Dutch jazz singer Rita Reys dies

Dutch jazz singer Rita Reys passed away last night. She was 88. Reys was born into an artistic family. Her father was a violin player and conductor, her mother a dancer. Reys already performed while still a teenager.

In 1943, Rita met her first husband, jazz drummer Wessel Ilcken, who introduced her to the Dutch jazz scene. Rita Reys & the Wessel Ilcken Sextet regularly performed at the Sheherezade jazz club in Amsterdam and other Dutch stages. In the following years, Rita and Wessel performed in other parts of Europe. In 1950 Rita and Wessel 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.

In 1953 Reys and Ilcken resided in Stockholm, Sweden, for half a year. Rita made her first recordings there for the Swedish record label Artist. On 2 March 1953, the couple recorded their first tracks with the saxophone player Lars Gullin. Six months later, they returned to the studio with the Ove Lind sextet. Rita and Wessel also attended some recording sessions Quincy Jones was doing with Lars Gullin, Clifford Brown, and Art Farmer for the Artist label, and it was in Stockholm where Rita met jazz giants like Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Lester Young for the first time. After their time in Sweden, Rita and Wessel 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, where she recorded with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. Reys returned to America a year later, where she performed at the Village Vanguard with the Chico Hamilton group. She also played with a few other big names, including Oscar Pettiford, Zoot Sims and Clark Terry. In Teddy Powell’s Lounge Rita performed with jazz organist Jimmy Smith for a week. Six days upon her return to the Netherlands, Rita suffered a personal loss: her husband Wessel Ilcken died of a brain hemorrhage.

In the Netherlands, Rita started to perform more regularly with the trio of pianist Pim Jacobs, who would become her second husband. In the following years, Rita 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 Antonio Carlos Jobim with the same orchestra. In the 1980s, Rita returned to classic American Songbook on various records.

In 1992 she released two double albums, “Rita Reys, The American Songbook, Volumes 1 & 2”. These would be the last albums she recorded with Pim Jacobs, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1995. He dies in 1996.

In 2003, Rita celebrated her 60th anniversary on stage with her 17th North Sea Jazz Festival performance and a successful Dutch tour.

More info and a discography can be found here.