Reggie Workman: do the best on every occasion

Named a NEA Jazz Master this year, bassist Reggie Workman, 83, a linchpin of legendary groups featuring everyone from tenor saxophonist John Coltrane to drummer Andrew Cyrille, discusses his career and ideas with SF Jazz’s Richard Scheinin. Brought up in Philadelphia’s Germantown with tenor saxophonist Archie Shepp as a neighbor, the bassist’s more than 60-year career began playing R&B gigs and jam sessions in Philly with other local players who would go on to stellar Jazz careers. At one point he and pianist McCoy Tyner were two-thirds of the house band for the city’s House of Jazz club backing visiting soloists. In New York, besides more traditional gigs with the likes of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and drummer Art Blakey, Workman was a member of Coltrane’s first important quartet. “When John Coltrane came along, he explained to me that I was to be myself,” he recalls. “And that was a revelation to me. My philosophy became that you do the best in every occasion, and it’s all about creating a musical dialogue. You try to find a common thread, because every area that you want to deal with, you should be able to do your best.” That philosophy has guided him ever since, through numerous affiliations, most prominently with the cooperative Trio3 band with Cyrille and alto saxophonist Oliver Lake and in his teaching at Manhattan’s New School and other educational institutions.