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Vocalist Ed Reed honored as Bay Area jazz hero

82-year-old East Bay musician's third album Born to be Blue set to be released later this month.

There might be no better teacher of the blues than Bay Area jazz vocalist, Ed Reed, who overcame a heroin addiction and multiple prison stints to release his first album at the age of 78. Four years later, Reed was honored as a Bay Area Jazz Hero at the Jazz Journalist Association Awards on Saturday June 11 in Berkeley and is preparing to drop his third album, Born to be Blue, on June 21.

“It was unexpected,” says Reed, who was recognized in the "Male Vocals, Rising Star" category of DownBeat's Critics Poll in 2008 and 2009 for his first and second albums, Ed Reed Sings Love Stories and The Song is You. “I had given up thinking about it. It was something that I dreamed of as a kid but then when it happened I was surprised. It’s been a fantastic experience ever since.”

In Born to be Blue Reed turns his attention to the sadder side of life, hoping to help lighten the burden of others through his singing. The collection of songs, hand chosen by Reed, speak to his own life experiences. He heralds “Inside a Silent Tear,” originally written by Blossom Dearie, as telling his story.

“That song says ‘Sometimes I laugh too much to hide the emptiness, to lose the loneliness. I’m not the laughing kind. I can’t say anything I really want to say.' That was me. I spent a lot of time being a heroin addict and I hated it. Every time I did it, I thought it was the stupidest thing I could do but I couldn’t stop,” says Reed. “I felt that I couldn’t tell anybody [that I needed help]. I feel that every time I sing it. It brings back all that heartbreak and sadness.”

Reed entered an alcohol and drug recovery program in 1986 and is now a substance abuse educator and lecturer when not singing the music of jazz greats.

The idea to record Born to be Blue was hatched back in 2009 during a gig in Switzerland with pianist Randy Porter, bassist Robb Fisher, and drummer Akira Tana. The group fell into a harmonic groove and decided their sound needed to be recorded. Tenor saxophonist Anton Schwartz was later added to the mix when the group finally sat down to record in the fall of 2010.

Yoshi’s in Oakland, Reed’s favorite place to perform in the East Bay, will host his CD release on July 25. Prior to that he will be honored as  a Bay Area Jazz Hero at the Jazzschool's satellite party on June 11 before performing that same evening at Birdland Jazzista in Berkeley. The following day he heads off to perform at the Vallejo Jazz Society.

At 82, Reed shows no signs of slowing down and is already thinking about his next album.

“As long as you can still do it, why stop? I used to have this idea about somebody my age being down and out, that it’s all over for them. But somehow that’s not happening with me yet. I’m still here. There’s just a lot of music that I want to do. A lot of songs I want to sing still,” says Reed.

For more information on upcoming performances or to find out where to pick up a copy of Born to be Blue visit edreedsings.com.