Dianne Reeves: The Road to Icon

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With a voice described by Jazz Times as “sounding, as always, like a sun-dappled glacier leisurely, meanderingly melting its way down a Colorado mountainside,” Diane Reeves is a superlative singer and interpreter, an artist who is quintessentially jazz. She is fast becoming an icon, much as Reeves’ inspiration, Sarah Vaughan, was back in her day.

Known to many for playing the jazz singer in George Clooney’s atmospheric film Good Night and Good Luck – a mood she captured perfectly – Reeves is the first artist to receive the Grammy for “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” for three consecutive recordings (and she followed that up with a fourth Grammy for the Good Night & Good Luck soundtrack).

To listen to Reeves is to learn the ABC’s of jazz technique: flawless intonation, superb tone, impeccable timing. Add to that a gift for phrasing and control that feels entirely intuitive, and an ability to inhabit and interpret a song so authentically and completely that you feel that it should never be done any other way. Lastly, Reeves is a first-rate scat singer, dipping in-and-out in an easy fashion that is never exaggerated or overdone.

Though jazz is her first language, Reeves has a broad and far-ranging aesthetic, roaming freely when it comes to material. She embraces pop, soul, R&B and Latin music with relish, and some of her most satisfying performances have been the result of visiting such genres. The common element is that no matter what she sings, it is always her.

Born in Detroit, Reeves grew up in Colorado. Her family was musically inclined, and Reeves sang in a high-school big band that competed in national events. This led to an introduction to NEA Jazz Master/Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, trumpeter Clark Terry, who helped guide the young singer’s development.

She studied music at the University of Colorado then moved to Los Angeles, where she explored her interest in Latin jazz and worked with Eduardo Del Barrio, Sergio Mendes, Harry Belafonte and Billy Childs.

From there, Reeves’ reputation continued to build. She recorded and performed extensively with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. She was the first Creative Chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the first singer to ever perform at the famed Walt Disney Concert Hall.
 She worked with artists from Lou Rawls to Solomon Burke, Nicholas Payton, Renee Rosnes, Bob Belden and dozens more.

She won Grammy Awards for In the Moment – Live in Concert (2001), The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan (2002) and A Little Moonlight (2003 – produced by Arif Mardin), as well as Good Night & Good Luck, as already noted.

In 2007, Reeves was featured in a documentary about songwriter/arranger Billy Strayhorn (“Take the A Train,” “Lush Life”) for the PBS “Independent Lens” series, Singing Six Strayhorn Songs.

For the past several years Reeves has been touring as part of a collaborative project with Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo entitled “Sing the Truth,” “a production honoring the music and spirit of great female artists.” The show celebrates the music of Nina Simone, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln and Odetta, among other women.

She also released the album When You Know in 2008, described by the BBC as “simply great, subtle music for grown ups.”

In 2011, Reeves was invited to perform at the White House State Dinner for the President of China, and she also sang at the White House Governors Ball in February 2012.
Reeves’ San Jose Jazz concert will feature guitarist Romero Lubambo, pianist/musical director Peter Martin, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Gregory Hutchinson: a spectacular line-up for a spectacular singer.

What Dianne Reeves songs have most touched your heart? Will you be watching her as she graces the Main Stage Sunday at 4pm? Find out who will be joining you by commenting on our Facebook post!