An Array of Horns, Smoothly

Somehow, smiling while keeping his embouchure as he plays sax, Audley Reid is a sight to behold and a feast for the ears. The groove and funk spilling from his horn catches the audience in an acoustic vise.

He’s performed internationally including in his native Jamaica. A strong figure in the Chicago smooth jazz scene, he can easily slide from smooth to Caribbean to R&B or from Christian to straight-ahead. His CD titled “A Plays E” was ranked #3 by Smooth Jazz and More Internet radio.

Have you always been a musician?  

Yes, even though I worked in corporate America for over 26 years, with my first 10 years in banking and then the last 16 years in telecommunications.

What are some of the hot trends in the music business in the Midwest?

We have some fantastic young musicians out here doing some very creative things in the music world over the last few years. We’ve seen more Neo-Soul come on the spot with a funky groove and a vibe. Some musicians are exploring, taking current R&B hits and turning them into a smooth jazz type of flavor because that’s what the audience understands. It helps to grow their fan base.

Straight-ahead is making a nice comeback and holding that audience group. I hope we see more clubs opening across the country to support live musicians.

Is it hard to get gigs?

Gigs are always open depending on your price point. You will either take it or let someone else have it.

If you are an independent artist it’s a huge challenge to break into new markets.

Which of the saxes do you prefer and why?

I enjoy playing all the saxophones. I get very few calls for bari, but it’s a great horn.

Clarinet was my first instrument. I first started playing alto sax in high school and that has become my primary instrument. I picked up the tenor which has a different feel and sound, so after many years of playing the alto I had to get used to finding my voice on tenor.

Then I started to play more on all of the horns, including lead soprano, and just getting a feel for the overall flow of them and what songs feel better on each instrument.

I have over the years started to play a few more instruments: English horn, bassoon and oboe.

How would you describe the quality of your sound?

I’ve always loved David Sanborn’s playing and his sound. One of the first songs of David’s that I learned was “The Dream” which requires great control of the overtones and melody.

I just try to be me. One of the greatest things that you can do as a musician is to listen to other great performers who play your instrument and learn from them. Maintain your own sound in the music business whether you sing or play an instrument.

How do you develop breath control to master the sax?

When you’re first learning how to play the horn, long tones are very important. The goal is to increase you wind capacity, but also to listen to the tonal quality of the note you are playing. Circular breathing allows you to take in and blow out air simultaneously. Kenny G comes to mind since he can hold a note for what seems like forever.

Is smooth jazz as big in Jamaica as in the US?

No, not by any means.

I see that you play many genres within jazz. Why is smooth your jazz of choice?

The past couple of years I have been getting more calls for smooth jazz. I play a lot of straight-ahead and R&B. Flexibility to play different genres of music is serving me well. I want to be able to go on that stage and give it the best I can give it regardless of what type of music I’m playing.

Do you compose and arrange?

It’s not a strength but I’m always working on it. I like to arrange horn parts for various ensembles.

Are you surprised at the popularity of smooth jazz?

No. Internet radio has been a life-saver for the smooth jazz market. Fans can tune in and hear the very best. Promoters and artists continue to seek new opportunities such as more smooth jazz cruises and festivals.

Do you feel smooth is related to R&B?

No doubt. The ability to perform an R&B song with a smooth jazz spin has shown to be a winning combination. If you don’t adjust to your core market base you are doomed. The relationship goes all the way back to gospel roots, blues, jazz and R&B; there are far less than six degrees of separation and I don’t see this changing anytime soon.

Where have you toured?

I have played all over the place internationally and domestically. If you’re going to be a full-time musician you have to be open to looking at expanding your market. If you get those opportunities to travel abroad, definitely go if the business end works for you. What a great experience to see how other cultures live and get a chance to learn about their music!

Talk about your band members.

My base unit is a quartet. I add more musicians based on various situations.

Will Howard – Bass player, songwriter, arranger, producer. Tremendous amount of skills laying down a solid groove and keeping the pocket. 

SelfBlack – Keyboards/Organ. Stellar, Grammy-nominated keyboard player, writer-producer, also a very multi-talented musician playing several different instruments.

Derek Henderson – Drummer. We simply call him the fat timekeeper. Songwriter, producer, engineering and sound work.

We have been doing what we do for over ten years.

What do you hope an audience takes away from seeing you perform?

That they will come back again and again. We try to perform music the audience can relate to and every now and then we’ll sneak in a musician’s song. It’s very important that your music connects with your audience and that they have a connection with you and the band. 


I was nominated for the Chicago Music Awards but unfortunately I did not win.


Some people discredit smooth jazz as not “serious” jazz. How would you respond to that?

As I stated earlier, music continues to evolve. Some you will like and others you can do without. That is life. My dad was a huge Sonny Stitt and Gene Ammons fan. Whenever I sent him an invite to a straight-ahead gig he was right there front and center. He would decline to make the invite to my smooth jazz and R&B gigs.

I get it and understand the divide between those two worlds. You can’t forget that some classical folks feel the same about jazz.

The smooth jazz world today is just an adaptation of the music that’s out there today. You can judge by the festivals going around the country they have a great audience participation.  People can call it whatever they want but as long as musicians who are doing this type of music are able to make a living and produce music that people want to hear, they’ll be fine.

Talk about some of your own favorite songs, and which are the most special to you?

My CD’s are “Reid Seeds” and “A Plays E.” All of the songs have meaning and are heartfelt. I really enjoy playing my songs “On The Upside,” “Chill Session” and “So They Say” from “A Plays E.”

What’s your goal for 2017?

To continue playing and creating great music. Looking forward to doing a couple of tour dates with Aziza Miller, who is a fantastic keyboard player, writer and arranger. I hope to have my CD completed this year for presentation in 2018.

Other comments?

Please “Like” the Audley Reid Band page on Facebook and join my email list at

(c) Debbie Burke 2017

Photo courtesy of the artist

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