Charlie Rees

saxophonist | composer/arranger | journalist

Charlie’s broad range of skills have seen him build an impressive resume in his young career so far. He has performed with legendary American pianist Richie Beirach and has appeared on lead alto sax with the London Jazz Orchestra several times since 2022. His creativity as an arranger was recognised earlier, at just 16 years old, when he was contracted as a staff arranger for the 2018 Woman to Woman tour by UK chart-topping singer-songwriters Beverley Craven, Julia Fordham and Judie Tzuke.

He is also respected across the world for his work in jazz journalism. In his capacity as the Assistant Editor of LondonJazz News, a position he has held since 2022, he has contributed over 50 articles to the LJN archive. Some of his journalistic highlights include interviews with Christian McBride, Curtis Stigers and Bob Mintzer, as well as an acclaimed five-part series on the life of saxophonist Steve Grossman. 

Read Charlie's series on Steve Grossman

“Charlie’s series of written pieces on the music and the life of Steve Grossman are not just superbly researched, they also show a maturity, sensitivity and fine judgment when dealing with the saxophonist's complex personality”
Sabastian Scotney
Sebastian Scotney
Founder & Editor of London Jazz News

Among the post-Coltrane generation of saxophonists, Steve Grossman is commonly believed to have been the one with the greatest raw talent. He set the saxophone world on fire when he burst onto the scene with Miles Davis in the late 60s and built on that reputation with the Elvin Jones Quartet in the early 70s. By the time his debut recording, Some Shapes to Come, released in 1973, the future looked bright for an emerging tenor heavyweight. But this was not to be, as he developed a pernicious drug habit that severely hampered his development as an artist. He released some recordings of quality over the ensuing years and played on many great sessions as a sideman, but the output was inconsistent at best. 

Though he lived to be 69, passing away in 2020, it’s not hard to see how Steve Grossman has become an obscure name to today’s generation, overshadowed by similarly talented and far more driven contemporaries like Michael Brecker and Dave Liebman. Most jazz historians pay little attention to his place as an innovator on the instrument (though Mark Stryker’s obituary is highly recommended), a reality for which he largely has himself to blame. Discussing Steve Grossman is a five-part interview series that aims to correct those aforementioned oversights and help to rebuild the tarnished legacy of his life and music. 

Discussing Steve Grossman (1): Interview with Richie Beirach

“I remember him at jam sessions all over Manhattan, especially in Lieb’s loft on 19th Street. We played a lot of stuff together: A lot of free music, a lot of improvised music, some tunes. He had an amazing sound on tenor. He was ahead of everyone, I must say. It was him, Michael Brecker, Lieb, Bob MintzerBob Berg… those were the guys, and he was the best one. I mean, best is a horrible word, but he was the most advanced and the most… he just had that fucking sound! It was Sonny and Trane. Grossman was just ahead of us all. He was getting his own sound, his own way of playing.” 

Discussing Steve Grossman (2): Interview with Dave Liebman

“At first, there was a little bit of a rivalry between us. And me being older, I thought it was my responsibility to cool it out. So we had a meeting at his parents’ house in Long Island. ‘We’ll be stronger together than separate’ and ‘you’ll be Trane and I’ll be Pharoah [Sanders]’, that was kind of our relationship. I played a little looser, he played all the vocabulary and everything.”

Discussing Steve Grossman (3): Interview with Gene Perla

“He’s the greatest sax player after John Coltrane. You know, I have a recording of Elvin saying that. Everybody was impressed by him…”

Discussing Steve Grossman (4): Interview with Jerry Bergonzi

“He really had great time feel, great technique, played with great authority and energy. He was just a natural saxophone player. I know he took lessons with Joe Allard and all that stuff, but so did a lot of people. You could tell he’d put in his time studying the jazz language. I never heard anything of him playing that I disliked. I didn’t care if he was trying to sound like Sonny Rollins or whatever, he just sounded great. Everybody admired Steve.”

Discussing Steve Grossman (5): Interview with Damon Brown

“After three or four days, one minute he’d be sounding like Sonny Rollins but with his own take on it, and then the next minute you’d be going, ‘What the hell is he playing?’. It was just awesome, man. I don’t think he ever lost that stuff. The more he played, the deeper it got. I think everybody played to this idea that he wanted to be a bit more safe and mainstream, but actually, he didn’t want that. What he really wanted was for the band to be free, but it was hard with his choices of tunes.”

Scroll to Top