If I had to name one jazz singer on the current scene as my favorite, my answer would be Dianne Reeves. I have many of her albums and have seen her in venues ranging from the intimate Blue Note Club to our leading concert venue, Carnegie Hall. She always impresses with her plush voice, tremendous range, rhythmic flexibility, and, at the same time, she invests each song with feeling.
Am I the only one who feels this way? Consider this. She has won the Grammy for best jazz vocal album five times. She is the only singer to have won for three consecutive albums. Last May, Reeves received an honorary doctorate from Juilliard.
Wynton Marsalis, who knows as much about jazz and its history as anyone, has said of Reeves, “She has one of the most powerful, purposeful and accurate voices of this or any time.”
Have her vocal powers declined? No, she is in peak form. Her last album, “Beautiful Life” was her first album in five years, and she won her fifth Grammy for it in 2015.
I interviewed her before she won a Grammy for her tribute to Sarah Vaughan, whom she cites as an influence. But she has also taken part in tributes to Nina Simone, who was a polar opposite of Vaughan.
Simone was less interested in showing off her vocal range than in making a dramatic and sometimes political point. (Actually, I had a ticket to her Simone tribute, which included performers Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo, at the Copenhagen Jazz Festival but the concert was rained out.)
“The Beautiful Life” album, Reeves’s first on the Concord label, has a diverse blend of music, all of which she makes personal: Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams,” Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You,” Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors,” along with Harold Arlen’s “Stormy Weather.”
With the last, she takes a song that has been done by many great singers, including Ethel Waters and Lena Horne, and doesn’t try to imitate either but takes a fresh approach.
That she moves effortlessly from one era to another is evidenced by her singing and appearance in George Clooney’s fine biographical movie about Edward R. Murrow, “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
If you don’t have one of her recordings, go to YouTube and listen to Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams.” Every word comes through crisply and her scatting is not a distraction but adds to the emotional weight.
Reeves comes from a musical family, and at her last appearance at Carnegie Hall, her cousin, keyboard star George Duke, made a guest appearance. Sadly, he has passed away.
At her upcoming concert, she will have her longstanding stellar group: Peter Martin (piano and musical director), Romero Lubambo (guitar), Reginald Veal (bass) and Terreon Gully (drums).
This is part of a series called “The Originals” with three one of kind performers. The first concert was by roots singer/songwriter Rosanne Cash and the last (which has apparently been cancelled) is classical mezzo-soprano Susan Graham. Reeves fits in with this illustrious company.
The Originals: Dianna Reeves
March 30 at 8 p.m.
Barry Bassis has been a music, theater, and travel writer for over a decade for various publications, including Epoch Times.