Music is in my blood. My father went to school with Duke Ellington and Chick Webb in Baltimore. I was born in the Bronx and grew up on Lyman Place, across the street from Thelonious Monk (his wife Nellie used to babysit his daughter Ruby and me). Meanwhile, in the flat above my family’s lived Elmo Hope, a true piano giant. The walls had music. Everyone starts to learn an instrument because of some player they liked. But few take the next necessary step, using that as inspiration to develop their own style. I did. I used play on my mother’s furniture (must write a tune called ‘Many Little Dents’), and pots and pans from the kitchen.

Q2 What inspired your latest album?
I’m currently in London to promote Soul Jazz Records’ re-release of ‘Odyssey Of The Oblong Square’, which was originally released on my label Mustevic Sound in the 70s. It was recorded live on NYC radio station WKCR. It’s improvisation at the highest level: no rehearsals, just some heavy musicians letting the music play them. But I’m also very excited about another upcoming Soul Jazz release – out next year – which is with my ensemble and called ‘Staying In The Rhythms’. That’s a DVD recorded live in NYC early this year, with a CD featuring some new tracks and some new stuff from my recent African sessions. Inspiration comes from the unseen and is expressed in the seen. It’s like adding a supernatural aspect to the natural aspect. Creativity is about not playing the same thing, the same way each time – that’s called pop (pop in… pop out), and it’s usually a low quality image that’s just money motivated. The quality of all music has slipped away, it’s really quite sad. Everything is image now without substance. That’s why this stuff has a short life. Generally speaking. Did they list Bernard Purdie’s drums on the new re-mastering of the Beatles? I do not think so.

Q3 What process do you go though in creating a track?
The creative process is different for everyone. Music is so wonderful and joyful it should play you. People say “my music” – it’s not theirs, there are no new notes. This music comes through me from somewhere else – a spiritual source. Drummers are special people. We are the holders of the heartbeat, the rhythm of life. We are the gatekeepers. I usually keep an open mind but have a general idea of the rhythms I want to deal with. All the melodies and harmonies come out of the drums. On none of my own records have we ever rehearsed. There are no second takes because then it gets stale. If you have to do it again and again then it’s not natural. Wynton Marsellis is great trumpet player but does not have enough creativity to bust a paper bag. He once did 20+ takes of the same song. I let the music play me and encourage my partners in crime (beloved musicians) to do the same. You must play every gig or recording like it is your last one. It’s of the moment – do not look back.

Q4 Which artists influence your work?
I am particular, I only like great musicians: known or unknown jazz giants too numerous to name, African cats, Latin masters, James Brown, Sun Ra Hendriks, Leon Thomas, Bird, Trane. I love all great black music – I do what I am. My ego is in the execution of the music, not in the image for presentation. It’s fun. Fun for you. I am extremely happy doing what I do – this comes from doing it. One must plant seeds in order to have something grow and materialise. Hint to younger musicians: more practice, more research, less fronting. Now everyone wants too be famous instead of good or great.

Q5 What would you say to someone experiencing your music for the first time?
I love a new jack listener. New listeners are curious, brave enough to listen to something they have not heard before. I do not care what you call it or think it is. If you dig then I’ve done my job. If it changes your mind, body or soul, then I’ve done my job planting the seed in you. I am always looking for new listeners, venues that do not usually have music that we play. It’s fresh meat for the Ensemble.

Q6 What are your ambitions for your latest album, and for the future?
I do not have ambitions, but my goal is to play and record some meaningful stuff that people will enjoy long after I have left the planet. I do have concerns about what happens when all the dinosaurs are gone. You’ve got to have discipline, concentration on the music not the money. Now one can have their first gig on TV. My offering is the music I play. Joy and fun should be shared with love as a motive.