Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Workman, Reggie (Reginald)

Bassist Reggie Workman has cultivated an advanced understanding of hard bop and avant-garde jazz through his many years in the industry. His work with tenor saxophonist John Coltrane demonstrated the importance of lyrical bass playing in contemporary jazz, and his contributions to drummer Art Blakey’s group emphasized the weight of strong rhythmic foundations.

Reginald Workman was born on June 26, 1937 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Coming of age in Philadelphia, Reggie was in constant contact with the city’s vibrant music scene. Throughout his childhood, he was able to view a large amount of live music, which stoked his musical curiosity, and encouraged the boy to take up the formal study music.

Reggie’s parents found an instructor to teach him the fundamentals and of the piano at age eight. He stopped playing when he was around twelve years old after deciding to focus his attention on sports.

Workman was first introduced to the bass in junior high school. Reggie had a cousin who played the bass and showed him how to play. Liking the sound, Reggie decided that he wanted to study the instrument, but was initially unable to because his school did not have one. Instead, he began to play the tuba and euphonium.

Upon entering high school, Workman was able to play on a bass that the school owned. He then spent a great deal of his time honing his technique and finding his voice on the instrumen and began to perform professionally with rhythm and blues groups throughout Philadelphia in 1955.

Workman then joined a quartet that included tenor saxophonist Odean Pope and pianist Hasaan. Reggie’s experience with the group brought him to the attention of pianist McCoy Tyner, whom he formed a trio with drummer Eddie Campbell. The group was known for the guest soloists they featured, which included John Coltrane, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson and alto saxophonist Jackie McLean.

During this time, Workman performed as the house bassist at a local club in Philadelphia where he was given the opportunity to work with a variety of artists including singer Aretha Franklin, saxophonist Yusef Lateef, trumpeter Lee Morgan and pianist Phineas Newborn Jr.

In 1957, Workman moved to New York City. His first significant association there was with saxophonist Gigi Gryce, with whom he began performing with in 1958. The following year, Reggie performed with pianist Red Garland and drummer Roy Haynes before joining John Coltrane’s group in 1961.

Workman joined Coltrane's group during a transitional and experimental period for the saxophonist. One experiment was to employ two bassists simultaneously. During tours, Reggie would share the stage with bassists Art Davis or Jimmy Garrison. Garrison replaced Workman as sole bassist at the end of 1961.

A crowning achievement of his time with Coltrane was the recording of his 1961 album Ole Coltrane. with Tyner, alto saxophonist Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, and drummer Elvin Jones.

These musicians are exceptionally skillful on the Coltrane and Tyner composition “Aisha.” The song begins with Workman and Tyner performing a two-beat rhythmic figure repeatedly, which serves as a catalyst for Coltrane’s introduction into the verse. Reggie maintains the haunting quality of the song by keeping the two-feel of the rhythm section, choosing to break free of the feel during certain points of the solo sections. The combination of this and Jones’ brushwork keeps the overall texture of the song intact.

The following year, after briefly performing with saxophonist James Moody. Workman began to perform with drummer Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. During the next two years, Reggie performed with Art and appeared on the records Caravan, Thermo, and Ugetsu amongst others.

A great example of Workman’s contributions to the Blakey group is the title track of his 1962 album Caravan. The song begins with an unaccompanied introduction by Blakey before Workman enters the arrangement playing a rhythmically robust line. What is most striking about his Workman’s performance is how well he navigates the demands of the soloing instruments, adding or removing slight touches to bring out the best of the soloist.

In 1964, Workman began to perform at the Five Spot Café in New York where he was the club’s house bassist. The house band also included pianist Cedar Walton and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. During this time, Reggie began an association with the Jazz Composer’s Guild, an organization founded by composer Bill Dixon to highlight the compositional efforts of jazz musicians.

The same year, Workman performed with saxophonists Archie Shepp and began a working relationship with saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Also in 1964, Reggie joined Yusef Lateef’s band and performed with him until 1965. In November 1965, Reggie performed with trumpeter Miles Davis’s quintet where he filled in for bassist Ron Carter.

On February 3, 1966, Workman recorded the song “Adam’s Apple,” on the Wayne Shorter album of the same name. The song begins with Workman, pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Joe Chambers playing an eight bar introduction that perfectly executes the funky, rhythm and blues inspired atmosphere of the song. Shorter and Workman are a perfect timbral match with the two men effortlessly blending their tones and styles.

The following year, Workman toured Japan with flautist Herbie Mann and performed with pianist Thelonious Monk in 1967. In 1968, Reggie performed with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra. The same year, Workman performed with drummer Max Roach, whom he would perform with for the next ten years. In 1971, he performed with singer Alice Coltrane and in the following year he toured Brazil and Europe with trumpeter Charles Tolliver’s group Music Inc.

Beginning in the late 1960s, Workman began to become an advocate for music education. His first teaching position was in 1973 where he taught at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst alongside Shepp and Roach. In 1975, Reggie worked at the New Muse Community Museum of Brooklyn where he served as the director of the music workshop. The same year, he performed with alto saxophonists Sonny Fortune and Makanda Ken McIntyre.

In 1978, Workman was the recipient of the Eubie Blake Award for Musical Excellence where he was recognized for his achievements in the jazz field. In 1983, Reggie recorded with pianist Mal Waldron and performed with him on a tour of Japan. The two men worked on and off together for much of the 1980s and 1990s, releasing the album Live at the Village Vanguard Mal Waldron and Friends: Live at the Village Vanguard in 1986.

Beginning in 1984, Reggie began to create and produce theatrical pieces alongside his wife, dancer and choreographer Maya Milanovic. The following year, he formed the Black Swan Quartet with violinist Akbar Ali, and cellists Eileen Folson and Abdul Wadud. The group takes the concept of adapting improvisational methods for classical compositions.

In 1986, Workman released Synthesis, his first album as a leader. Working under the name Reggie Workman Ensemble, the live album features drummer Andrew Cyrille, pianist Marilyn Crispell and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake. The album was recorded on June 15, 1986 at the Painted Bride club in Workman’s hometown of Philadelphia.

In 1987, Workman became a member of the faculty at the New School for Social Research in New York City, where he still teaches today. Throughout his years at the New School, he has been praised for his dedication to jazz education and was later named the chairperson of the school’s Jazz and Contemporary Music Program.

The same year, he joined pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Freddie Waits in the band Trio Transition, whom he would perform with until 1989. Around this time, Reggie performed with Crispell, percussionist Gerry Hemingway and drummer Paul Motian on worldwide tours.

In the early 1990s, Workman featured an array of sideman on record and in live concerts including clarinetist Don Byron, singer Jeanne Lee and violinist In 1991, Reggie was the recipient of the International Association of Jazz Educators’ Award for Merits in Education.

In 1993, Workman released the album Summit Conference with trombonist Julian Priester, saxophonist Sam Rivers, pianist Andrew Hill and drummer Pheeroan akLaff as his band. In 1995, Reggie performed with alto saxophonist Sonny Simmons for an engagement at the Iridium club in New York City.

In 1997, Workman received a Lifetime Achievement Award for the Jazz Foundation of America. The following year, Reggie started the “Tribute to an African American Legacy,” a continuing program that features original music that was directly inspired by African-American composers of the twentieth century. In 1999, he was given the Living Legacy Jazz Award from the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation.

Workman’s most recent release is his 2000 album Altered Spaces, which features contributions from Byron, Lee, Hemingway and Hwang. In 2005, Reggie performed with drummer Rashied Ali, trumpeter Roy Campbell, saxophonist Louie Belogenis and pianist Andrew Bemkey at the Stone in New York City. The event was part of a larger citywide celebration of Coltrane’s seventy-ninth birthday.

Workman currently resides in New York where he teaches and leads the group Trio 3 with Oliver Lake and Andrew Cyrille.

Select Discography

As a leader

Synthesis (1986)

Images: The Reggie Workman Ensemble in Concert (1989)

Summit Conference (1993)

Cerebral Caverns (1995)

Altered Spaces (2000)

With Art Blakey<

Caravan (1962)

Thermo (1962)

Ugetsu (1963)

Free For All (1964)

Kyoto (1964)

Indestructible (1964)

With John Coltrane

Africa/Brass (1961)

Ole Coltrane (1961)

Live at the Village Vanguard (1961)

With Freddie Hubbard

Hub-Tones (1962)

Here to Stay (1962)

The Body & The Soul (1963)

Blue Spirits (1965)

The Black Angel (1969)

With Archie Shepp

Four For Trane (1964)

With Wayne Shorter

Night Dreamer (1964)

JuJu (1964)

Adam’s Apple (1966)

Contributor: Eric Wendell