Reed was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He began playing piano at age two, was playing piano in his minister father’s church by age five, and at age seven began formal study at Philadelphia’s Settlement Music School. At age 11 his family moved to Los Angeles, and he studied at the R. D. Colburn School of Arts.
In May 1986, at Colburn School, Reed met Wynton Marsalis, an encounter that would greatly aid his career. At age 18, during a year of college at California State University, Northridge, Reed briefly toured with Marsalis. He joined Marsalis’s septet a year later, and worked with him from 1990 to 1991 (in 1991–1992 he worked with Joe Henderson and Freddie Hubbard), and again from 1992 to 1995. He later worked with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra for two years (1996–1998), and led his own group in 1999.