“There are no boundaries in music.”
by Sally Zarafonetis
As women, we experience emotional levels that aren’t often discussed in the light of day. With her newest album, Beautiful Life, Dianne Reeves finds the sweet spot of many feelings that we bury deep inside ourselves. With her passionate heart and emotional voice, Reeves is recognized as one of the true expressive musical artists of all time. Best known as a celebrated scat singer with a sumptuous voice, she has made her career blending R&B, Latin, pop and jazz, and possesses a voice that strikes a deep emotional cord. Named the most notable “jazz diva” of our time, she follows the footsteps of jazz greats that have gone before such as Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holliday.
In what has been a storied, extraordinary career, her latest and fifth Grammy award winning album, Beautiful Life, features some of the most engaging songs Reeves has ever offered. The album is a mix of creative covers of Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Ani Difranco and Bob Marley blended with some of her original works. “Even in a world with much sadness, at its essence, life is beautiful and I wanted to celebrate that which can be easily overlooked,” she said.
Beautiful Life resonates with our deepest feelings. Her velvet voice is rich with an amazing range, effortlessly skipping from high scat to alto bass within just a few notes. A multi-award-winning musician, the personal side of Dianne Reeves is not something that she readily reveals, and yet it may be the essence of her talent.
Reflecting on her time away from music and what she loves most, Reeves said, “I live in a beautiful state—Colorado. It’s pretty extraordinary. I love my home. I love cooking for people and I read. I go into the mountains and I love it.” She mentioned her favorite place to unwind. “I love Indian Springs Resort in Idaho Springs, Colorado off of I-70. I like to relax in the natural hot springs. They have a lot of fantastic massage therapists there.”
She’s also a passionate food lover. She said that lately, she’s been inspired by her visits to Perugia, Italy while performing at the Umbria Jazz Festival, one of the finest Jazz Festivals in the world. “I experienced some delicious black truffle dishes at the restaurants. I now have learned to prepared ravioli and linguine with black truffle with my friend who makes fantastic homemade pasta,” she said. She was impressed that Perugia was one of Grand Rapids’ Sister Cities.
She decided early that music was her path in life, recalling, “In the ’60s when I was in middle school, I sang in the choir and I found that performing in front of an audience was very empowering. You see, we were the first kids to be bused [in Denver Colorado] and this was a way to connect us to something positive. It was a really scary time. Music saved my life.”
Reeves credits her choir teacher, Bennie Williams, for providing the opportunity not only to discover that she had a great voice, but to realize the power of song. Reeves, who (as mentioned above) participated in one of the first busing programs to attempt racial integration and balance in the public school systems, remembered how Williams organized a concert at school to help unite kids of different cultural and racial backgrounds. For the concert, Reeves learned two contemporary songs, Aretha Franklin’s Spirit In The Dark, and Edward Hawkins’ Joy. For the first time, Reeves got on stage with a microphone and discovered the power of her voice. Williams became her mentor and piano teacher, and encouraged her to keep singing.
While growing up, Reeves listened to all kinds of music. She came to appreciate the tale that could be told in a song, not just from the lyrics, but by the way a nuance, phrasing, enunciation of a word, crescendo and decrescendo strongly impacted the emotion.
Her uncle, Charles Burrell, who was a jazz bassist as well as a bassist for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, gave her a stack of records and she discovered the voice of Sarah Vaughan. She was amazed by her ability to evoke such a range of emotions.
In particular, Reeves was drawn to Vaughan’s rich, distinct sound and emulated her style. “It was quite an education because it allowed me to feel what it was like to sing phrases over the bar line, to sing a melody and improvise within the harmonic structure without even knowing what I was doing, just listening to how she would do it,” she said in an interview with Gerald Jonas on PBS.
Reeves met her idol while still in high school. Not long after She had started to listen to and study Vaughan’s recordings, she attended a memorial service for Cannonball Adderley with her cousin George Duke. She was backstage, surrounded by musicians and tech people rushing around. Reeves noticed a woman sitting on a sofa, went over, sat down and engaged her in light conversation. The woman asked Reeves what she liked to do. She politely responded that she really liked to sing. The woman then asked her who she liked to listen to. Reeves listed several of her favorite singers including, of course, Sarah Vaughan and explained why she loved Vaughan. After having a nice chat, the woman was informed that it was “time” for her to go on stage. Reeves watched the woman go on to the stage, and suddenly realized, with shock, that she had just had a conversation with Sarah Vaughan.
Born in 1956 in Detroit, and raised in Colorado from age 3, Reeves was surrounded by music as a child. Her father, who died when she was 2 years old, was a singer, her mother played the trumpet, and her aforementioned uncle, Charles Burrell, played bass. Reeves was also surrounded by strong women who modeled hard work, and above all, persistence.
In particular, her grandmother and aunts had an influence. “We would always sit around on their laps and listen and look at their mannerisms as they described their friends, their thoughts and their lives,” she said. Reeves believes strongly in women’s equality and empowerment. “I believe it’s important to push women forward and I would tell young women to ‘lean in,’” she said. “We are all unique. Everybody has something unique to say. Protect your spirit and your voice, as this is very important to the world.”
When asked about the one song from Beautiful Life that resonates most with her, she proclaimed, “I really connect with all of them. It’s not one in particular. Each song has a different reason for being on the album. Each song resonates with my spirit.”
“I love the connection,” she whispers. “I call the stage my sacred space. It’s an intimate conversation between my musicians and myself. That’s when the magic happens.”
You can see and hear the “magic happen” when Dianne Reeves and her band perform at St. Cecilia Music Center on October 29, 2015, for the Great Artist Gala. For ticket information log on to www.SCMC-online.com.