Eminent organist and mentor to J. S. Bach, Reincken became organist at the church of St. Catherine in Hamburg and remained at that post for the rest of his life. When Bach was a choirboy at Lüneburg (1700-1703) and again at Cöthen (1720), he walked to Hamburg to hear Reincken play. It is probably during one of these visits that Reincken heard Sebastian improvise on the chorale An den Wasserflüssen Babylon and remarked: "I thought this art was dead, but I see it still lives in you." Reincken represented the best of the north German school of organ playing which was characterized by dexterous passage work (especially in the pedal) and creative use of stops. Very few of Reincken's works are extant. In a letter to ForkelCarl Philipp Emanuel named Reincken as a composer whose works his father had admired. Adaptations of Reincken's Hortus musicus appear as subjects in Bach's BWV 954, 965, and 966.
Older sources indicate that Reincken was born in Wildeshausen in 1623, a city and date handed down from Mattheson. But the Hamburg scholar, Ulf Grapenthin, has recently discovered a baptismal entry for J. A. Reincken from Deventer dated December 10, 1643. This latter city and date are now accepted as authoritative.