PRESS RELEASE (11/9/09)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
John Reese, president and founder of Black Arts Music Society, Inc., died Sunday, November 7, 1999 at Methodist Hospital in Jackson, Mississippi.
A ďCelebration of LifeĒ Ceremony will be held on Saturday, November 13 at 1:00 p.m., at Smith Robinson in Jackson, Mississippi. Details are being finalized at this time. For confirmation, please contact Carolyn Nelson at (601) 982-5535.
(Jacksom, MS) - John Henry Reese was born October 10, 1930 in Hazlehurst, MS, to Susie Walker Reese and Charlie S. Reese. He was the second of four children born to this union. Johnís mother, father, and two siblings preceded him in death.
At an early age, Johnís parents moved to Jackson where he became a member of Holy Ghost Catholic Church and attended Holy Ghost Catholic School until his high school years. He attended and graduated from Lanier High School. After graduation, John moved to Washington, DC where he lived with his cousin, Geraldine Parker, until he joined the US Army. He received an Honorable Discharge from the Army in 1949.
During his young adult years, John was exposed to the music of Charlie Parker, Lester Young, and other jazz legends. He would sneak into clubs in the Farish Street area and when he couldnít sneak in, he would stand around outside listening to the music. He developed a love for jazz that would last a lifetime and prove to be his first love.
After leaving the Army, John returned to Jackson, MS for a brief stay, then moved to Oakland, California where he lived with his aunt, Abena Abraham. John attended Merritt College. In 1953, John married Maxine Sudduth and to this union three daughters were born. He was the first black train conductor on the Key System (train from Oakland to San Francisco). John and Maxine lived in both Oakland and Chicago. John was also employed with the United States Post Office for a brief period during his marriage to Maxine which lasted approximately seven years.
John was a lover of the music of jazz greats Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, Sonny Rollins, Art Hillary, John Coltrane, Coleman Hawkins, Archie Schepp, Roland Kirk, Pharoah Sanders, Horace Silver, Dexter Gordon, Johnny Griffin, Woody Shaw, Stanley Turrentine, Duke Ellington, Johnnie Griffin, Betty Carter, Cassandra Fowkles Wilson, and many others. Over the years he developed a personal and business relationship with many of these musicians. Miles Davis, Pharoah Sanders and John Coltrane were among many musicians who practiced and stayed at Johnís home in south central Los Angeles during the sixties.
In 1966 while living in Los Angeles, John met a young lady by the name of Ellen Foreman and after a brief courtship of 3 months, they were married. Five children were born to this union of 20 years. Shortly after their marriage, they moved to Oakland to be closed to Johnís children and resided in that area for several years before returning to Jackson, Mississippi.
While living in the Oakland area, John along with a very close friend, Arthur Polk, established a non-profit organization, Black Arts Music Society and provided an outlet for aspiring jazz musicians to practice and develop their music. Funded through grants from the Rosenberg Foundation, Ford Foundation and local funding agencies, BAMS provided free music lessons to young students and provided jazz workshops and lessons through the Oakland Public Schools. Concerts were held in a local church featuring local musicians from the Oakland / San Francisco Bay area. John would regularly bring young aspiring musicians (who needed a friend and/or place to stay) home to live with him and his family until other arrangements could be made.
Once John and Ellen decided to move to Jackson, Mississippi, this organization was dissolved. After the move was made to Mississippi in 1971, a new Black Arts Music Society was formed and incorporated. In the early years, John and Ellen worked very closely together to get this organization off the ground Ė writing proposals, soliciting funds and sponsors for concerts and performances featuring local and national jazz musicians; especially those born in Mississippi. The focus was on providing a cultural/educational environment to foster an interest, understanding, and appreciation of Jazz, Americaís only true and original art form. Some of the musicians featured throughout the years included Alvin Batiste, Ed Jordan, Clifford Jordan, The Heath Brothers, Johnny Griffin, Woody Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, Teddy Edwards, Alvin Fielder, Betty Carter, Freddie Redd, Russell Thomas, London Branch, Richard Brown, Cassandra Wilson, Ron Myers, and many others.
In April 1978, John was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This was the fight of a lifetime as John was hospitalized for seventeen days and given little hope by his doctors. John fought to keep positive thoughts and to win this battle by reuniting with the Catholic Church and worshipping with his family. He underwent 27 radiation treatments and refused chemotherapy while making major nutritional changes in his diet and limited his personal interaction to people with positive and encouraging words of life. It was a rough battle, but John came out victorious, beating the odds with the love, care and support of a devoted wife and family. To God be the Glory as He answered the prayers for healing. It wasnít Johnís time, his family needed him, especially his young children. We are thankful for the additional 22 years that God gave to John, and to all of us.
During Johnís recovery, Ellen became employed with the Jackson Advocate and John, who did not want to be home alone, signed up as a volunteer, going to work with Ellen and Alisha (baby daughter) every day. During this time John and Charles Tisdale, owner and publisher of the Jackson Advocate, began a friendship that continued until Johnís death.
After overcoming many challenges throughout the years, this marriage of twenty years ended in August 1986. John and his children; especially sons, Illya and Omar, took their relationship to another level after the family separated. They were able to develop a loving and lasting friendship that went far beyond the boundaries of father and son. The children and their father learned to appreciate one another and were in constant contact until his death. Over the years his children would send for him to visit them in California and once his health began to limit his travel, Illya and Omar made regular trips to Mississippi to care for their father, taking him to the doctor or where ever he needed to go, they would provide whatever assistance was necessary. And John Reese talked with all of these children every day, several times a day from the day they moved from Jackson until they returned to be by his beside until his death.
After several years of friendship, John and Mamie Conic married in 1991.
Johnís children Ė Michael McDonald, Brian A. Walker, Illya J. Reese, Omar J. Reese, Emile B. Reese, Ripple F. Reese, Debbie R. Reese, Lesliek K. Reese, Jamila F. Reese and Alisha S. Reese.