Husband-and-Wife Duo & Poconos Jazz Staples Nancy and Spencer Reed Announce Decades-Spanning Album Of Unheard Recordings, Happying, out on June 28, 2024

Happying is the new album by vocal and instrumental duo — and husband and wife — Nancy and Spencer Reed. Half a century ago, they met in the projects in the Bronx and forged not only their romantic relationship but a musical one — influenced by the classic performances of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, Carmen McRae, and Jackie and Roy.

In the nearly 50 years since the Reeds moved to the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, the couple has loomed large in the Poconos jazz scene, with the world-famous venue the Deer Head Inn — of Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, and Paul Motian, and Phil Woods, Al Cohn and John Coates, fame — as its epicenter. As best-kept secrets, Nancy and Spencer Reed have played vital roles in this geographical wellspring of music.

Spencer Reed has taught hundreds of guitar students, chief among them multi-Grammy nominee Mark Williams (Kanye West, Christina Aguilera), Chris Connors (Orquesta Akokán) and Russel Higbee (Modest Mouse) and on Nancy’s part, her students include the phenomenal Nellie McKay and Najwa Parkins, among others. In short, if you pass through the jazz scene in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains, you pass through one of the Reeds — guaranteed. These might be behind-the-scenes movers and shakers — but when they step into the spotlight, the results are nothing but luminous.

Leading up to Happying, the couple has made seven albums together, and each have appeared on a cadre of notable records. In Nancy’s case, her long-time association with the great John Coates Jr. has resulted in the recording John Coates, Jr. and Nancy Reed Live at the Deer Head Inn, and she’s also recorded a pair of albums with the Duke Ellington Legacy Band. In 2005, she recorded the adventurous Neighbors alongside the great saxophonist and fellow Poconos-dweller Dave Liebman, which went on to gain significant exposure and radio play. Spencer has accompanied many of the traveling acts that pass through the Pocono area, including Billy Ekstine, the Fifth Dimension, Robert Goulet, Sergio Franchi, Frankie Laine, Julius LaRosa, Eddie Fisher, and Bobby Rydell, and can even be heard on the historic SchoolHouse Rock educational series alongside the legendary Bob Dorough. He also has played and recorded with Phil Woods and can be heard on his big band album New Celebration.

Happying began life like many albums do: by a simple request from the producer, Richard Dunning. In this case, to do something more “mainstream” than his previous projects. Right then, the husband and wife duo flashed back to three unfinished sessions. Which amounted to unfinished business — and for fans of Poconos jazz, lucky us.

One session took place in Brooklyn, with the legendary drummer Bill Goodwin on the kit, and served as the session producer. The second stemmed from Nancy’s house band at the Hillside Inn Resort, recorded in their home studio, dating to the late 1980s. A third was also a home studio session, augmented and uplifted by the NEA Jazz Master saxophonist and Miles Davis associate Liebman.

“Choosing the title of the tune “Happying” to be the title of the full album was meant to express that our goal in life is to be happy,” the couple says in a statement, “not necessarily rich or famous.” And the throughline of these often disparate recordings is that sense of ebullience; it permeates everything, from the effervescent opener — swinging  “Cheerful Little Earful” — to the eponymous closing track.

Nancy and Spencer Reed have been working together for nearly 50 years, and the choice of outside collaborators reflects a similar sense of bonhomie. “Including our seven friends and associates in the project was almost like having them over for coffee and having fun,” the Reeds explain. “Hardly work at all.” Of course, “Cheerful Little Earful” refers to the three words, “I love you” — and it sets a powerful precedent for an album charged with superlative love.

Whisper Not” is a Benny Golson standard, with lyrics by the influential jazz writer Leonard Feather. “We were intrigued when we found the lyrics,” Nancy notes, and via Feather’s words, she and her husband bring the instrumental favorite into brilliant relief.

Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” was written and sung by Robert Lamm and recorded by the band Chicago; Nancy’s arrangement threw it into 5/4, recalling Dave Brubeck’s famous way with an odd time signature. Liebman turns in a virtuosic solo.

The leading large ensemble leader, trumpeter, and cornetist Thad Jones’ classic “A Child is Born” follows, and this is an especially touching version of an already resonant song. “‘A Child is Born’ is particularly meaningful to us because of our daughter, who has provided much inspiration to us,” the couple expresses. “We feel that Nancy’s scat solo and our combined improvised counterpoint displays our sound at its best.”

Feel Like Makin’ Love,” which features Nancy’s 1980s-era house band, is a version of the soul, jazz, and R&B classic originally recorded by the great Roberta Flack. “Morning Morgantown” is a beloved Joni Mitchell song from 1970’s Ladies of the Canyon; it harkens back to Nancy’s folkie days, back when she met Spencer in 1973, when mellow, AOR sounds were at full tilt.

The revered pianist Bobby Timmons wrote “Moanin’”; it was the classic opening track of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers’ 1958 desert island disc of the same name. Despite the inherent blues of this gospel-fueled gem, illustrating Nancy and Spencer Reed’s immersion in blues and swing, and profound ties to the tradition.

The late, great bebop and cool jazz vocalist Bob Dorough once described Nancy and Spencer Reed as: “With their twenty fingers and four lips working as one, Nancy and Spencer Reed lead you through their arrangements with skill and aplomb. They are the most dynamite small band I have heard yet!” Word to the wise: get Happying, and experience its charm posthaste.

Happying releases on June 28, 2024. 

 

Tracklisting

  1. Cheerful Little Earful
  2. Whisper Not
  3. Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?
  4. A Child Is Born
  5. Feel Like Makin’ Love
  6. Morning Morgantown
  7. Moanin’
  8. Happying

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