A seventh-generation New Orleanian, Reggie Houston was born on July 2, 1947, to Ralph Houston, a pianist and acoustic bassist, and Margarete Houston, an educator and social activist. Reggie embraced education and followed in his parents footsteps to become an arts education advocate, teacher, and world-renowned saxophonist.
Reggie was inspired to study saxophone at age 10, after seeing Ray Charles play alto sax at Lincoln Beach Amusement Park, where Fats Domino also performed during Reggie's childhood. Years later, Reggie would share the stage with both musical giants, and spend 22 years as a member of Fats Domino's band, before moving to Portland, Oregon in 2004.
Highlights of Reggie’s time in Portland include:
- Serving as one of the teachers who prepared The American Music Program high school students for their 2015 1st place win at Lincoln Center's prestigious Essentially Ellington competition that featured 88 high school jazz bands from across the US.
- Performing for, and helping to coordinate three Hurricane Katrina relief benefits:
- Portland, Oregon – Blues for Katrina, organized by the Oregon Food Bank raised $125,000.
- Seattle, Washington - a successful tri-state effort, coordinated with the Tipitina's Foundation, that culminated in the first Instruments A-Comin’ fundraiser held outside of New Orleans to raise money and collect musical instruments for Louisiana school children impacted by Hurricane Katrina.
- Corvallis, Oregon - Rockin’ The Cradle of Jazz, held at The University of Oregon in conjunction with The United Way.
- Serving on Portland's Regional Arts & Culture Council Music Panel for Project Grants. RACC Grants Program Officer Lorin Schmit Dunlop recalls, "[Reggie] was really pleased to be asked to serve the Arts Council and the arts community this way... and he was a delight! So knowledgeable and a real gentleman...a real asset on the panel."
- Participating by invitation as a founding member of the award-winning Northwest Ray Charles Tribute Band and performing with the Oregon Symphony.
- Winning four consecutive Muddy Awards earning him a place in the Cascade Blues Association Hall of Fame.
- Playing the title character in Sherman, Grammy award winning composer Thara Memory’s historical opera about Portland Jumptown-era saxophonist, Sherman Thomas.
- Maintaining weekly, long-standing gigs at some of Portland’s most beloved eateries: Tapalaya (8 years), Eats – An Oyster Bar (8 years), and Cannon’s during the summer months (11 years).
Select highlights of Reggie’s time in New Orleans include:
- Studied Music Education at Xavier University in New Orleans and Southern University in Baton Rouge, La.
- 10 years (1973-1983) as a paid employee of The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival working as the Jazz Tent stage manager, emcee and booking agent.
- When Danny Barker passed away, Reggie was chosen by Greg Stanford and Shannon Powell to be one of the core band members to play his jazz funeral. A tremendous honor.
- Performed with, and offered the baritone sax chair in Dr. John’s band.
- Performed with Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee Dave Bartholomew.
- Co-leader of The Charmaine Neville Band.
- Performed regularly with Grammy award winning soul singer Irma Thomas.
- Appears on three Peter Gabriel albums.
- Recorded with Buffy St. Marie, The Neville Brothers, Indigo Girls, Joan Osborne, Bruce Hornsby, and Mary Flower to name a few.
- Performed with Bo Diddly, Chuck Berry, Professor Longhair, Maria Muldaur, Jerry Lee Lewis, Spider John Koerner, Rolling Stones guitarist Ronnie Wood, Fats Domino and many more.
- Original member of The Survivors, formed in 1982 with composer Ramsey McLean on acoustic bass, fellow saxophonist Charles Neville, keyboardist Sam Henry, drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, and vocalist Charmaine Neville. Other players with The Survivors included guitar virtuoso Steve Masakowski, drummer Ricky Sebastian, Bobby McFerrin, and a teen-aged Harry Connick Jr. on one of his very first road gigs.
Reggie’s devotion to his craft, and to sharing his deep knowledge of Louisiana’s history, musicians, and musical genres, stems from a time-honored New Orleans tradition of arts education. Nurtured by his teachers—musical giants like Edward “Kidd” Jordan, Johnny Fernandez, Danny Barker, and Alvin Batiste—the latter of whom learned at the knee of legendary musician Sidney Bechet, referred to by Duke Ellington as “the very epitome of jazz,” Reggie has now picked up the mantle to pass that knowledge on to future generations of musicians.
When funk first developed, exploding onto the scene, Reggie was there—not as an observer, but as a 13 year-old musician playing his first professional gigs with legendary keyboardist David Batiste Sr. and The Gladiators, widely accepted as one of the preeminent and pioneering bands of funk.
Reggie knows the music. It is in his blood. He can trace the many, varied styles and influences of southeast Louisiana music all the way back to pre-colonial Africa. It is this knowledge, coupled with the strong arts education tradition of his hometown that gave rise to Reggie’s newest project, Anonymous Legends: A History of New Orleans Music—the culmination of Reggie’s life’s work.
Click on any image below to view/download a high resolution version. All photos by Hunter Paye.