Take Five: The artists who define jazz singer Dianne Reeves

Take Five: The artists who define jazz singer Dianne Reeves

With regards to Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones, no one has made as strong a case as the preeminent jazz diva of the modern jazz era as Dianne Reeves, aptly steering the genre’s current course between traditional and crossover styles. With her latest album, February’s Beautiful Life, Reeves cast a wide net of collaborators and styles, succeeding in reeling in her best release in a decade.

In anticipation of her upcoming performance at the Carver, let’s trace Reeves’ incredible career by way of five influences and collaborators who have best come to define her style.

Sarah Vaughan
Dinah Washington, Carmen McRae or any other golden era jazz singer all could serve as major influences here, but Reeves’ stated idol Sarah Vaughan makes the most sense in understanding her distinct vocal approach. Like Vaughan, Reeves values technical control and an improvisational ear over the more emotive approach of, say, Billie Holiday. Reeves’ improvisational skills stand as her most Vaughan-ian quality, best heard through her scat lines and her ability to re-shape a song through careful phrasing and subtle melodic tweaks. Take Reeves’ cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Dreams” from her latest LP, which recasts the spooky Fleetwood Mac original as a longing gospel psalm with the revisionist ease of Vaughan’s most creative mid-’50s works.

George Duke
In a family tree blooming with musical talent, Reeves’ cousin George Duke hangs as the plum of the bunch. Speaking at the funeral of the late arranger, composer and pianist, Reeves remembered Duke as a man who “could see the light in everybody and bring it out, even when you couldn’t.” Acting as producer for nearly all of Reeves’ Blue Note releases, Duke often pushed Reeves beyond her comfort zone in straight-ahead jazz toward more contemporary pop and R&B fare.

George Clooney
Reeves’ role in Clooney’s 2005 smoky drama Good Night, and Good Luck. set the singer as a composite of every ’50s jazz diva of the era, a part the versatile singer was born to play. Beyond Carmen McRae impressions, however, the film’s soundtrack of Clooney-selected standards cast Reeves behind the tasteful, small combo backdrop in which she flourishes.

Billy Childs
Though trumpet legend Clark Terry gets the credit for “discovering” Reeves back when the singer was still in her high-school jazz band, Childs was the man who first gave the young singer a stage. Placing the then 24-year-old out front in his early ’80s fusion outfit Night Flight, Childs would continue to sculpt musical settings for Reeves’ multi-faceted voice on more than half a dozen of her other records.

Terri Lynne Carrington
Drummer Terri Lynne Carrington may be the only person on this list less recognizable than Reeves herself, but her guiding hand as producer on Reeves’ latest release Beautiful Life was all the drummer needed to solidify a spot of influence. In addition to inviting in Robert Glasper, Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spalding to collaborate, Carrington’s ear for the cutting edge helped push Reeves to cut perhaps her most forward thinking and tastefully executed release to date.

Dianne Reeves

8pm Sat, Oct 11
Jo Long Theatre
Carver Community Cultural Center
226 N Hackberry
(210) 207-7211


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