Sam Reed, who was the bandleader at the Uptown Theater in North Philadelphia, passed away on July 7, 2021. Reed was 85.
He had a major impact at the Uptown Theater. Reed, a jazz saxophonist, was one of the most talented musicians in the entertainment industry.
Kimberly Roberts, the late award-winning entertainment writer of The Philadelphia Tribune, chronicled Reed’s career and life in her book titled “Joy Ride! The Stars and Stories of Philly’s Famous Uptown Theater.”
In her book she writes, “During its glory days, one of the things that distinguished the Uptown from other theaters on the chitlin’ circuit was its stellar house band, the Sam Reed Orchestra. Aside from Georgie Woods, saxophonist Sam Reed, who served as the bandleader from 1963 to 1971, and observed the inner workings of the theater almost on a daily basis, was perhaps the ultimate Uptown ‘insider.’”
“Actually, I started there in the ‘50s. The first time I remember working there was 1957,” Reed recalled. “I was working there with a fellow by the name of Tommy Monroe. Lloyd Fatman had his shows there — you remember, ‘The Sheriff’ of WHAT? The next time I was there with Doc Bagby, then Doc Bagby gave it up, as far as the leadership of the house band there.
“There was also another person there by the name of Bill Masse. He was leading the band there before me. This was during the time of Roy Hamilton and Frankie Lymon, and the beginning of the Dells. Then Bill Masse passed, and that’s when I took over, after he passed.”
Reed started his early career with the drum and bugle corps at the American Legion Lincoln Post 89 in South Philadelphia. He was inspired to play music through his friendship with Albert “Tootie” Heath, the youngest of the Heath Brothers. When he would go to Tootie’s house, he would see brother Jimmy practicing. Reed convinced his father to buy him a saxophone.
Reed attended Mastbaum Vocational and Technical School. Mastbaum had a great music program that included Lee Morgan among its alums. Reed also attended Combs College of Music.
As Reed’s music career started to rise in leaps and bounds, he played with other Philadelphia music greats such as Albert Heath, Bobby Timmons, Lee Morgan, Spanky Debrest, Kenny Barron, Lex Humphreys, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Mickey Roker, Donald “Duck” Bailey and others. Philly at that time and even now continues to be a fertile breeding ground for world class artists.
Lovett Hines, artistic director at The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz, said he will remember Reed performing with the late jazz and swing singer Billie Holiday.
“They did a special on Billie Holiday,” Hines said. “”Sam was one of the musicians that did one of the last jobs with Billie Holiday before she passed away. He was one of those kinds of musicians that worked all the time in Philadelphia.”
Cullen Knight, who played the trumpet, was impressed with Reed’s overall skills as a musician and performer.
“Sam played all the reed instruments — sax, alto, tenor and flute,” Knight said. “Sam was an all-around great musician. He could fit in any category. He’ll be missed in the music community and the community in general.”
Wayne Morgan has been a drummer for 40 years. Morgan was a good friend of Reed and played together in the same band at different musical venues for the past eight years in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Jersey and New York. He remembers Reed being a big fan of legendary musician Charlie Parker.
“He met Charlie Parker in Philadelphia,” Morgan said. “When Charlie was on break, he let Sam hold his horn while he was on break. Sam always raved about that. That was the greatest thing in the world,” Morgan said.
Marilyn Kai Jewett, a noted Philadelphia communications and marketing specialist, watched his band perform on several occasions.
“His band was always tight,” Jewett said in a statement. “I later made his acquaintance from hanging out in jazz clubs and as a founder of the John W. Coltrane Cultural Society where he performed at our annual backyard concert fundraisers.”
The Uptown was pure R&B, blues and rock ‘n roll. However, Reed took music to another level as the house leader by adding jazz shows between the pop acts. The list included Cannonball Adderly, Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Oscar Brown, Nancy Wilson and Jimmy Smith. The rhythm & blues artists that were featured included Lou Rawls, Otis Redding, Fats Domino, Sam Cook, Isaac Hayes, Jerry Butler, Brook Benton, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Joe Tex, Stevie Wonder and others.
Reed also did studio work with Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, who later built Philadelphia International Records. This effort led to an opportunity for Reed to work with Teddy Pendergrass. For several years, Reed served as the music director for Pendergrass.
Reed had his own group and worked with Odean Pope’s “Saxophone Choir.” He was instrumental in starting The Point Breeze Performing Arts Center in South Philadelphia.
In 2014, Reed was presented with a special honor. He received the prestigious President’s Award for his years of service at the Uptown at the Uptown Hall of Fame Awards program held at CBS3 studios.
Reed is survived by his son, Dr. Yerodin Lucas; daughter, Tamika Lucas; and six grandchildren. The family is making arrangements for a service in the future.