About Tomeka Reid
Tomeka Reid is an award-winning cellist, improviser, composer, educator, and bandleader. With her rich, woody tone and inventive playing technique she has been a key member of ensembles led by avant-garde legends like Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell. She has served foundational roles in groups led by a younger generation of visionaries including flutist Nicole Mitchell, vocalist Dee Alexander, trumpeter Jaimie Branch, and drummers Mike Reed and Makaya McCraven, to name only a few. Reid co-leads the adventurous Hear in Now string trio with violinist Mazz Swift and bassist Silvia Bolognesi, and leads her own quartet with Jason Roebke, Tomas Fujiwara, and Mary Halvorson. The latter's eponymously titled 2015 debut album showcased Reid's compositions and playing style, in which she balances space and rhythm with compelling harmonic invention and kinetic, engaged group improvisation. In the 2010s, she has recorded duo albums with saxophonist Nick Mazzarella (Signaling, 2017), joined a collaborative quartet with vocalist Kyoko Kitamura, guitarist Joe Morris, and cornetist Taylor Ho Bynum for 2018's Geometry of Caves, and was half of a duo outing with drummer Filippo Monico on The Mouser in 2019.
Reid was raised in the Washington, D.C. area and began studying the cello at age four. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, she studied classical though she also listened to mainstream popular music. Jazz was not a consideration until she was a college senior at the University of Maryland, College Park, where a mentor encouraged her to try improvisation. She was reticent since she felt she still had so much to learn about classical music, but she applied herself to learning improvisation. One summer, while visiting Chicago and playing in the season's Classical Symphony Orchestra, she met Nicole Mitchell, violinist Sam Williams, and cellist Kharma Foucher, the only other Black players in the orchestra. Reid was encouraged; she usually found herself the only Black orchestra member. In 2000, five days before she graduated from college, she took a Greyhound and moved to the Windy City. She and Mitchell, who was living in the city and already an up-and-coming member and educator in the legendary Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), re-established their friendship. Reid attended DePaul University's graduate school and joined Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble while studying improvisation. She made her recording debut on Mitchell's Afrika Rising in 2002, and they have been collaborators ever since. She also began working with other area musicians including Mike Reed, whose band Loose Assembly she joined. She eventually played with exploratory and challenging groups like vocalist Dee Alexander's Evolution Ensemble, the AACM's Great Black Music Ensemble, and others. Between 2007 and the end of 2008, Reid played on three albums each by Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble and Reed's Loose Assembly. From 2009-2010, she served as the secretary of the AACM. In 2010, Anthony Braxton enlisted her in his Tri-Centric Orchestra to record the Trillium E entry in his ongoing operatic cycle. In 2012, she recorded with Reed's and Jason Adasiewicz's Living by Lanterns band on the Cuneiform album New Myth Old Science. She formed the string trio Hear in Now with Swift and Bolognesi, issued their debut on Rudi, and played on Joshua Abrams' Represencing, Alexander's Sketches of Light, and with Roscoe Mitchell & Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble's Three Compositions: Live at Sant'Anna Arresi. In 2014, Reid was commissioned to create original music for the documentary Hairy Who & The Chicago Imagists to chronicle the Chicago Imagists, post-surrealist artists who exhibited together from the mid-'60s. Reid composed theme music for the film and made a wide range of multi-track improvisations, creating a tableau from which the film drew. Reid later recorded and released the score, making new versions of some tracks that transformed the material into a suite.
The following year proved integral. In addition to joining Roscoe Mitchell's quartet for the album Celebrating Fred Anderson, Reid cut Artifacts with Nicole Mitchell and Mike Reed. She formed the Tomeka Reid Quartet with Roebke, Fujiwara, and Halvorson. They issued their widely acclaimed self-titled debut as part of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, curated by pianist Matthew Shipp. That year she also began directing the Chicago Jazz String Summit concert festival, a role she maintained even after she moved to New York in 2016. Reid was a member of Taylor Ho Bynum's band for the album Enter the Plustet on Pi Recordings and worked extensively with Braxton on Language Music 9: Legato Formings, 10+1tet, and on his Trillium J opera.
Reid is a 2016 recipient of a 3Arts Award in music and received her doctorate in music from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign in 2017. That same year she played on several key recordings including Jaimie Branch's Fly or Die, guitarist James Elkington's Wintres Woma, Nicole Mitchell's Mandorla Awakening II: Emerging Worlds, and Liberation Narratives with the flutist and poet Haki Madhubuti; she also issued Not Living in Fear with Hear in Now, and Signaling in a duo with Nick Mazzarella. She was also part of Theater Gates & the Black Monks of Mississippi for the album One, issued by Finland's IHME Contemporary Art Festival, and worked with conductor/cornetist Rob Mazurek, Swift, Mitchell, and guitarist Jeff Parker (among others) for Wrecks, billed to the Third Coast Ensemble. In 2018, Reid joined Makaya McCraven on his seminal Universal Beings, recorded Ithra in a co-billed trio with Dave Rempis and Abrams, and cut Geometry of Caves with Kitamura, Morris, and Bynum. Reid also played in the cornetist's nonet for The Ambiguity Manifesto, and joined Mitchell's group for the acclaimed Maroon Cloud offering.
2019 proved an even busier year for the cellist. She took part in the Art Ensemble of Chicago's 50th Anniversary celebration on the album We Are on the Edge, and recorded Antichamber Music in a quartet with Claudia Solal, Katherine Young, and Benoit Delbecq. She recorded The Mouser with Monico, 7 Poets Trio with Fujiwara and vibraphonist Patricia Brennan, and Dave Douglas's Engage album in a band that also included guitarist Parker, saxophonist Anna Webber, drummer Katie Gentile, and bassist Nick Dunston. In the late summer, Reid accepted a position as Darius Milhaud Distinguished Visiting Professor at Mills College in Oakland, California (even though she remains based in New York).
In October, Reid's quartet issued their second offering, Old New, on Cuneiform. Produced by the cellist, it was recorded in Brooklyn the previous year by Eivind Opsvik, and mixed and mastered in Chicago. In November, Hear in Now and Addis Ababa's QWANQWA were jointly awarded a grant by the MacArthur Foundation called Facilitating International Cultural Exchange. Together they will collaborate on new work for a September 2020 performance at Chicago's Hyde Park Jazz Festival. ~ Thom Jurek