born on 21/12/1924 in Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland, Netherlands
died on 28/7/2013 in Breukelen, Utrecht, Netherlands
Links www.ritareys.eu (English)
Rita Reys (born Maria Everdina Reijs; 21 December 1924 – 28 July 2013) was a jazz singer from the Netherlands. At the 1960 French jazz festival of Juan-les-Pins, she received the title, "Europe's first lady of jazz".
Reys was born in Rotterdam in 1924 into an artistic family. Her father was a violin player and conductor, her mother a dancer. At home, she heard hardly any jazz as her parents preferred light classical music, so Reys grew up hearing Tchaikovsky and Chopin. As a teenager, she nonetheless entered and won many local talent competitions.
In 1943, aged 18, she met her first husband, jazz drummer Wessel Ilcken, who introduced her to the jazz scene. Rita Reys & the Wessel Ilcken Sextet, featuring Jerry van Rooijen on trumpet and Toon van Vliet on tenor saxophone, regularly performed at the Sheherezade jazz club in Amsterdam and other Dutch stages. In the following years, Reys and Ilcken performed in other parts of Europe. They performed with Ted Powder in Belgium and Luxembourg in 1945 and 1946 and they toured Spain and North Africa with the Piet van Dijk orchestra between 1947 and 1950. In 1950 Reys and Ilcken founded their own combo, the Rita Reys Sextet, with which they would celebrate many successes in the following years, both in the Netherlands and in other European countries. The groups first concert was on 1 April of that year, in the Amsterdam Palace club. But most of the time the sextet performed outside of the Netherlands. In England they played on American army bases and in several dance clubs, where Reys met people like saxophonist Ronnie Scott.
In 1953, the couple moved for six months to Stockholm, Sweden where Reys made her first recordings for the Swedish record label Artist. On 2 March 1953, they recorded for the first time with the baritone saxophonist Lars Gullin. Six months later, they returned to the studio with the Ove Lind sextet. Reys and Wessel also attended some recording sessions with which Quincy Jones was involved for the Artist label, featuring Gullin, Clifford Brown, and Art Farmer. It was in Stockholm that Reys met Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Lester Young for the first time.
After their period in Sweden, Reys and Ilcken returned to the Netherlands, where Rita contributed to Jazz Behind The Dikes, an album featuring contemporary Dutch jazz talent. Her rendition of "My Funny Valentine" was her big break in her homeland. Columbia record producer George Avakian, who had heard her sing at the Sheherezade club, invited her to visit the United States. She gladly accepted his invitation and in 1956 she visited New York on her own (Wessel was unable to get a visa owing to his smoking of cannabis). She recorded half of an album in with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. The Cool Voice of Rita Reys which also features Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd.
Reys returned to America a year later, where again she performed at the Village Vanguard, this time with the Chico Hamilton group. She also played with a few other musicians, including Oscar Pettiford, Zoot Sims and Clark Terry. In Teddy Powell's Lounge Rita performed with jazz organist Jimmy Smith for a week. She briefly worked in Toronto at the Town Tavern. After that, back in New York, she performed with Herbie Mann and Oscar Pettiford. Recordings for the Dawn label were made with Milt Hinton on bass, Osie Johnson on drums and Mat Mathews on accordion. Shortly after her return to the Netherlands, Wessel Ilcken, Reys husband died of a brain hemorrhage. Nevertheless, Rita quickly returned to work in order to support herself and her daughter.
Europe's First Lady of Jazz
In the Netherlands, Reys started to perform more regularly with the trio of pianist Pim Jacobs, whom she knew from his playing with Ilcken. After a performance in the city of Groningen, during the drive back home in a minivan, he suddenly proposed to her, while guitarist Wim Overgaauw and Pim's brother, bassist Ruud Jacobs, were sleeping in the back. Their "marriage in jazz" made news headlines. On their wedding day, the mayor of Hilversum (one of the Dutch music "headquarters") presented the happy couple with the first copy of their album Marriage in Modern Jazz, the album that would win Reys her first Edison award.
During the same year, Reys and the Pim Jacobs Trio won the Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival in France, where she was named Europe's first lady of jazz. The 1960s ended with one of the greatest high points in her career: in 1969 she was the first Dutch jazz singer to perform at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, where she played with Zoot Sims and Milt Hinton, accompanied by Jacobs on piano. She became a Citizen of Honor of New Orleans in 1980.
In the following years, Reys recorded records with the Rogier van Otterloo orchestra. Her versions of songs by Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand - including renditions of "Make It Easy On Yourself" and "Once Upon A Summertime" - won her both an Edison award and a gold record. Later, she also recorded albums with the repertoire of George Gershwin and Antônio Carlos Jobim with the same orchestra.
In the 1980s, Rita returned to the American Songbook, recording albums such as Memories Of You with the Lex Jasper orchestra. In 1985, she was diagnosed with breast cancer, but recovered fully. After severe medical treatment and having recuperated for weeks, she gave a sold-out performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which signaled her comeback on stage. In 1986, Rita recorded the Christmas album Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with the Pim Jacobs Trio and the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Rogier van Otterloo. It would be her last album with van Otterloo; he died two years later.
That same year, Reys had been nominated for a Bird Award, which she finally received at the 1991 North Sea Jazz Festival, in addition to an American Songbook Award. She received a certificate of appreciation from the American Ambassador in the Hague for her achievements. In 1992 she released two double albums, Rita Reys, The American Songbook, Volumes 1 & 2. These would be the last albums she recorded with Jacobs, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1995. As a result, the tour celebrating Reys' 70th birthday was cancelled and a long path of medical treatment ensued. Jacobs died on 3 July 1996, aged 61. Ten days after his death, Reys collected the Bird Award on his behalf, promising to make a comeback "as Pim would want me to".
Reys performed again at the North Sea Jazz Festival, with her new accompanist Lex Jasper, only one year after Jacob’s death. She started to perform regularly again and even recorded a new album Loss of Love, Rita Reys sings Henry Mancini. In order to celebrate her 75th birthday, she recorded The Lady Strikes Again with the Lex Jasper Trio, the Cor Bakker Trio and the Rosenberg Trio. The first copy of the album was presented to her by the Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, who seemed to be a big fan of hers for a long time. In 2003, Reys celebrated her 60th anniversary on stage with her 17th North Sea Jazz performance and a successful Dutch tour. Some media began to speculate about a farewell, but her fierce reaction was: "Farewell? I’m not dead yet!"
Reys publishing her life story Rita Reys, Lady Jazz, co-written by journalist Bert Vuijsje in 2004. And in August, she recorded a new album. Together with Peter Beets (piano), her brother-in-law Ruud Jacobs (bass) and recent Bird Award winner Martijn van Iterson (guitar), she recorded 14 tracks she had never sung before. This CD Beautiful Love pays homage to Pim Jacobs, the man she spent 36 years of her life with. Two years later, she was the first Dutch jazz musician to be honoured with the Edison Award (after Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, and Toots Thielemans.
On 28 July 2013, Reys died at the age of 88 in Breukelen, The Netherlands.
- 1957: The Cool Voice of Rita Reys (Columbia) - with the Wes Ilcken Combo and Art Blakey and The Jazz Messengers
- 1957: The Cool Voice of Rita Reys II / Her Name Is Rita
- 1958: Two 'Jazzy' People
- 1960: Marriage in Modern Jazz
- 1961: Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition (live)
- 1963: Jazz Sir, That's Our Baby
- 1963: At The Golden Circle Club, Stockholm (live)
- 1963: Live at Jazzfest, Warsaw, Poland (live)
- 1964: Relax with Rita and Pim
- 1965: Congratulations in Jazz
- 1965: Rita Reys Meets Oliver Nelson
- 1967: Rita a Go-Go, Live at the Go-Go Club, Loosdrecht
- 1969: Rita Reys Today – Recorded in London
- 1969: The Rita Reys Collection (compilation album)
- 1971: Rita Reys Sings Burt Bacharach
- 1973: Our Favorite Songs
- 1972: Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand
- 1975: Rita Reys Sings George Gershwin
- 1979: That Old Feeling
- 1981: Rita Reys Sings Antonio Carlos Jobim
- 1981: Rita's Requests (compilation album)
- 1981: Rita Reys Collage (compilation album)
- 1981: Rita Reys / Pim Jacobs Collage (compilation album)
- 1983: Memories of You
- 1986: Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs - Special Guest Louis Van Dijk - Live at the Concertgebouw
- 1986: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
- 1987: Two For Tea
- 1990: Swing And Sweet
- 1992: Europe's First Lady of Jazz Rita Reys - The Great American Songbook - Volume 1
- 1992: Europe's First Lady of Jazz Rita Reys - The Great American Songbook - Volume 2
- 1992: Tenderly
- 1995: The Ballad Album (compilation album)
- 1995: First Lady of Jazz (compilation album)
- 1998: Loss of Love - Rita Reys Sings Henry Mancini
- 1999: Once Upon a Summertime
- 1999: The Lady Strikes Again
- 1999: Introducing Dutch Jazz Masters (compilation album)
- 1999: Dutch Jazz Masters Volume 3 - Rita Reys (compilation album)
- 1999: Dutch Jazz Masters Volume 6 - Leading Ladies & Gents (compilation album)
- 2000: Summertime (compilation album)
- 2004: Beautiful Love - A Tribute to Pim Jacobs
- 2004: The Rita Reys Collection - Songs of a Lifetime (compilation album)
- 2006: Het Beste Van ... Rita Reys (compilation album)
- 2006: Songbooks (Bacharach, Legrand & Gershwin) (compilation album)
- 2007 Live At Carré
Awards and honours
- 1954 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1956 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1957 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1958 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1959 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1960 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer
- 1958 - Playboy Jazz Poll (USA: nomination for best female singer)
- 1960 - Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs winn the festival award at the jazz festival of Antibes/Juan-les-Pins
- 1961 - for Marriage in Modern Jazz (Philips)
- 1969 - for Rita Reys Today (Philips)
- 1971 - for Rita Reys Sings Burt Burt Bacharach (CBS)
- 1972 - for Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand (CBS)
- 1988 - for Two For Tea (ft. Louis van Dijk) (Polydor)
- 2006 - Edison Oeuvre Award
- 1963 - Award for best vocalist at the Prague Jazz Festival
- 1966 - Best Dutch vocalist
- 1967 - Best Dutch vocalist
- 1971 - for Rita Reys Sings Burt Bacharach (CBS)
- 1972 - for Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand (CBS)
- 1992 - for The American Songbook, Volume I (Masters Music)
- 1992 - for The American Songbook, Volume II (Masters Music)
- 1980 - Citizen of Honour of New Orleans, Louisiana (U.S.)
- 1981 - Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau
- 1992 - Certificate of Appreciation for her promotion of the American Song Book (presented to her by the United States ambassador in the Netherlands)
- 1991 - Bird Award (category Jazz music in The Netherlands)
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