Most anyone who has grown up in Kings Park and has even the slightest interest in music knows Ranny Reeve, jazz composer and music teacher for the past 50 years. In 1949, after receiving his training at Columbia University, Ranny began giving music lessons primarily in Kings Park, travelling from house to house from the afternoon until late in the evening. Ranny instilled in his students not only theory but also a passion for sound.
A tall, lanky man whose gray beard and weathered face sometimes gives him the appearance of an east end fisherman, Ranny started his musical career taking piano lessons as a young grammar school boy. By the age of 14, he was playing in the local gin mills.
“That jazz bug bit me. The first time I heard that Benny Goodman Band, something went on in my big toe,” said Reeves.
In 1948, he had what he thought was a very positive four minute audition at the Julliard school of music. Days later, Ranny went to PO Box #142, a number he says he’ll never forget and received a rejection letter. Later that same evening, a local jazz musician named Chief called him and asked him to come play polkas in a local bar. Ranny made $20 that night and many nights thereafter. That experience helped him when encouraging his own students.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat,” said Reeve.
Every other Friday night, Ranny’s students, both high school and elementary were welcomed into his home on Dolores Lane for what came to be known as Jazz in the Living Room; students jamming and playing improvisational jazz with their revered teacher.
“He was a great teacher,” says former student John Scarpulla. “All the basics and whatnot, but what was amazing was that he encouraged me to compose at age eight or nine. I think my first composition was for my first cat that had passed away. And in the meantime he had me playing the Bartok piano music, Khachaturian, Bach two-part inventions, and some Boogie-Woogie and Ragtime,” Scarpulla.
It was at these sessions that Scarpulla, along with friend and fellow student and professional musician, Rob Reddy, took up their saxophones and caught that same bug Ranny so often spoke of.
Reeve continues to spread his love of music throughout the community. Every last Friday of the month, Reeve can be found at the Smithtown Arts Council’s Jazz Clinic at the Mill Pond House. Although currently living in Coram, the Jazz in the Living Room tradition continues thanks to local residents Paul and Yvonne Langer who host Christmas Jazz in the Living Room each year. Reeve continues to be a prolific composer who has recorded CDs such as his most popular Sweet Lullabies.
Reeve gives much of the credit of his success to his wife of 53 years. The 85-year-old Reeve says that throughout his 50-year career, Georgia has opened her home and her arms to his many students. Together they have three daughters and five grandchildren who live in Kings Park.
"Without her, I would have never been able to live the life of jazz," he said.