Singer Dianne Reeves

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One of the foremost female jazz vocalists in the world today, Reeves comments on her five-year hiatus between CDs.

Dianne Reeves has an international reputation for unique jazz and R&B stylings, and her following has only grown as she's crossed musical genres. She was discovered by trumpeter Clark Terry while performing with her high school jazz band in Colorado and later moved to California to pursue music full time. After doing session work and touring with Sergio Mendes and Harry Belafonte, she made her name in the 1980s and has earned four jazz Grammys—an unprecedented three of which were consecutive. Reeves was the L.A. Phil's first jazz creative chair and the first singer to perform at the famed L.A. Walt Disney Concert Hall. Her debut release on Concord Music is titled "Beautiful Life."


Reeves: Four-time Grammy winner Dianne Reeves went back into the recording studio last year, ending a five-year hiatus, thank God, putting her exceptional voice on a new CD titled “Beautiful Life,” which it always is when Dianne Reeves sings.

Joining her on this CD are a host of high-profile guests, including the recent Grammy winner Gregory Porter and Esperanza Spalding. Let’s take a look at a cut from Dianne Reeves’ new CD, titled “Beautiful Life.”


Tavis: So I’m not going to ask where you been, because you’ve been all around the world.

Dianne Reeves: I have been everywhere. (Laughter)

Tavis: You’ve been everywhere but the studio.

Reeves: Exactly.

Tavis: Yeah. Is that what took so long, or was it – was it just a matter of being busy, or a matter of trying to find the right concept, trying to find the right material? What was it?

Reeves: More than anything, it was just very personal. It was about balancing my life at a time in my life when people – my mother became very, very ill. So it was just time to just kind of stop for a minute. I toured, but I was at home a lot, mm-hmm.

Tavis: When you stepped back into the studio after being out for a while, even though you’ve been traveling and singing everywhere, it’s been five years. When you step back in, is there any trepidation?

Reeves: The thing that is so interesting is you need to live some life to inform what it is that you’re going to do. When we got back in the studio and I had, I was, like, ready to go back in, it was easy. It just all came out. It was beautiful.

Tavis: I know this is a painful subject. (Unintelligible) the “Beautiful Life,” your mother, who has passed away since you were last on this program.

Reeves: Right.

Tavis: You referenced it a moment ago. So when you go through a period like that in your life, you go through a cycle like that, you step back into the studio, you’ve lived this life, and now all this stuff comes out of you.

How has your – I can imagine the myriad ways your life has changed since losing your mama.

Reeves: Yeah.

Tavis: How has your music changed since losing your mama?

Reeves: I have to say that her passing, I realized okay, I was always very comfortable that no matter where I was in the world, she was there. But now she’s made her transition, and it just makes you – either you’re going to fall apart or you’re going to become, you’re going to take in all of those things that were given to you.

She poured a lot into me, and I just feel like I’m more confident and more clear than ever. Now that it’s like okay, it’s on me. So it’s been an interesting journey. I see her still in things that are happening in my life, so I know that she’s still with me in a lot of ways.

Tavis: I don’t even have to name the track because you know where I’m going with this. How many requests to this day, speaking of mamas and grandmamas, do you still get (laughter) for that one song?

Reeves: I was in Newport News, Virginia, and people were like, “Better Days.” I would laugh, because I wrote the song in 1979, and that’s how long I’ve been doing it, mm-hmm.

Tavis: If you have not heard a song called “Better Days” by Dianne Reeves, first of all –

Reeves: Or “Grandma’s Song,” or “Grandma’s Hands.”

Tavis: “Grandma’s Hands.”

Reeves: They call it everything.

Tavis: They call it everything, yeah. But actually, the official title –

Reeves: Or just “Grandma.” (Laughter)

Tavis: Yeah, “Grandma,” yeah. The official title is “Better Days.”

Reeves: Yes.

Tavis: If you have never heard this song, then you are missing – your life is incomplete. Go online, Google it, Bing it, find it some sort of way. Go to Amazon, pay for it.

Reeves: Yeah.

Tavis: But it’s called “Better Days,” and it is a song that I know Dianne can’t get off the stage anywhere, certainly if I’m in the audience – you’re going to get heckled to sing it, (laughter) because it is such a beautiful, beautiful track.

Speaking of tracks, so you’re back in the studio after five years, you decide you’re going to do some new stuff and you’re going to cover some stuff. How do you then go about figuring out the playlist?

Reeves: Well it was really interesting. There were a lot of songs that had been with me over that time period, and then when I started to tell my ideas – I went out on the road, actually, with Terri Lyne, who had won a Grammy for the “Mosaic” project.

Tavis: Terri Lyne Carrington, great drummer, yeah.

Reeves: Yes, absolutely. So we were just talking and I was telling her this is what I want to do. So she became very interested and started sending me ideas, and that’s how it all came together.

I was saying that I love the fact that a lot of these younger musicians are greatly inspired by the music that I grew up in. So I said that would be a perfect meeting point. It just all came together. It was an amazing experience.

Tavis: When it comes to covering things, we all have stuff that we love, of course. Some stuff I think is coverable and I think, I’m not going to call no names, but for some people, some stuff is just uncoverable. (Laughter) I think you just ought to leave it alone.

Reeves: Yeah.

Tavis: (Laughs) Don’t even go there.

Reeves: Yeah, I understand.

Tavis: I understand every musician, every artist, wants to put his or her own thing, interpretation on the song. So I’m okay with that. But I am so glad, as I said to you when you walked on the set, I am so glad that you did “I Want You.”

I’m so glad you put it as track number one. I want to ask you about a couple of songs. Why did you want to cover “I Want You?”

Reeves: Well all my life, singing life, Marvin Gaye has been one of the greatest inspirations in my life, because he was so open. While he was this very soulful singer, he was still steeped in a beautiful jazz kind of consciousness in his music.

I thought that this song really set the tone for what the rest of the record would be, and then having somebody like Sean Jones playing trumpet, it became – it was magic.

I think that there is a new standard. I think Herbie hit on that a while ago. But a lot of the American Songbook, they were popular songs at the time. There are a lot of really beautiful songs out there that you can sing and make your own that were written by more contemporary artists.

Tavis: What was it about Marvin as a kid when you were growing up that resonated with you when you heard him?

Reeves: There was like this kind of sincerity that sounded like, almost childlike. This kind of innocence in his voice that somehow I could relate to. I didn’t really know what he had gone through, but in his voice it said something that I felt as a kid, just some emotions.

I think that was the beginning. Then as I grew up and started to really, really know more about him, I thought wow, how honest and naked he was as a performer from the very beginning.

Tavis: Tell me how you have wrestled with your own performance, wanting, I assume, to be authentic and organic –

Reeves: Authentic, yeah.

Tavis: – and naked as a performer.

Reeves: A while ago, in the mid-’90s, I did a record called “Art and Survival.” At that time I was Dianne Reeves the singer and Dianne Reeves the person. They hadn’t come together.

I really, really hid behind my voice. It was after – when I did that record it was statement. It was just like this is who I am, this is what I’m about, this is what I love, and this is what I’m open to, all kinds of music, and music without boundaries and so forth.

I think that when I’m on stage it is the place that there are no inhibitions. I’m the freest that I could possibly be. So I carry that with me on and off the stage. From that record on, it was like this is me. This is what I do.

Tavis: You’re comfortable with that now?

Reeves: Absolutely.

Tavis: I think it takes a while, to your point about Dianne Reeves the artist, Dianne Reeves the person. It takes a while for some artists, and perhaps it should take a while, for those two things to blend.

Because once you become, once you get to the point of being that open and that transparent, you’ve got to be comfortable with the skin you in.

Reeves: Absolutely. The thing that I love is jazz music gives you that. The thing that I love about it is to me, I’ve always told people that it’s my passport into all kinds of things.

Like last night I worked with Herbie Hancock and Christian McBride, and with Herbie, he’s so in the moment that you never know what it’s going to be, but you just know you want to be there to be a part of it.

So it’s because of the way that I feel that I’m like yeah, put me on the edge, I want to jump off. I don’t know where we’re going to land or if we’re going to land, but that’s appealing to me.

Tavis: Speaking of Herbie, I think it was Wayne Shorter, may have been Wayne Shorter, who on this program said to me that he defined jazz as “I dare you.”

Reeves: Yeah, absolutely. (Laughter)

Tavis: That’s what, speaking of your cliff metaphor, it’s “I dare you.”

Reeves: “I dare you,” absolutely.

Tavis: So back to this new project, “Beautiful Life.” When you pick a song like “Stormy Weather,” which I know you’ve had to sing this thing a thousand times, how do you go about putting your own Dianne Reeves stank on (laughter) “Stormy Weather?”

Reeves: Well first of all, there has to be something about the song that appeals to you, that addresses you in some sort of way. The funny thing about the song, you mentioned Wayne Shorter.

I was doing a concert for the Thelonious Monk Institute, and they had put different people together, and I was with Wayne. I wanted to have something; I wanted an arrangement that really featured the space and the freedom that I know that Wayne plays in.

So that’s how the arrangement came about. So it’s this arrangement in three, on the record the time is very stated. But when you hear it live, it’s like don’t count, just be there.

I love the story of the song, because it’s a very honest story about breakup and where you are, and I can sing that because I’ve been there. But more than anything, I love the harmonic values and the open space that it provides for me to sing in.

Tavis: Before I let you go, I’ve picked two tracks that just jumped out at me when I first heard the CD.

Reeves: Okay.

Tavis: I’ll let you pick one of the new stuff that’s on here and tell me what you love about it so much.

Reeves: All right. Well I love singing “Satiated.” Gregory Porter is this old spirit that just invites you to just go on and just be there. I love that we were able to do this duet together.

Tavis: We loved having him on. We may be the very first show. I know he –

Reeves: I saw him.

Tavis: You say him on here?

Reeves: Yeah, yeah.

Tavis: Yeah, he came on here and certainly he got a lot of exposure. I was happy to do it, because I’m such a big fan of his work. I was so happy that he came on the show, got a chance to have a conversation, to perform, and then a few months later he’s won a Grammy award.

Reeves: Yeah.

Tavis: So go, Gregory.

Reeves: Just doing it.

Tavis: Yeah, and you had known him for quite some time. So if you saw Gregory Porter on this show, you can actually hear him with Ms. Reeves on her new project. It’s called “Beautiful Life,” and as I said at the top, it is a beautiful life any time when the voice of Dianne Reeves is in the air. Dianne, congratulations and good to have you on the program.

Reeves: Thank you, Tavis.

Tavis: Good to see you.

Reeves: Good to see you.

Tavis: That’s our show for tonight. Thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.

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Last modified: February 21, 2014 at 2:07 pm