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Rita Reys was long ago billed as "Europe's First Lady of Jazz." A living legend overseas, Reys has been one of the top jazz singers in Europe since the mid-'50s. Born Maria Everdina Reys in Rotterdam, she began singing as a teenager. Reys won several song contests and in 1941, when she was 16, joined the Hawaiian Minstrels. In 1943 she became a member of her father's theater orchestra. Other early experiences included touring with Lex Van Spall, Ted Powder, and the Piet Van Dijk Orchestra. In 1945 she married drummer Wessel Ilcken, who introduced her to the postwar jazz scene. She worked with her husband's sextet for most of a decade. They were based in Stockholm for a time, where she recorded with the great baritonist Lars Gullin in 1953. In 1956 Reys recorded probably her most famous album, The Cool Voice of Rita Reys. Her backup band was Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers. Reys and Ilcken spent a few months in the United States during 1956-1957. She had opportunities to sing not only with Blakey but Jimmy Smith, Chico Hamilton, Clark Terry, and Mat Mathews.
Back in Europe, tragedy struck in 1957 when a car accident resulted in the death of Wessel Ilcken. After some time, Reys continued her career. In 1960 she married pianist Pim Jacobs, working regularly with his combo up until his death in 1996. Along the way she performed with Zoot Sims, Oliver Nelson, the Dutch Swing College Band, and other notables. Reys, despite being influenced by Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé, has her own approach to caressing ballads and swinging uptempo tunes. She celebrated her 80th birthday during 2004-2005, writing her memoirs (Rita Reys -- Lady Jazz) and having many special performances, including television specials and concerts all around the Netherlands. An excellent four-CD box set, The Rita Reys Story -- Songs of a Lifetime, sums up her musical legacy, dating from 1953-2000.
Rita Reys (born Maria Everdina Reijs 21 December 1924 in Rotterdam) is a jazz singer from the Netherlands. At the 1960 French jazz festival of Juan-les-Pins, she received the title, "Europe's first lady of jazz".
Early career 
Maria Everdina Reys was born into an artistic family. Her father was a violin player and conductor, her mother a dancer. At home, there was virtually no jazz music. Her parents preferred light classical music, so Rita grew up with the sounds of Tchaikovsky and Chopin. As a teenager, Rita nonetheless entered and won many local talent competitions.
In 1943, Rita met her first husband, jazz drummer Wessel Ilcken, who introduced her to the jazz scene. Rita Reys & the Wessel Ilcken Sextet, featuring Jerry van Rooijen on trumpet and Toon van Vliet on tenor saxophone, regularly performed at the Sheherezade jazz club in Amsterdam and other Dutch stages. In the following years, Rita and Wessel performed in other parts of Europe. They performed with Ted Powder in Belgium and Luxemburg in 1945 and 1946 and they toured Spain and North Africa with the Piet van Dijk orchestra between 1947 and 1950.
In 1950 Rita and Wessel founded their own combo, the Rita Reys Sextet, with which they would celebrate many successes in the following years, both in The Netherlands and in other European countries. Their first concert was on 1 April that of that year, in the Amsterdam Palace club. But most of the time the sextet performed outside of Holland. In England they played on American army bases and in several dance clubs, where Rita met people like Ronnie Scott, who later founded Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London. A picture of them was published in music magazine Melody Maker. A newspaper in Edinburgh (Scotland) wrote: "Rita Gives Swing Fans A Dutch Treat". In 1953 Rita and Wessel resided in Stockholm, Sweden, for half a year, which was the jazz centre of Europe in those days. Rita made her first recordings there for the Swedish record label Artist. On 2 March 1953, the couple recorded their first tracks with the saxophone player Lars Gullin. Six months later, they returned to the studio with the Ove Lind sextet. Rita and Wessel also attended some recording sessions Quincy Jones was doing with Lars Gullin, Clifford Brown, and Art Farmer for the Artist label, and it was in Stockholm where Rita met people like Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson and Lester Young for the first time.
After their time in Sweden, Rita and Wessel returned to the Netherlands, where Rita contributed to Jazz Behind The Dikes, an album featuring contemporary Dutch jazz talent. Her rendition of "My Funny Valentine" was her big break in her homeland. Columbia record producer George Avakian, who had heard her sing at the Sheherezade club, invited her to visit the United States. She gladly accepted his invitation and in 1956 she went to New York on her own (Wessel was unable to get a visa owing to his smoking of cannabis). She recorded half of an album in with Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers. The Cool Voice of Rita Reys features Horace Silver, Hank Mobley and Donald Byrd. Avakian later remembered: "Rita could really swing. It was the swinging quality of her phrasing that persuaded me, and which also impressed the musicians. They recognized right away that she could stay right with them. That is exactly what happened on that record, and everybody can still hear it today". Some of the musicians did a number of shows with her at the renowned Village Vanguard in New York’s Greenwich Village. In New York Rita also got to know Tony Bennett, a friend of George Avakian. They regularly met in the following decades, when Bennett was on tour in Europe.
Rita returned to America a year later, where again she performed at the Village Vanguard, this time with the Chico Hamilton group. She also played with a few other big names, including Oscar Pettiford, Zoot Sims and Clark Terry. In Teddy Powell's Lounge Rita performed with jazz organist Jimmy Smith for a week. She went to Toronto to work in Town Tavern. After that, back in New York, she performed with Herbie Mann and Oscar Pettiford. Recordings for the Dawn label were made with Milt Hinton op bass, Osie Johnson op drums and Mat Matthews on accordion.
Six days upon her return to the Netherlands, Rita suffered a personal loss: her husband Wessel, who had just become Dutch Water-skiing Champion, died of a brain hemorrhage. Nevertheless, Rita quickly went back to work in order to support herself and her daughter. She went to Germany, where she worked with Kurt Edelhagen and Bengt Hallberg, and she also performed with Lester Young in France.
Europe's First Lady Of Jazz 
In the Netherlands, Rita started to perform more regularly with the trio of pianist Pim Jacobs, whom she already knew from his playing with Wessel. After a show in the city of Groningen, during the drive back home in a minivan, he suddenly proposed to her, while guitarist Wim Overgaauw and Pim’s brother, bassist Ruud Jacobs, were sleeping in the back. Their "marriage in jazz" even made news headlines. On their wedding day, the mayor of Hilversum (one of the Dutch music ’headquarters’) presented the happy couple with the first copy of their album Marriage in Modern Jazz (the album that would win Rita her first Edison award).
That same year, Rita and the Pim Jacobs Trio won the Juan Les Pins Jazz Festival in France, where Rita was named Europe’s first lady of jazz, a title she would carry with grace for the rest of her career. The 1960s ended with one of the greatest high points in Rita’s career: in 1969 she was the first Dutch jazz singer to perform at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, where she played with, among others, Zoot Sims and Milt Hinton, accompanied by Pim on piano. She became a Citizen of Honor of New Orleans in 1980.
Later career 
In the following years, Rita recorded records with the Rogier van Otterloo orchestra. Her versions of songs by Burt Bacharach and Michel Legrand - including renditions of "Make It Easy On Yourself" and Once Upon A Summertime - won her both an Edison award and a gold record. Later, she also recorded albums with the repertoire of George Gershwin and Antonio Carlos Jobim with the same orchestra.
In the 1980s, Rita returned to classical American Songbook jazz, recording albums such as Memories Of You with the Lex Jasper orchestra. In 1985, Rita was diagnosed with breast cancer, but made a quick and full recovery. After severe medical treatment and having recuperated for weeks, she gave a sold-out performance at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, which signaled her comeback on stage. In 1986, Rita recorded the Christmas album Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas with the Pim Jacobs Trio and the Metropole Orchestra conducted by Rogier van Otterloo. It would be her last album with Rogier, as he died two years later.
That same year, Rita had been nominated for a Bird Award, which she finally received at the 1991 North Sea Jazz Festival, in addition to an American Songbook Award. She received a certificate of appreciation from the American Ambassador in The Hague for her achievements. In 1992 she released two double albums, Rita Reys, The American Songbook, Volumes 1 & 2. These would be the last albums she recorded with Pim, who was diagnosed with cancer in 1995. As a result, the tour celebrating Rita’s 70th birthday was cancelled and a long path of medical treatment ensued. Despite this, Pim died on 3 July 1996 at the age of 61. Ten days after his death, Rita collected the Bird Award on his behalf, promising to make a comeback "as Pim would want me to".
Reys performed again at the North Sea Jazz Festival, with her new accompanist Lex Jasper, only one year after Pim’s death. She started to perform regularly again and even recorded a new album Loss of Love, Rita Reys sings Henry Mancini. In order to celebrate her 75th birthday, she recorded The Lady Strikes Again with the Lex Jasper Trio, the Cor Bakker Trio and the Rosenberg Trio. The first copy of the album was presented to her by the Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, who seemed to be a big fan of hers for a long time. In 2003, Rita celebrated her 60th anniversary on stage with her 17th North Sea Jazz performance and a successful Dutch tour. Some media began to speculate about a farewell, but Rita’s fierce reaction was: "Farewell? I’m not dead yet!"
Reys publishing her life story Rita Reys, Lady Jazz, co-written by journalist Bert Vuijsje in 2004. And in August, she recorded a new album. Together with Peter Beets (piano), her brother-in-law Ruud Jacobs (bass) and recent Bird Award winner Martijn van Iterson (guitar), she recorded 14 tracks she had never sung before. This CD Beautiful Love pays homage to Pim Jacobs, the man she spent 36 years of her life with and who was so beloved by her, Ruud and many others. Two years later, she was the first Dutch jazz musician to be honoured with the Edison Award (after Tony Bennett, Herbie Hancock, and Toots Thielemans.
Recently Rita Reys performed at a sold out Amsterdam Concertgebouw, together with Trijntje Oosterhuis and accompanied by the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw.
Awards and honours 1954 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1956 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1957 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1958 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1959 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1960 - Rhythme Poll: Best Dutch jazz singer1958 - Playboy Jazz Poll (USA: nomination for best female singer)1960 - Rita Reys & Trio Pim Jacobs winn the festival award at the jazz festival of Antibes/Juan-les-Pins
EDISON AWARD1961 - for Marriage in Modern Jazz (Philips)1969 - for Rita Reys Today (Philips)1971 - for Rita Reys Sings Burt Burt Bacharach (CBS)1972 - for Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand (CBS)1988 - for Two For Tea (ft. Louis van Dijk) (Polydor)2006 - Edison Oeuvre Award1963 - Award for best vocalist at the Prague Jazz Festival
JAZZWERELD POLL1966 - Best Dutch vocalist1967 - Best Dutch vocalist
GOLDEN RECORDS1971 - for Rita Reys Sings Burt Bacharach (CBS)1972 - for Rita Reys Sings Michel Legrand (CBS)1992 - for The American Songbook, Volume I (Masters Music)1992 - for The American Songbook, Volume II (Masters Music)1980 - Citizen of honour of New Orleans1981 - Knight in the Order of Oranje-Nassau1992 - Certificate of Appreciation for her promotion of the American Song Book (presented to her by the United States ambassador in the Netherlands)1991 - Bird Award (category Jazz music in The Netherlands)