Dianne Reeves

Sometimes the answer is right under your nose:  I was driving home from work one day this week, wondering what to write about for Jazz Jam, and had the soundtrack from “Good Night and Good Luck” playing, when I had my “D’OH!” moment – Why not Dianne Reeves?

Besides being a great soundtrack, discussing Dianne Reeves gives me a chance to plug a great movie that will be near and dear to the hearts of Frog Pond cinemaphiles [Is that really a word?], or that more likely already is…

Reeves was born Oct 23, 1956 in Detroit, into a musical family – her father was also a singer; her mother played trumpet.  She had aunts who were singers, an uncle (George Duke) who was a pianist and producer, and another uncle (Charles Burell) who played bass for the Denver Symphony.  He introduced her to the music of jazz vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and (her favorite) Sarah Vaughn, as she was raised by her grandmother in Denver.

She took piano lessons as a child, but by the time she was a teenager her interest had turned to singing.  In high school (age 16), the big band she performed with won first prize in a competition at the 1974 Convention of the National Association of Jazz Educators.  This brought her to the attention of trumpeter Clark Terry, who became her mentor.  The next year, she began studying music at the University of Denver, before moving to Los Angeles in 1976.

In LA, her interest in Latin-American music grew, and she performed with various groups, including touring with Sergio Mendez.  She also performed with jazz artists including the saxophonist Stanley Turrentine.  Between 1978 and 1980, she worked full-time with Los Angeles-based pianist Billy Childs, whom Reeves still credits for giving her a chance to experiment and grow, while working almost nightly.

Her first album, “Welcome to My Love” (1977 or 1982; Internet sources list different dates for some reason), produced by Childs, dates from this period.  (Does someone have a copy to resolve this question?)  However, she decided to focus on live performance and honing her skills.  From 1983-86 she toured with Harry Belafonte as a lead singer, and in 1987 was the first vocalist to sign with the newly-reborn Blue Note Records.  Since 1987, she has released an album every year or two.  She moved back to Denver from LA in 1992, and she sang at the closing ceremony of the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics.

Her 1987 Blue Note album “Dianne Reeves” featured George Duke, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, Tony Williams, Stanley Clarke and her old friend Billy Childs, and rocketed Reeves onto the international festival circuit.  In 1995, Dianne released “Quiet After The Storm”, a world music influenced jazz record with guest contributions by saxophonist Joshua Redman, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, flautist Hubert Laws, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and percussionist Airto Moreira.

She is the only singer to have won Grammy Awards for “Best Jazz Vocal Performance” in three consecutive years, for her albums “In The Moment” (2001, with songs in a variety of styles), “The Calling” (2002, celebrating Sarah Vaughn), and “A Little Moonlight” (2003, a collection of standards backed by a piano trio).  In 2004 Reeves recorded a well-received Christmas album, “Christmas Time Is Here;” in 2005 came the movie soundtrack to “Good Night and Good Luck.”

“Alongside her peers Dee Dee Bridgewater, Diana Krall and Cassandra Wilson she is considered one of the most important female jazz ingers of our time.” – Wikipedia  To which I’d add Rene Marie.  Susannah McCorkle should have been there too, if not for her tragic death.  🙁

In the movie “Good Night and Good Luck,” the story of Edgar R. Murrow’s challenge to Senator Joe McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt, Reeves plays a jazz singer that we see and hear at various points in the story.  She’s not directly a character, but the lyrics of the songs she’s singing tie in with the plot and move it forward, by deliberate design on the part of director, writer, and star George Clooney, with input from Reeves as well, somewhat like the chorus in ancient Greek drama. Clooney is a nephew of singer Rosemary Clooney, and when he decided there would be a part for a jazz singer he approached her for her suggestions on who should be approached for the role.  They agreed Reeves would be excellent in the part, and she was asked to submit a recording of “How High The Moon.”  Clooney loved the recording and she had the part.

In an interview with Terry Gross on NPR’s “Fresh Air” program, Reeves said she took a straightforward approach to singing the tunes on the soundtrack rather than embellishing them with a lot of improvisation, because that was more the style at the time, and also because the tunes would have been new then, as if she was the one first recording them – the embellishments and improvisation come later, when you’re the 23rd person to record the tune and are trying to make it fresh and your own.

In interviews she is also often asked about her costumes and hair style for the movie, which reflect the styles of the time and are quite different from Ms. Reeves usual appearance and attire.  From an interview posted on George Clooney’s website:

Q. You wear some gorgeous dresses in this film. Did you get to keep even one?

A. The clothes were gorgeous, weren’t they? They were designed to reflect the clothes from that time period, [laughs] so I look like my great aunt. But I didn’t get to keep any of them. However, I have a few of those types of dresses because when Ella [Fitzgerald] died, some family members invited me to her house and told me to find some things that I liked. So I have a few of Ella’s beautiful dresses. How glorious is that?

And if you haven’t seen the movie yet, hop to it!  You won’t be sorry.  For those of you in the UK, it opens in theatres there February 17, and in the US will be released on DVD March 14.

A Jazz Rant

It seems that political sites such as ours are not the only home to rants; I happened across one over at allaboutjazz.com this week.  Here’s a taste:

You’re relaxing at home after a hard day’s work listening to your favorite jazz station. The deejay announces John Coltrane’s “Acknowledgement.” You must have heard it a thousand times, but a smile crosses your lips as you anticipate the pulsating gong introducing Trane’s majestic cry. But something’s gone wrong. The laser has somehow found the middle of the piece and Trane’s familiar chant of “A Love Supreme” is the first thing you hear. Trane’s voice is oddly thickened and after chanting the line twice, it becomes clear to you that the CD is defective as “A Love Sup… A Love Sup… A Love Sup…” repeats itself over and over. Your expectation of when the engineer is going to realize that a defective CD is the culprit begins to wane when you hear the “tsik-tsik-pah” of a drum machine instead of Elvin’s graceful drum-song. Garrison’s hypnotic ostinato has been replaced by some cornball Bootsy imitation. Underneath it all, the plaintive theme is a wordless “La-la-la, la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” by one of those endless 3-female groups.

A ridiculous notion? Not if the knuckleheads at Impulse/Verve continue on their cynical, disrespectful and hypocritical path.

Trying to summarize a rant is like trying to describe a thunderstorm – you just need to experience it yourself to get the full effect.  Here’s the link; feel free to start a thread on this down below if you’re so moved.

January Jazz Birthdays

Before the month slips away, here are the jazz birthdays for January; as always, click on a name to go to a web page with more information about that artist.  

I always learn a lot putting the birthday list together, as I at least skim over the biographies before linking.  Usually I’ve heard of the person and maybe have a CD or two (like J J Johnson, below).  But sometimes I come across somebody totally new to me, setting me off on an “expotition” (Oh no!  Not with the Pooh again!) to find some music by that person to hear.  My find this week was Ahmed Abdul-Malik, so maybe you’ll be reading about him in a few weeks…

For some reason January seems to have a lot of drummers with birthdays.

1 January
Milt Jackson. Born 1923. Vibraphone
Susannah McCorkle. Born 1946. Vocalist

4 January
John McLaughlin. Born 1942.  Guitarist, Composer

9 January
Kenny Clarke. Born 1914. Drummer
Bucky Pizzarelli. Born 1926. Guitarist

10 January
Max Roach. Born 1924.  Drummer

12 January
Jay McShann. Born 1916.  Pianist, Blues Vocalist (wrote Goin’ to Kansas City)

13 January
Joe Pass. Born 1929.  Guitarist

15 January
Gene Krupa. Born 1909. Drummer

17 January
Cedar Walton. Born 1934.  Pianist, Composer

20 January
Jimmy Cobb. Born 1929.  Drummer
Jeff “Tain” Watts. Born 1960.  Drummer

22 January
J J Johnson. Born 1924.  Trombone

25 January
Benny Golson. Born 1929.  Saxophonist
Antonio Carlos Jobim. Born 1927.  Composer, Arranger, Singer, Pianist, Bossa Nova legend

26 January
Stephane Grappelli. Born 1908. Jazz Violinist

27 January
Bobby Hutcherson. Born 1941. Vibraphonist

30 January
Ahmed Abdul-Malik. Born 1927.  Bass, Middle Eastern instruments (oud, etc.)

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