Born in Philadelphia in 1970, Reed grew up playing gospel music in his father's storefront Baptist church, starting at the age of five. "My father was a minister, but he also used to sing with a gospel group in Philly called the Bay State Singers," Reed says, in his website's promotional materials. "He was my earliest musical influence, and I also was hit heavily by Edwin Hawkins' music of the 1970s. Gospel music remains a large part of my playing today."
Reed started playing piano at age two and began formal instruction at age seven, but he is primarily self-taught. He often did not learn the written music, but listened to his teachers play it first and memorized the pieces note for note.
"My neighborhood library had all kinds of hip jazz records and I was in there every day checking them out," Reed says. "Everything was there: Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Tyner; it was unbelievable!" By the time he was 13, "I didn't realize it, but I had digested all of the jazz recordings that musicians were expected to know."
After four years of intense self-teaching combined with mentoring by composer Harold Battiste, Reed could be heard around Los Angeles leading his own groups and working in the bands of Teddy Edwards, Gerald Wilson and John Clayton. Reed has toured with Wynton Marsalis, appeared with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and performed in the bands of Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson.
In addition to leading the Eric Reed Quintet, Reed tours the world with his ensembles and teaches jazz piano worldwide. When he's not at the piano, he serves as the artistic director of the concert series Jazz Composer Portraits, at Columbia University's Miller Theater. Reed continues to perform and record with master musicians such as Elvin Jones, Benny Carter, Wayne Shorter, Ron Carter, Cassandra Wilson, Jimmy Heath, Clark Terry, and Dianne Reeves, as well as with Natalie Cole, Patti Labelle, Oleta Adams, Edwin Hawkins, Jessye Norman and Quincy Jones.
Reed has recorded 12 albums: Soldier's Hymn, (1990), It's Alright to Swing (1993), The Swing and I (1994), West Coast Jazz Summit (1995), Musicale (1996), Pure Imagination (1997), Manhattan Melodies (1999), Happiness (2001), E-Bop (2003), From My Heart (2002), Mercy and Grace (2003) and Merry Music (2003). Reed's Pure Imagination stayed at No.1 on the Gavin chart for seven weeks, which earned him the 1999 Gavin Artist of the Year award. Manhattan Melodies was also No. 1 on the Gavin chart for several weeks. Reed has written the scores for a number of films, including Life, One of Us Tripped, and The Firing Squad.