Strength, power, commanding, fierce and spirit filled describe the voice of Jazz singer Dianne Reeves. She has strength and power that commands the listener to become engaged in every word she sings. Her fierceness and spirit draws us in even deeper and we become one with her and her voice. It is definitely a beautiful thing to behold. The four time Grammy Award winner was born in Detroit, Michigan and raised in Denver, Colorado and comes from a family of musicians. Reeves says it’s funny that she mentioned her mother playing trumpet and all of a sudden she became ‘a musician’. “I have to actually say that the whole trumpet thing; it’s so funny how things resonate with people because my mother played trumpet in high school and I happened to mention that one time and now she’s become this trumpet player. She was raised in Detroit, went to Cass Tech and it wasn’t anything. My father did sing and I was very young when my father passed away. I never even heard his voice. And yes my cousin is George Duke and there are a lot of other musicians that were in my family.”

Dianne+ReevesJazz came in to Reeves’ life due to her Uncle Charles Burrell’s influence. She says, “My uncle who was a jazz musician and also was with the Symphony here. He was actually the first Black in the Colorado Symphony and the third in San Francisco. He was very instrumental in my life and in George’s (Duke) life and I would have to say that I really did come up more in Jazz music because I performed a lot with him and that was the music that was played in our house growing up. I went to church and did all of those things but Jazz music was very much a part of our household.”

Beginning in 1983 Reeves began singing with Harry Belafonte after introducing world singers and other musicians to his stage. She says although he did the same for Patti Austin years before her, at that time he wanted another young African-American singer to showcase. “I ended up meeting with him and we got together and it seemed like it was going to work and I ended up for the first time being in New York and from that point he introduced me to the band and it really was an eye opening teaching experience for me. He taught me a lot of things. He is a consummate entertainer, but more than that he is an activist. While we were doing world music; the music was very rich and deep and there were all stories behind the songs. He really changed my life from the way I would approach music from then on.”

Dianne Reeves’ music has a message in every song. While growing up in an era where the “Each One Teach One Reach One” message was prevalent she says her music also had to signify the times. “There are so many songs that I recorded and have written that are about the consciousness, society, politics or whatever. And I’m a storyteller so a lot of times I perform the songs and stories as well so that has always been a part of my music.” When asked if singing or storytelling on consciousness and the ways of the world has effect on marketing and branding she says, “Beyond the message, whatever you do, that you choose to do and you don’t want to go towards the trends; if you’re an artist that wants to be in your own voice and create and evolve that’s not going to hit the broader mainstream. It just doesn’t work like that, sometimes it does and a lot of times it doesn’t. So I don’t know if it has anything to do with your message but it really really has to do with your commitment to your own voice. We always joke about this; I always look at Jazz musicians like monks because the whole thing is the passion and the artistry and the desire to continue to evolve with your art. Its art and survival so I think that is how it will be for anyone who chose to be who they are. Fortunately, when I was with Blue Note it wasn’t a requirement, it was just do your music and that was really really cool.”

For Reeves and her counterparts such as the likes of Angelique Kidjo, Cassandra Wilson, Liz Wright and younger singers such as Jill Scott, Amel Larrieux and Ledisi there is this ‘gray’ area in the industry. There is no ‘category’ to put these wonderful soul singers in and although it may be great not to be labeled per se, in the music industry it can be a challenge to get their music out especially when a lot of radio stations don’t play their music and venues don’t promote them. Reeves says, “I came up actually at a time when people could do two or three records and they weren’t trying to have you be the big name from one record. There is pressure now for a lot of young people to do that. I don’t know what I would do if I were in that kind of situation. I was really really fortunate, to navigate and get through the things that I wanted to do and have it sustain and take care of my life. And for me, I think there comes a point where you have to decide what success means to you and how you define it for yourself. And I never looked at the journey as hard, I’ve always been able to call my own shots and run it just like I want it to be done and it has been extremely profitable and I’m very very satisfied with the movement of things and I’m in a place where I continue to grow which I think is important and put out the music I want to put out.”

The great Jazz singer Sarah Vaughn influenced Reeves so much so that she won her second Grammy Award in 2002 for her album The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughn. “I have to say I love Sarah and she is the one person I decided to dedicate a record to but really, my greatest influence was not one person but the time,” she says. “The thing about the time is that they could all sing the same song and it be different and from the first note you heard them sing you knew the sincerity, you knew it was Carmen McRae, you knew it was Dinah (Washington). You knew their approach and they were unique and the greatest lesson that they taught me was, ‘We’re here, we’ll show you how to do it but find your own voice’. And that was like the greatest thing that I could have got from any of them because they were so wonderful.”

Mention trumpeter and composer Clark Terry and names like Miles Davis and Quincy Jones come to mind. Terry influenced Jones and taught Davis while in St. Louis, Missouri and as destiny would have her way, he is also a mentor to Reeves whom she met while in high school. She says Terry is unique to her because of his genuine giving spirit and the love he has for what he does. “He loves to share the knowledge of what he does; he has always been that way. When I met him it was during the formation of what was then called, “The National Association of Jazz Educators” and I was in Chicago and he heard me and he said, ‘Oh my goodness, give me your phone number and I will be in touch with you’. And I went back and I told my uncle who I met and it just so happens that they were in the military together; in the Navy but he was true to his word and actually would come here a lot of times and there was this big thing called the Dick Gibson Jazz Party and he would play for the party but once he discovered I was from Denver from that point on he surrounded me with some of the greatest jazz musicians of that time. I always laughed because I’d say I didn’t know who they were but I knew they were amazing and he always wanted to expose me to the best, always kept in touch and to this day he’s someone that I hold so close to my heart. He continues to do it even in the physical state that he is in and it doesn’t matter.”

diannereeves2Dianne Reeves

Jazz music is a genre that has sustained itself among the barrage of other genres however can it remain to sustain itself is the question and if so, how? Reeves says the biggest thing are the words that surround the music. “While we know that it’s an art form and people are out there and they’re doing it, I think when you speak light about something people look at it in a different way. Something along the way has made people feel like it’s this music that is very high brow and not accessible and when in fact the music is for your mind, for your spirit and for your feet and it has always been like that. And the beautiful thing is when I was growing up there weren’t that many places where you could go and study this music, now it’s all over the world and there are so many young musicians who are coming out from countries around the world playing this music. Maybe it’s kind of a subculture but it’s thriving in a certain level, because those people that have signed on are really committed to being a part of it.”

imagesReeves is still in production for her next project however she says it is a bridge between her generation and a lot of the music we are hearing today. “The person that has made that bridge very very possible is my producer Terri Lyne Carrington which I love. This is the second time we’ve come together on a project and talking about the project and what I want to do and writing for it, there were so many young musicians that said I want to be on it or I want to write something for you or arrange something for you. So I thought, ‘You know what I’m going to stay in the current and keep moving and be a part of all of these amazing gifts’.”

When Reeves isn’t touring she enjoys being in nature, skiing, gardening and her passion is cooking, something she loves to do for herself, family and friends. “You know I think it’s more about gathering together over food,” she says. “When you travel all over the world; I always laugh, musicians have very very discriminating palates, after going over and tasting incredible food and coming home saying, ‘Nope that’s not it this is’, I found myself while I would travel going in to the marketplaces buying the spices and trying to remember the flavors and come home and share it with my family, a lot of them who couldn’t travel. We’d have all of these incredible meals and changing up the stuff that wasn’t healthy and trying to find in another way for it to taste better if it was done in this way. Making a difference in the lives of the people that are in my family, friends and community and I love that.”

Dianne Reeves is giving back her many gifts in the form of cooking, her music, her talents and of course her voice.

Dianne Reeves will be performing at the Cape May ExitO Jazz FestivalSunday, November 10th on theCabanas/Exit Zero Magazine Stage at 3:00 pm & 5:00 pm

By Keli Denise

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