The vibrant Dianne Reeves, winner of four Grammy Awards for best jazz performance, is the undisputed successor to Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. Her crystal clear tones and sophisticated scatting set her apart from her contemporaries even as her distinctive interpretations reflect her admiration of those jazz legends.
This week she stops at Strathmore Music Center for an evening of undiluted jazz that only she can deliver. Backed by her music director Peter Martin on piano, Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist Reginald Veal and Terreon Gully on drums, she has chosen a program of hits that span her career of 30 years, some soul and pop numbers from her 2008 release, "When You Know," and a hint of joys to come from "Beautiful Life," her label debut album for Concord Records, due out in February.
"Peter is a fantastic pianist, and it's kind of like we read each others thoughts with a freedom of emotion that allows us to meet each other in space," Miss Reeves told The Washington Times on Tuesday. She was relaxing at her Denver home in the middle of the world tour that began last month at the Hollywood Bowl. After her break, she was headed to Osaka, Japan. The tour winds down just before Christmas in Bratislava, Slovakia. "We have a telepathic relationship, and I'm blessed that I love what I'm doing.
"A lot of songs from the past speak to me and inspire my interpretations. I remember when artists like Betty Carter, Carmen McRae and Shirley Horn suspended me in time, so I often began with a slow rhythm, trying to phrase like Betty Carter while looking for my own voice. Today, I get inspiration from a new generation of musicians.
"Terri Lyne Carrington, the producer of 'Beautiful Life,' is like my little sister. The first time I worked with her was in Europe on her Mozaic Project, a celebration of women in jazz. She has her feet firmly planted in jazz; at the same time, she is a bridge between jazz and the music of her generation. This recording is still me being me, but it gives a new framework steeped in soul. I chose the title because life is beautiful and the music I sing is a celebration of life."
At the time she was planning "When You Know," Miss Reeves was inspired by her mother, then 84 years of age, to include romantic songs filled with memories going back to her high school days. In contrast, "Beautiful Life" is a jazzy potpourri of a dozen R&B, Latin and pop songs presented with a nod to the future. Ten are covers of iconic numbers by Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley, Fleetwood Mac and others, while two are brand new. Miss Reeves composed "Cold," a song about indifference. She characterizes it as representing the end of a relationship when "every fiber of one's being is sapped and the time has come to forget what happened and admit that you have tried your best and failed."
"Satiated," the other new work, was composed by Ms. Carrington and sung on the album by guest artist blues and soul vocalist Gregory Porter. Other high profile guests who contribute to the mix are soul singer Lalah Hathaway, who learned her craft from her father Donny Hathaway, bassists Esperanza Spalding, honored with three Grammy Awards, and Cameroon native Richard Bona, along with three highly respected pianists: Robert Glasper, Gerald Clayton and George Duke, who died in August.
Miss Reeves and Duke were cousins in a musical family that included her parents and her uncle, Charles Burrell, a bass player with the Denver Symphony Orchestra. Once Mr. Burrell introduced her to recordings by Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, she knew where she was headed. Fresh from her high school big band win at a music festival, she studied music at the University of Colorado before heading to Los Angeles to launch her singing career.
After touring with Eduardo del Barrio, Sergio Mendes and Harry Belafonte, she struck out on her own. Her first Grammy Award came in 2001 for her album "In the Moment - Live in Concert," her second in 2002 for "The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan," and her third in 2004 for "A Little Moonlight." Two years later, she earned her fourth Grammy for her vocals on the soundtrack of George Clooney's Academy Award-nominated film "Good Night and Good Luck," which was based on television commentator Edward R. Murrow's role in mobilizing a public backlash against the tactics used by Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy to ferret out communist influence in American public life.
In addition to cutting numerous albums, Miss Reeves has performed with jazz artists and orchestras worldwide. She sang at the 2002 Winter Olympics closing ceremony, has appeared many times at the White House and was named the first creative chairperson for jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. One of her favorite delights is sharing her expertise with young people.
"I love working with young musicians because they give me such wonderful ideas," she said. "I always walk away richer, having learned more from the questions they ask."
She especially looks forward to Nov. 22, when she will be back in Washington to coach young jazz musicians in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. The following evening, she will be one of the outstanding vocalists from many musical genres, including Broadway and opera, performing in the American Voice Concert. This very special NSO concert presented in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall will be hosted by soprano Renee Fleming and conducted by NSO Principal Pops Conductor Steven Reineke.
WHAT: Vocalist Dianne Reeves in concert
WHERE: Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, Md.
WHEN: 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 18
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