Reggie Dennis’ mother knew he had a gift for music from an early age.
When Reggie was a toddler, Theresa Dennis had to stop her son from leafing through the vinyl records she kept at home: Earth, Wind & Fire, Rick James, Funkadelic.
And when she finally put them on, 5-year-old Reggie was able to pick out bits of songs Theresa had never noticed herself.
“He would hear all the instruments and recognize them,” she said. “He heard things that I didn’t hear, ordinary people didn’t hear.”
Reggie Dennis has been many things in his life in Charlotte: an artist, a mentor, a bandmate, a friend.
But above all, Dennis was a music lover. It was the common thread of his life, what he lived and breathed.
“It was his life’s ambition,” said Letron Brantley, frontman and saxophonist of Jazz Revolution, the band Dennis played bass guitar for. “All he wanted was to play.”
Reginald “Reggie” Lee Dennis died on February 3, 2022 at his home in Charlotte. He was 52 years old. He is survived by his mother and many friends and family members.
“He could befriend anyone”
Theresa Dennis bought her son his first guitar from a JC Penney catalog when he was about 8 or 9 years old.
He quickly took to the instrument, but not so easily in lessons. Too impatient for scales or simple exercises, Dennis was above all self-taught and played by ear.
He eventually learned to read sheet music in classes at Central Piedmont Community College and bought his first bass guitar at a pawnshop. As a teenager, he worked as a roadie for local jazz legend Johnny Holloway, who became a mentor.
Dennis met Brantley in 2008, after Brantley started Jazz Revolution and was looking for a bassist. He was impressed by Dennis’ talent and humility.
“Musicians, they can be pretty cocky,” Brantley said. “He was very humble, but also very good.”
Dennis joined the band, a Charlotte-based ensemble that performed jazz and soul music in the city and throughout the South. He had a unique way of playing — using just two fingers on the neck of his bass instead of four — that spoke to his level of talent, Brantley said.
But it’s his laid-back spirit, coupled with his technical genius, that has helped him become a fixture in Charlotte’s tight-knit musical community, Brantley said.
“He could befriend anyone,” Brantley said. He’s always been one to encourage young musicians and support other artists, he said.
His impact reached further than he knew. Both Brantley and Theresa Dennis said they were surprised by the outpouring of messages they received after Dennis died: from musicians they didn’t even know Reggie had met.
“I knew he knew a lot of people. I didn’t know how many,” Brantley said.
A “walking encyclopedia”
Dennis was a dependable bandmate who always knew how to ease tension or provide laughs in rehearsal, Brantley said. But he was also a great friend: reliable, caring, and never one to hold grudges. Dennis was the type to text you out of the blue, hoping to make you smile.
Every Sunday he visited his mother after church to watch television and have dinner. His specialty was turkey meatloaf – though his cooking wasn’t as good as his bass playing – and he always arrived with a bottle of Mountain Dew in hand.
He also worked for a local pharmacy chain for 25 years, his mother said.
But above all, he lived and breathed music. He fascinated people with his ability to remember the smallest details of a song, style or artist, Brantley said.
“He was just a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge,” he said. You could hum a tune and he could name the band, the name of the track and the year it was recorded,” he said.
Dennis didn’t drive, so Brantley sometimes drove him to concerts. In the car, they obsessed over mid-century jazz, uploading YouTube videos of particular artists as they talked.
Dennis didn’t limit himself to one genre, Brantley said. He had a knack for embracing different musical styles, but if he had to describe Dennis’ playing in a few words, it would be “just funky”.
He was, to put it simply, a natural. “A lot of people called him a musical genius,” his mother said.
But for Dennis, it was never about impressing others.
“Music was his love,” Theresa Dennis said. “He built a life around what he loved.”
A public celebration of Reggie Dennis’ life will be held Saturday, February 19 at 11 a.m. at the Long & Son Mortuary Chapel on Beatties Ford Road.