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Dianne Reeves Quartet

Waltons World Masters Series

‘Dianne Reeves has an amazing voice, one of the best that jazz has boasted. It’s powerful and intimate and full of emotion, and her range is stunning. It’s no stretch to compare her voice to Sarah Vaughan’s.’
– Boston Globe

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When Thursday, 1 April 2004
Where National Concert Hall, Dublin, Main Auditorium
Presented by Waltons New School of Music
Supported by The Irish Times, RTÉ lyric fm

Dianne Reeves Quartet

Dianne Reeves • Vocals
Peter Martin • Piano
Reuben Rogers • Bass
Greg Hutchinson • Drums

‘Reeves is, in every sense, a jazz musician. Her voice – among the most fabulous around – is her instrument, and she improvises both in lyric and melodic delivery on every selection. Combining an amazing range and rich, full contralto with what old hipsters called “good ears”, Reeves is capable of presenting as exciting and imaginative a jazz performance as any other great instrumentalist.’
– San Francisco Chronicle

‘Dianne’s the legitimate extension of all of the good things that have gone on before, from Ethel Waters to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah and Carmen. She is earth mother, lover, the hurt child: she manages to get inside each one of those things.’
– Downbeat

Celebrated as one of the world’s pre-eminent jazz vocalists, Dianne Reeves won Grammy Awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for each of her last four recordings – a Grammy first in any vocal category. Since her signing as the first vocalist on the reactivated Blue Note label in 1987, Reeves has captured a huge following and tremendous critical acclaim for her unique jazz stylings, which draw their inspiration from a world of influences, including Africa, Brazil, the Caribbean, gospel and R&B.

In recent years Reeves has recorded and performed with the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, with Daniel Barenboim and the Chicago Symphony, with Sir Simon Rattle and the Berlin Philharmonic and at the closing ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. She has received the Ella Fitzgerald Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival and an honorary doctorate from the Berklee College of Music, and she was the first Creative Chair for Jazz for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She continues to tour extensively throughout the US, Europe and Asia.

Arminta Wallace, ‘All That Fusion’

The Irish Times, 27 March 2004

Denver, Colorado doesn’t immediately spring to mind when you think of great jazz cities. It is, nevertheless, the home of one of the most highly acclaimed jazz singers at work in the US – although when she answers the phone at 10 a.m. mountain time, it turns out that Dianne Reeves is actually ensconced in a hotel room in Los Angeles.

“I had to come out here to sort out an emergency,” she says, sounding unruffled.

The emergency, it turns out, has to do with her work with the Los Angeles Philharmonic – which doesn’t sound very jazz either, but actually it is.

“The title of the position I hold is the ‘creative chair’,” she explains. “Which I love, because it means I get to create.”

She also gets to organise outreach programmes and lectures, plan summer concerts for the 17,000-seater arena at the Hollywood Bowl and programme five shows a year at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. All this in addition to being greatly in demand as a performer and recording artist in her own right?

“Mm-hmm.” She laughs, a light, musical chuckle. “I have help. I really have a lot of help. Everything is programmed a year or so in advance, so it works like clockwork. Well, almost always, emergencies apart.”

Now we’re both laughing, on opposite sides of the Atlantic. On this side of the pond, however, the idea of collaboration between the classical and jazz brigades would be more likely to provoke puzzlement than jollity.

“Well, hopefully it’s something that’ll rub off in your country too,” says Reeves. “Because for a long time it wasn’t like this here either. But now, people recognise that jazz is an important art form and is truly America’s classical music. This programme at the LA Phil isn’t just jazz, but also world music, presented at a very high level. So what happens is, people who wouldn’t ordinarily listen to the orchestra come to hear some of the world music artists – like the Chieftains, for example – but then they might want to come and hear what the orchestra’s doing, or what the jazz people are doing. It’s making it so that it blurs the musical boundaries.”

Reeves has blurred a few boundaries in her own right, irritating the jazz purists by early ventures in Latin and pop. She has performed with Sergio Mendes and George Benson, and her voice was heard on the much-hyped final episode of Sex and the City. On stage, she can sing just about anything, from ‘Morning Has Broken’ to Joni Mitchell songs to Bach cantatas. For her last three albums, however, she has returned to her jazz roots – and has been rewarded by consecutive Grammy awards for 2001’s In the Moment, 2002’s The Calling, and her most recent release, A Little Moonlight. Produced by Arif Mardin, A Little Moonlight is a delicious collection of standards which slips down easier than – well, than whatever you’re having yourself.

Reeves gives a distinctive slant to ‘I Concentrate on You’, ‘Lullaby of Broadway’ and ‘Skylark’; a shimmering intimacy which is reinforced by her understanding with her trio, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Greg Hutchinson. It all sounds so polished that it’s hard to believe that many of the tracks were recorded in a couple of takes.

“I think it has to do with the fact that we’d been performing those songs a lot prior to recording them, so we were really comfortable with them,” says Reeves.

This give-and-take between musicians is very jazz: as indeed, is the tradition Reeves represents. She is being hailed as the successor to Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, and acknowledges Vaughan, in particular, as an inspiration, even though they met just once.

“My uncle gave me a bunch of her records to listen to when I was singing with a high-school band,” she says. “Then, a couple of years later, I had the opportunity to come to LA. There was a ceremony, a tribute to Cannnonball Adderley, who had just passed away, with all these great musicians playing. There was this woman sitting on a sofa that I decided to talk to. She said, ‘What’s your name?’ and I said, ‘Dianne Reeves’.

“She says, ‘And what do you do?’ I says, ‘I sing’. And she goes, ‘Well, what do you listen to?’ and I says, ‘Sarah Vaughan’, and she says, ‘Oh really?’ So I says, Oh, yeah’. And I started telling her all about Sarah. Finally this man comes up and says, ‘Sas, you got five minutes’ – and I’m still running my mouth. Then he goes, ‘Sas, you’re on.’ Well, I didn’t known anything about the nickname ‘Sassy’ – though when she got up and turned to the side, somehow she looked familiar. At last I realised who I was talking to, but she was gone by then.”

Reeves paid tribute to Vaughan on The Calling, but her musical identity is unmistakably her own, forged from within a deeply musical family background. Her father was a singer; her cousin, the pianist and arranger George Duke, produced many of her albums for Blue Note; her uncle is a jazz bassist and member of the Colorado Symphony. And that’s just the men. The women in her family, she says, have given her the real gift: fortitude.

“They’re all doers and thinkers and forward-movers,” she says. “My mother’s getting ready to turn 80 years old, but she’s so sharp and so clear and so interested in learning things. She just told me she’s gonna take t’ai chi – and I’m, like ‘OK . . .'”

Life hasn’t always been so harmonious for the family. Reeves remembers taking part in one of the first bussing programmes for high-school children in Denver in the late 1960s.

“We were the first kids to be bussed in the school system,” she says. “Nobody, at any level, was prepared for it. We weren’t prepared to go out into the neighbourhoods we were bussed to – we didn’t even known that they existed – and the people that lived out there, they weren’t exactly ready for us. So, I mean, it started off pretty rough. But because our parents believed it was the right thing, that everybody had to fight for this, we got on those buses. And when we got out there – it would take us 45 minutes to get to school, it would be waaaaay out, you know? We’d make sure never to miss our school buses coming home.

Music, she insists, was a crucial unifying force among American teenagers at that time.

“The way that we really brought an understanding to the whole situation was through music,” she says. “Because the music of the late 1960s, early 1970s, was very much about, you know, coming together and brotherhood and commentaries on the war and everything that had to do with life . . . So it was the music that really brought everybody together.”

For her forthcoming visit to Dublin, Reeves says she’ll perform some songs from A Little Moonlight as well as some material from the earlier albums and some new pieces.

“This is an opportunity to introduce myself,” she says. “I’m really looking forward to it – you know, the last time I was in Dublin I was 15 years old.”

At that stage she sang in a choir which used to tour Europe every summer.

“And I’ll never forget walking down the street, and I had this huge Afro . . .” She laughs again. “I’ll never forget this, and I was trying to find a drugstore or somethin’ in this little town, and people followed me into the drugstore and they were feeling my hair and everything. But what I remember more than anything was just how down-to-earth everybody was, you know? I remember standing in this place talking to people who were going, ‘Where are you from?’ and ‘What do you do?’. I was by myself, you know – I had just wandered off – and here I was in there for about an hour talking to people. It was great. I’m looking forward to coming back.”

Let’s hope we don’t disappoint her.

Peter Crawley

The Irish Times, 3 April 2004

Climbing down from a flurry of scat singing before pouncing between the octaves of an astonishing vocal range, Dianne Reeves finally unravels the melismatic possibilities of one standard phrase.

Those words? “Good evening ladies and gentlemen.” Well, pleased to meet you too! It’s a hell of an introduction, encapsulating the power and precision of a voice that – despite numerous career detours – pays tribute to everyone from Billie Holiday to Ella Fitzgerald to Sarah Vaughan, while effortlessly placing Reeves at the end of this noble line.

Despite the recent boom in croon, jazz singers are a distrusted group, decking the rarified halls of jazz with the welcome mat of song. But far from karaoke standards, Reeves’ command of tone and dynamics is as assured as her engagingly warm performance. It is a balancing act that Reeves achieves with perfect poise.

Between the gentle swing of her Vaughan tribute, ‘I Remember Sarah’, the soft shimmer and subtle tempo changes of ‘Skylark’, and the jazz-rock treatment of ‘Fascinating Rhythm’, Reeves’ backing trio exhibit perfect control and adept solos without ever stealing the focus.

For such a canny and charismatic performer, Reeves speaks endearingly of a childhood oblivious to the double-entendres of singing the blues. The rough and tumble of ‘Rocks in My Bed’, though, infused with darkly swirling vocals and a bitter wit, hint at a lifetime’s education: “I know what they’re talking about now,” she confesses.

The theme is expanded on in the childhood sketches of ‘Nine’, at once reassuring with a nostalgic chatter while challenging with rhythmic deviations. Ultimately these divine pivots between gospel-like abandon and blues-style earthiness flavour her jazz.

She may draw the audience to their feet with a sweet and slow ‘Misty’, but her unrestrained voice lives in the victory rolls of ‘Endangered Species’, in the vibrant groove between songs of innocence and experience.

Dianne Reeves Quartet
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