After years of classical studies, Reece's first public performances came during the swing revival movement of the late Nineties. The Hot Set Swing Band, a seven-piece jump band, provided music for Olympia, Washington's swing dance scene. It was here that Reece started to learn his way around a lead sheet and gained appreciation for the art of public performance.
"It was what got me started, you know? I was still in high school at the time. And my friend Izaak (Izaak Mills, reeds, Boogie Brown Band, Reptet) introduced me to some folks who had grown tired of the Oly punk thing and were looking for new music to play. So we were all learning about swing music at the same time. And it just so happened that everyone was starting to dance to that music again. So we were working every weekend. It's funny about growing up in Olympia... hippest city on the West Coast for a while. But I didn't realize it. I played the Capitol Theater before I ever saw a show there."
After high school, on a whim Reece auditioned to attend the music program at Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington.
"I didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I had been having so much fun playing for people I thought, 'Music? Why not?' I was still really green as far as jazz went. In fact, when I played for Chuck Israels I auditioned on Blue In Green. At the time I didn't even know that Chuck had worked with Bill Evans for years."
Reece was accepted to Western and started pursing a degree in Jazz
"The music department was pretty small and mainly geared towards music education, but the faculty was wonderful. Great theory and music history professors. But I worked the most with Chuck, Mike Allen (saxophonist), and Margaret Brink (classical pianist.) It was a wonderful combination of teachers. Mike taught me about the theory behind soloing, Margaret taught me the technique behind how to actually play the piano, and Chuck helped to shape my ideas about music. You know, the aesthetic aspects that sometimes are neglected at schools. I still to this day find myself saying things that are straight out of Chuck's playbook. It was great to work with them so closely."
On top of getting the academic training he needed at Western,
"Bellingham's music scene was a small, supportive, and tight knit affair. I think if I had gone to a school in a big city, I wouldn't have played out nearly as much. All kinds of music too. Jazz, funk, soul. I was in this live Hip Hop band that had a weekly on Saturdays at a place called The Factory. Kind of a cross between Parliament Funkadelic and the Roots. Sometimes we'd have so many musicians on the stage it was just a big mess in C minor. Once again, it was all about playing for dancers and putting on a show. We'd pack the place."
"Another cool gig I had in Bellingham was accompanying the modern dance classes at Western. The instructor would demonstrate a phrase and I would have to improvise music to the movement. It was actually my job to stare at these absolutely gorgeous people doing absolutely gorgeous things and make music. Needless to say, it wasn't hard to be inspired."
As Reece was finishing up his degree, opportunity knocked. He was asked to fill in as the piano player in a quartet to back up acts and play dance music on the cruise ship the Queen of the West. A few weeks during the summer, turned into an offer to take on the position the following year. And so after he graduated, he headed south to the Columbia River to take over the piano chair on a seven-day cruise.
"The first year I worked there was with a band leader named Saul Cline. He was a consummate professional and really demanded that the product we put out was of the highest quality. He was great about playing for the people and calling all the right tunes at the right time. I really learned how to read a crowd from him. And on top of that he was a burning saxophonist."
Saul left the company that following year which left the position of bandleader open. And the job fell to Reece.
"I think they initially offered me the job because they thought I would be a push over. You know, someone who would just say yes to any idea they had. But the bread was better and it was an opportunity to lead my own group."
Over the next two years Reece booked, arranged for, and lead the Columbia Showroom Band. He refined his skills as a performer and starting digging deep into the Great American Songbook.
"In college, you pretty much only learned the standards that Jazz musicians play at sessions. But working on the boat, you had to learn all kinds material to keep people happy. I would always take requests and if we didn't know it at the start of cruise, we'd know it by the end. Some of it was really schlocky. Like we sometimes get a request for the Macarena. You can't play that in an instrumental band. The melody is three notes. But I did learn a lot of great tunes from the past century of popular music. My favorite was to learn all the great Country tunes. Have you ever heard, 'I Love You So Much It Hurts Me?' That's an amazing song I never would have know about."
"In retrospect, I think of my time on The Queen as kind of a paid grad school. It was a wonderful opportunity to play seven nights a week. Those gigs are getting harder to come by. So the music was great, but managing was a complete drag. Especially when you had to room with the guys you work with. You always take your work home. Can't avoid it."
And so at the end of the 2005 season, Reece gave his resignation and began to pursue work in the Portland area. His flexibility and breadth of musical knowledge led to many opportunities.
"Two people instrumental in getting me work post-boat who I can't thank enough are Jim Beatty and Rick Lewis. Jim heard me playing on the boat when he would sub for the trad band that played on Saturdays. He got in contact with me and said he would hire me for his group if I ever left the boat. I kind of think of him as throwing me a life preserver with a rope attached so I could get pulled to shore. His band is so much fun. I get to work on my stride and learn some great tunes by Sidney Bechet, Wilbur de Paris, and Jelly Roll Morton. He is a real showman as well, so we get along in that respect."
"Rick I had met on the boat when he did arrangements for the shows the last year I was on there. I called him and said, 'Help! I need work.’ He got me in contact with the Portland Music Theater scene and I am greatly indebted to him in helping me get my 'land legs' back."
Currently Reece is playing around Portland with the Jim Beatty Jazz Band and his own trio. He will be playing for and conducting Portland Center Stages' production of Cabaret this fall. On Tuesday and Saturday nights you can find him working at Tony Starlight's Supper Club and Lounge. On Saturdays he leads the band for the Tony Starlight Show, a music and comedy show featuring Tony Starlight.
"I met Tony as he was putting the finishing touches on his amazing club. I played a little on the grand there as they were cutting the curtains. We got to talking and found we both had a love for popular music of all eras and started to talk about working together. The Tony Starlight show is a perfect project for me. I get to play and arrange all sorts of interesting material. New challenges every week as we constantly update the show. And every Saturday I go to work and know I am going to have a great time."
Reece continues to seek new and exciting musical challenges and continues to work on his craft as a writer and performer.
"I feel that if I am not constantly working on new music or ideas, I'm just wasting time. I am inspired by those who produce their entire lives. Like Ellington or David Halberstam. They weren't going to rest and wait it out, though they could have. I'd like to work like that."
"I feel very fortunate to be able to work with music for a career. It is a wonderful opportunity that I am grateful for everyday. My father once told me about his own career, 'at every stage, I would be as prepared as I could be and ready to work. And when a new door opened up, I'd walk through it and say I'm here.' I think I feel the same way."
(Quotations from "The Sunday Morning Back Porch Interviews." 2007)