In conversation with dianne reeves

by Thierry Quťnum

On your last album, thereís only one song that youíve written. Is there a reason why you compose less than you did before?

                          Dianne Reeves, by Jos L. Knaepen

Well, weíve been touring so much that it was only during the last year that I could take some time off to write. Since I had already had the idea for this last record, I only included one of my tunes in it, but the rest of the original material will be on the next.

Also, I guess Iím a singer first. I like to write songs, but I like more than anything to find songs that, whether I write them or not, really address my life. So I find myself singing the things that feel good inside of me. These songs all have stories behind them, and I canít wait till I sing them live on stage.

The last one, ďToday Will be a Good DayĒ is different as far as the sonic approach is concerned, so itís at the end and I chose to explain why I wrote it because itís about my mother, whoís very important for me. It was a gift to her. The other songs, like ďJust my ImaginationĒ or ďLoving You,Ē make me reminisce about a place and a time in my life that was very special, and I love the fact that I can still access to them emotionally through music.

Some also reflect the journey of my graduation from imaginative love to what Iíve come to know love to be at this time of my life. And thatís something thatís abiding, uncompromising and compassionate. And it includes the love for self and all the love that you can give to change things. Itís such an amazing powerful present!

You were talking about being eager to sing these songs onstage, but a lot of listeners here in Europe have the feeling that your studio records are a bit overproduced, compared to the rawer quality of your live performances.

As I grow older I become more refined. Iíve come to understand that my voice is not just the instrument that you hear, but itís my soul. Anytime I do a record, Iím baring my soul and I give 100% of who I am. Besides, the taste of listeners differs from country to country. As an artist, I have no control on that, and I can only be the best of who I am.

Recently Iíve been touring a lot around the world with a group that hasnít been recorded yet : only me and two guitars (Russell Malone and Romero Lubambo). From now on, Iím going to tour either with this group or with the group thatís on my last record. So, for me the records are a jumping off point. Iím a jazz musician, so what you will hear onstage will be different from night to night. I love what happens during a recording, but I like it to be the beginning of moving the music to another place.

                      Dianne Reeves, by Jos L. Knaepen

You were just talking about the evolution of your voice, and as a singer you definitely have a maturity that enhances your music. How do you view the actual fad for young so-called jazz singers?

Honestly, I donít concentrate on those things. Everybody has the right to express themselves in a way that they wish to, and the success depends on the taste of the public. Sometimes they like simple melodies with uncolorful voices, and itís not the first time in history that uneventful recordings have been successful. When there is a major machine telling people what they should listen to, then people listen. All I know is that I can do what I do, and thank God, I do it enough that it sustains my life, that I can still be passionate and that I donít have to compromise on the things I want to say or do. So I just say ę live and let live Ľ.

I know that you teach singing? What do you teach to young wannabe jazz singers?

I do lots of master classes and clinics, and the thing I emphasize most of all is that your voice is not your instrument. You can convey what you have to say clearly just by talking. So if you happen to have this instrument that is a voice or a piano, how do you translate what it is that is inside of you into this instrument? And then how do you refine and define this particular instrument? I spent a long time singing the way that I do because I listened to great singers and great musicians who all said you must have your own unique sound. So I always wanted to be counted among those whom you recognize in just a few seconds. I tell my student that one of the great miracles in the world is that you are unique, so just find out this uniqueness. Whether it may garner a big audience or not, if you love it, are passionate about it, and know where you want to take it, thatís whatís important. I tell these young students to find out how they want to sing. It might even not be jazz. You are a musician before being a jazz singer. Abbey Lincoln said that jazz is a spirit. As a singer, if you want to front the band instead of being a co-creator with the musicians of the band, then you are not a jazz singer, for example.

The banner of jazz has been thrown around a lot, and used by the industry to promote things. But if you want to start as a jazz singer because of that, how long will you last? So I donít tell my student to try and sound like anybody else, be it Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Ella Fitzgerald or Dakota Staton. I tell them to listen to these great voices that have lasted, to check out how they could sing the same song differently because of what they each were, and to try to find this type of identity inside themselves so as to make a song their own. Jazz is improvisation, and this doesnít necessarily mean scat but the ability to improvise different variations, to phrase differently on the same theme, night after night, in interaction with the rest of the band. Just like anything else, it is a discipline.

Letís talk about the George Clooney movie Good Night and Good Luck now, if you donít mind. How about the sudden exposure it gave you?

I think itís great and it has served me well. First, the film is very intelligent and I think it really speaks to the world about our civil liberties. I love the way George Clooney integrated the music, making it the soothsayer or the Greek chorus of the film, because the songs he selected take on a totally different personality, which is amazing because there are love songs that turn into songs about the FBI or what have you. I also loved the fact that I had to sing these songs from the period when the story takes place with respect of the time, in a Ďcleaní way, and with no extra type of concepts that we have about this music nowadays. I also loved the fact that George Clooney allowed me to sing live, like they did in the studios at that time. When I received the script I thought: ďThatís interesting: youíre doing a soundtrack and they send you the script.Ē But then I realized that I really had to play a part, and George Clooney explained to me what he expected of me, and I found it amazing.

Part of this role that you and the music play in this film seems to be an emotional counterpoint to what happens in the plot, for example, when the main character comes to see you sing ďHow High the MoonĒ after one of his friends has committed suicide because of the McCarthy campaign against him.

The plot and the dialogues are so heavy in this film that the music had to bring some kind of relief. In the scene you talk about, Clooney wanted a very slow version of the song, and while they shot the scene, I was really in front of the actor who impersonated Edward R. Murrow, behind the studio glass so I could really see his face and reflect the sadness of what he expressed. This was like my shining moment. When I went to the premiere in New York, I was sitting next to Mr Clooney and I hadnít seen the film. When it came to this scene, he grabbed my arm and said ďHere it comes.Ē And it made me cry because I had never seen myself on a big screen.

Did you know George Clooney before?

No, but when I asked him why he had selected me he said that his aunt Rosemary Clooney was a big fan of mine and had told him a lot about me.

Arenít you afraid that this film may give your new fans a distorted image of you, and that they may expect the same vintage routine onstage and on record?

Not at all. On the contrary I think they are curious about what else I can do than what they saw in the film. Some didnít know me before, so they have gone back in my catalog, trying to discover what I did before. I guess my audience is more mature than you may think it is, and it accepts that an artist is multifaceted. As far as this is concerned, today is a good time for me.


June 15, 2008 · 4 comments

  • 1 Fran McIntyre // Jul 06, 2008 at 07:10 PM
    Thanks we need to hear more about singers like Dianne Reeves. Keep them coming! Great interview!
  • 2 cari // Jul 15, 2008 at 02:59 PM
    Thanks. I'm a big fan of Ms. Reeves and her live shows are awesome!
  • 3 Brent // Mar 09, 2009 at 05:01 AM
    From the very first note, and from her entire delivery, we see the wonderful influence of Sarah in Dianne. Dianne's performance is captivating and breath taking, a true gift for any jazz fan or music fan in general. Her performance in Good Night and Good Luck was essential, and superb; and she captured the mood and style of the period exquisitely.
  • 4 stranger // May 06, 2009 at 06:25 PM
    I just learned of Ms.Reeves through a jazz class I am taking in college. Just listening to her makes me daydream, drift off to this romantic place. I am truly inspired by her and I am interested in learning more,also hearing more of her.