Cellist, composer and improvisor Tomeka Reid’s rigorous music spans many idioms, from swinging jazz to freely improvised excursions, to art song and contemporary chamber and orchestral works. Both as performer and composer she blows open what a 21st century cello can do. Regarding improvisation as composition - just not necessarily written down - many of Reid’s compositions include improvisation or elements that shape the improvisation.

Leading her own quartet, she has also been a frequent collaborator, playing with such artists as Nicole Mitchell, Roscoe Mitchell, Anthony Braxton and the legendary Art Ensemble of Chicago. A generous advocate for string players who may have worked in the margins, Reid designed and, since 2013, has produced the Chicago Jazz String Summit, featuring national and local performers, to encourage recognition, support and conversations among outstanding improvising and experimental string players.

As part of her mentoring work, Reid is also creating a resource book for improvising cellists with her transcriptions of solos from innovative jazz horn players, discussions on best performance practices, as well as an in-depth history of jazz cello and interviews with contemporary players describing their development and distinctive approaches to jazz and improvisation.


“As 21st century string players, I think it is imperative that we are as versatile as possible, so that we may experience the totality of the music available to us in the world and that we are encouraged to share our voices, becoming the composer as opposed to being mostly trained to be interpreters of other composers.”


photo: André Symann