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Bij de opnames voor het programma Rita Reys zingt Burt Bacharach. Foto: AVRO, 4 september 1971. Bron: collectie Beeld en Geluid


21-12-1924 - 28-07-2013


jazz, zang


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Rita Reys

Rita Reys (Rotterdam, 21 December 1924) is a unique phenomenon in Dutch jazz history. ‘For over half a century she has taken up an unrivalled position as the greatest jazz singer in the Netherlands,’ according to the jury that awarded her the Edison (Dutch Grammy) Oeuvre Award in 2006. She ...
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Mentioned in the biography of

1940   Wessel Ilcken
1945   Lex van Spall
1946   Piet van Dijk (1)
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Biography Rita Reys

Rita Reys (Rotterdam, 21 December 1924) is a unique phenomenon in Dutch jazz history. ‘For over half a century she has taken up an unrivalled position as the greatest jazz singer in the Netherlands,’ according to the jury that awarded her the Edison (Dutch Grammy) Oeuvre Award in 2006. She was the first Dutch jazz artist to receive this distinction. Rita Reys starts her career during the Second World War and gains her first popularity in Dutch jazz and dance music after the liberation, together with her first husband, the drummer Wessel Ilcken. Early on they both join saxophonist Piet van Dijk’s orchestra. From 1950 the couple strikes out on its own. With the Rita Reys Sextet they mainly work abroad, especially at American military bases. As the Wessel Ilcken Combo they start working in the Netherlands too, particularly at the Amsterdam jazzclub Sheherazade. In 1956 and 1957 Rita Reys tours in America, where she records six tracks with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. After Wessel Ilcken’s sudden death in July 1957 she forms a regular combination with pianist Pim Jacobs’s Trio, and she marries her accompanist in 1960. During the 1960s they perform at jazz festivals throughout Europe with a great deal of success. From 1971 Rita Reys starts making a series of albums with arranger-conductor Rogier van Otterloo, devoted to the work of famous songwriters: Burt Bacharach, Michel Legrand, George Gershwin and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Through these she manages to reach a wider audience than with her pure jazz performances. In the mid 1980s she does, however, return to singing straight jazz, and continues to do so until the present day. In a career spanning nearly seventy years Rita Reys is still seeking new musical challenges. ‘She stretches some words, shrinks others, and reigns supreme and relaxed over the meter,’ is what Bert Vuijsje says in the biography Rita Reys: Lady Jazz about a performance in 2004. ‘Even in a tempo somewhere halfway between slow and medium slow her rhythmical finesse remains breathtaking.’ She herself adds: ‘The most important thing is that your timing will always remain unscathed. It will never fade, it comes from within.’

1924 - 1945

Maria Everdina Reys is born on 21 December 1924 in Rotterdam, as the third child in a family that will eventually consist of five daughters and five sons. Her father, Karel Reys, is a professional musician, and plays the violin, clarinet and saxophone. He works as orchestra leader at the Rotterdam cinema Arena. (Rita’s sisters Riny and Elly will also work as professionals for a while; her brother Karel achieves some fame in jazz as an alto saxophonist-clarinetist) In the early war years she makes her debut as a singer with The Hawaiian Minstrels, a band performing the then widely popular Hawaiian Swing genre. The band is led by guitarist Frans van Lankeren, who will later acquire some fame as a member of the Atlantic Quintet. For a number of months she also sings with her father’s orchestra at the Rotterdam nightclub Cascade, but at the age of 18 she decides to leave home, and moves to Hilversum. She is engaged as a singer at Café Sport, and on 16 March 1943 Rita Reys makes her radio debut with Klaas van Beeck’s orchestra. During her stay in Hilversum, which lasts little over a year, she meets drummer Wessel Ilcken. She seeks him out in Rotterdam after the liberation, asking him to come and work with her in the band of Lex van Spall, a Surinam alto saxophonist. This is the start of a relationship which is sealed on 2 November 1945, when Rita Reys and Wessel Ilcken marry. Until then Rita Reys has mainly sung popular music, but Wessel Ilcken – himself a fanatical jazz musician – recognizes her talent for jazz, and helps her to develop it.

Wessel Ilcken

1946 - 1953

Rita Reys and Wessel Ilcken work with bands led by Lex van Spall and Ted Powder, both at home and abroad. In 1947 Rita Reys joins Piet van Dijk and his Dutch Radio Dance Orchestra, one of the era’s most prominent orchestras. A year later, during a lengthy engagement in Tangiers, Wessel Ilcken also joins the band. Early 1950 the couple decides to strike out on their own. As the Rita Reys Sextet they make their debut on 1 April at the bar-dancing Palace on the Amsterdam Thorbeckeplein. Rita’s brother Karel Reys plays alto sax and clarinet in the outfit; tenor saxophonist Toon van Vliet will later join the group. For nearly three years the Rita Reys Sextet mainly performs at American military bases in Germany and England, but also in Italy, Austria and Northern Africa. In January 1953 Rita Reys and Wessel Ilcken embark upon a new adventure. They leave on the off-chance for Stockholm, an important European jazz center at the time, and soon find employment at the local Nalen jazzclub. On 2 March 1953 they make their official recording debut in Stockholm: four 78 RPM sides by Rita Reys with a quartet led by Lars Gullin, the Swedish baritone and alto saxophonist who is on the verge of international fame by then.

Toon van Vliet Wessel Ilcken

1954 - 1956

Upon their return from Sweden, early 1954, Rita Reys and Wessel Ilcken find employment at the Amsterdam jazzclub Sheherazade. On 18 April 1954 their daughter Leila is born. They now perform as the Wessel Ilcken Combo and build a great jazz reputation in the Netherlands. At one time or another the band features the saxophonists Toon van Vliet and Herman Schoonderwalt, the trumpeters Jerry & Ack van Rooyen and Ado Broodboom, the pianists Cees Slinger and Rob Madna, and later the brothers Pim & Ruud Jacobs on piano and bass. On 17 January 1955 Rita Reys makes her Dutch recording debut: My Funny Valentine, accompanied by the Wessel Ilcken Combo. The track, originally issued on the first Jazz Behind The Dikes LP (Philips), is a minor hit. Thus Rita Reys establishes herself solidly as the best Dutch jazz singer. In April 1956 Rita Reys leaves for the States for the first time. To his great chagrin Wessel Ilcken can’t join her. He is not allowed a visa for the country because of drug-related problems with the law in the Netherlands. Rita Reys is invited to perform at the Holland Night of the Overseas Press Club, but she also manages to get engagements at clubs in New York and Boston. An important goal of her journey is the completion of the LP The Cool Voice Of Rita Reys. It is a joint production by the Dutch Philips label and the great American record company Columbia. The famous Columbia producer George Avakian heard Rita Reys sing at the Sheherazade in Amsterdam in December 1955, and has taken up the plan to have her record an album on which she sings both in an American and a European context: ‘She was a fine, straight-ahead jazz singer without any irritating mannerisms,‘ says Avakian. Before her departure Rita Reys concluded the Dutch recordings for the album, accompanied by the Wessel Ilcken Combo; in New York Avakian leaves her the choice of accompanists. At Wessel Ilcken’s advice she opts for the Jazz Messengers (who happen to have a Columbia recording contract). On 3 May and 25 June 1956 she records six tracks, featuring trumpeter Donald Byrd, tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley, pianist Horace Silver and drummer Art Blakey. The recordings with the Jazz Messengers strongly add to her international reputation, but looking back on the session she was not completely happy with her choice of accompanists: ‘I found Art Blakey to be quite unsubtle. For me that doesn’t swing – even if he plays very rhythmically - with such a heavy beat. I didn’t get a musical kick out of it.’

Ack van Rooyen Ado Broodboom Cees Slinger Herman Schoonderwalt Jerry van Rooyen Pim Jacobs Rob Madna Ruud Jacobs Wessel Ilcken

1957 - 1959

The LP The Cool Voice Of Rita Reys is followed by a sequel, Volume 2 (titled Her Name Is Rita in the U.S.), in which she is accompanied by a string ensemble. Six of the twelve arrangements are written by her brother-in-law, Tom Dissevelt (her sister Riny’s husband), in a very advanced style. In April 1957 Rita Reys visits America for the second time. She performs in jazzclubs in Newark, New Jersey and Toronto, Canada and records four tracks with the Dutch accordionist Mat Mathews, who settled in New York a few years earlier. Her other accompanists for the session include guitarist Barry Galbraith and bassist Milt Hinton. The pieces are released in the States on the Dawn LP New Voices (combined with music by the American singers Sylvia Pierce and Peggy Serra), and on a Philips EP in the Netherlands. Shortly after her return to the Netherlands, on 13 July 1957, Wessel Ilcken dies of a cerebral hemorrhage at the age of 33. In order to take care of her daughter and herself Rita Reys accepts all of the work that is offered to her. She performs in Germany with orchestras led by Kurt Edelhagen and Werner Müller; she gets a jazz engagement at the Paris Club Saint-Germain, but she also participates in the Dutch preliminaries for the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest (where she loses to Corry Brokken). From 1956 pianist Pim and bassist Ruud Jacobs have been regulars with the Wessel Ilcken Combo. After the drummer’s death they keep backing Rita Reys in the Netherlands, at first with drummer Cees See, later with guitarist Wim Overgaauw in a drumless trio line-up.

Cees See Mat Mathews Pim Jacobs Ruud Jacobs Tom Dissevelt Wim Overgaauw

1960 - 1970

In July 1960 Rita Reys and the Pim Jacobs Trio participate in the European jazz competition of the Premier Festival Européen du Jazz in Antibes/Juan-les-Pins. In spite of the heavy competition, including the German trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff and the Austrian saxophonist Hans Koller, the finals are a spectacular triumph for the band. The international jury name Pim Jacobs as the best pianist; Rita Reys and the trio win the Grand Prize for the best European jazz combo. Pim Jacobs, who has taken over Rita Reys’s business affairs by now, will never hesitate to announce her as Europe’s First Lady of Jazz. The singer and the pianist have also become romantically involved; on 30 September 1960 they are married. Three months prior they had recorded the LP Marriage in Modern Jazz. Because of the victory at Antibes Rita Reys and the Pim Jacobs Trio expand their growing international fame. Invitations to jazz festivals all over Europe are to follow: from Comblain-la-Tour (Belgium) to Prague, Warsaw and Budapest, and from Berlin to Palermo. In June 1969 Rita Reys and Pim Jacobs perform at the New Orleans International Jazz Festival, with trumpeter Clark Terry, tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims, bassist Milt Hinton and drummer Alan Dawson. Ira Gitler reviews the concert for the jazz monthly Down Beat: ‘Miss Reys has a buoyant style, and with driving solos from Terry and Sims the set went well.’

1971 - 1980

Bij de opnames voor het programma Rita Reys zingt Burt Bacharach. Foto: AVRO, 4 september 1971. Bron: collectie Beeld en Geluid In 1970 the fifteen years’ association between Rita Reys and the Philips label is ended. In 1971 she signs with rival label CBS, where director-producer John Vis manages to convince her to make a musical fresh start, too. The album Rita Reys Sings Burt Bacharach, with arrangements by Rogier van Otterloo who also conducts the large orchestra, is a great success with a wider audience. Similar CBS albums devoted to songs by Michel Legrand and George Gershwin are to follow (and in 1981, back with Philips, an Antonio Carlos Jobim LP). ‘On those albums with Rogier my voice is at its best,’ is Rita Reys’s own judgment. ‘The vocal technique, being in tune, the clarity of the lyrics, it’s all at its peak. As far as pure singing qualities go, these are my best recordings.’ Producer John Vis considers a different, much more austere album the musical highlight of his collaboration with the singer: That Old Feeling from 1979, with the American saxophonist Johnny Griffin and the Pim Jacobs Trio (in which Wim Overgaauw has been replaced by drummer Peter Ypma). ‘Personally I think this is the best Rita Reys record’, according to John Vis. ‘Very well recorded, in one afternoon. Rita sings straight no chaser.’

John J. Vis Peter Ypma Rogier van Otterloo Wim Overgaauw

1981 - 1996

The accolades keep coming in. Having topped the polls in Dutch jazz magazines like Rhythme and Jazzwereld for many years, and having received Edisons (Dutch Grammies) for the albums Marriage in Modern Jazz, Rita Reys Today, Rita Reys Sings Burt Bacharach and Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand, the singer is knighted in 1981. (In 1991 she will receive the North Sea Jazz Festival Bird Award, and in 2006 the Oeuvre Edison, awarded to Rita Reys as the first Dutch jazz artist, following in the footsteps of Herbie Hancock and Toots Thielemans.) On 7 April 1985 Rita Reys makes a deep impression as a pure jazz singer during the Dutch Jazz Gala organized by the TROS Sesjun radio program at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw. ‘The courage which she displays in paraphrasing the melody only seems to have grown these past few years. Her delivery, the control of her timbre and her rhythmic finesse only add to her casual mastery,’ concludes Bert Vuijsje in his newspaper review for De Volkskrant. ‘There can be no doubt as to who is the greatest Dutch jazz singer at the moment.’ It isn’t until well after the concert that the world can see that it has been a special comeback for Rita Reys in more than one respect. Three weeks earlier she had had an operation for breast cancer, was in hospital for ten days, at home for another ten, and didn’t sing for a number of weeks. Her 7 April 1985 performance is released as the RCA album Live At The Concertgebouw. For the Polydor label Rita Reys records a Christmas album in 1986 and a duo album with pianist Louis van Dijk in 1987. In 1992 she records two double CDs with the Pim Jacobs Trio: The American Songbook, Volume 1 and 2. In 1996 she receives a sledgehammer blow: on 3 July Pim Jacobs dies of pancreatic cancer at the age of 61.

Het Concertgebouw Louis van Dijk Pim Jacobs

1997 - 2009

In late December 1996 Rita Reys performs for the first time after Pim Jacobs’s death. For TROS Sesjun at Nick Vollebregt’s Jazzcafé in Laren she is accompanied by Ruud Jacobs, Peter Ypma, and Lex Jasper on piano. The latter had assisted her earlier as arranger and conductor. He remains her regular pianist for another five years, until he has to retreat because of a whiplash caused by a car crash. By then Rita Reys has recorded several albums with Jasper, including Loss Of Love: Rita Reys Sings Henry Mancini (1997). For the album The Lady Strikes Again (1999) she works with trios led by the pianists Lex Jasper and Cor Bakker and guitarist Stochelo Rosenberg. Eventually pianist Peter Beets takes Lex Jasper’s place as her regular accompanist. From 2004 Rita Reys continues to perform with the Ruud Jacobs Trio (featuring Peter Beets and guitarist Martijn van Iterson), or with a quintet (the trio plus saxophonist Ferdinand Povel and drummer Joost Patocka). 2004 also sees the publication of the book Rita Reys: Lady Jazz, in which she tells her life story, aided by Bert Vuijsje. On the occasion of her 80th birthday, on 21 December 2004 the CD Beautiful Love: A Tribute To Pim Jacobs is released. On this album Rita Reys sings fourteen songs she had never recorded before. In 2010 she records Young At Heart, featuring the American tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton and the Ruud Jacobs band. In September 2011 she receives the Gouden Eeuw Award (Golden Century Award – a Dutch oeuvre award). In July 2012 she announces in a Dutch newspaper she plans to stop singing.

Cor Bakker Ferdinand Povel Joost Patocka Lex Jasper Martijn van Iterson Peter Beets Peter Ypma Ruud Jacobs Stochelo Rosenberg

Discography Rita Reys

In the discography you will find all recordings that have been released listed chronologically. We restrict ourselves to the title, the type of audio, year of publication or recording, label, list of guest musicians, plus any comments on the issue.

Photos Rita Reys

Audio/Video Rita Reys

Video Rita Reys

Rita Reys - 60 jaar in he...
Rita Reys - 60 jaar in het vak, november 2003
Huwelijk Rita Reys en Pim...
Huwelijk Rita Reys en Pim Jacobs (1960)
Rita Reys bij uitreiking ...
Rita Reys bij uitreiking Edisons (1961)
Rita Reys zingt op afsche...
Rita Reys zingt op afscheidsconcert Jos Cleber (1962)
Rita Reys en Pim Jacobs T...
Rita Reys en Pim Jacobs Trio in Praag (1964)
AVRO's Jazzarchief - Rita...
AVRO's Jazzarchief - Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs
AFTER YOU'VE GONE- Rita Reys & Dutch Swing College Band
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AVRO's Jazzarchief - Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs

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