By Dennis J. Freeman
When you think of great jazz vocalists, there are about a handful of singers that come to mind. Dianne Reeves should at least be considered in that conversation.
For over the last 20 years, Reeves’ powerful, soulful voice has been a staple in the jazz world. Performing at the 33rd Playboy Jazz Festival, Reeves showed the animated audience that her strong vocal pipes are still intact.
“This feels like home to me,” said Reeves. “Los Angeles was the first place I decided to come to when I left Denver, Colorado. I wanted to go someplace where it was happening. I ended up coming here. Being in this festival…it’s always been an amazing experience. I loved the audience. It’s just one giant party where everybody participates.”
For the four-time Grammy winner the party doesn’t stop while she is up on the stage. To Reeves, it keeps going backstage where she mingles with old friends and gets re-acquainted with behind-the scenes pals.
“I loved the festival because there is a party that goes on behind the stage, not only with the other artists that you haven’t seen in a long time, but also with the crew. I know these people, know the people that makes all this happen. And they’re beautiful people. When it comes to the festival, I look forward to being in it.”
Reeves is also excited about going back to the recording studio this fall where she’ll look to explore that Afro-Cuban vibe she once got into. Heavily influenced by jazz greats like Nina Simone, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday, Reeves’ vocal talents has also been strongly impacted by established musicians George Duke, Joe Sample and Phil Moore.
Moore, a noted jazz bandleader, had a direct impact on Reeves’ career, serving as a mentor and vocal coach to the singer.
He meant a lot more to Reeves. He was a friend, someone who is sorely missed as Reeves touchingly captures in her hit song, “Never Too Far,” which she recorded after he passed away while she was on tour in Japan.
“Phil Moore was a very important figure to vocalists who were on screen, people like Lena Horne, even Dorothy Dandridge, all of these wonderful vocalists, and he had this way of pulling out your unique qualities,” Reeves said.
“He was my mentor and like a father to me. I went to Japan, and a very good friend of mine was the one that had to call me-while I was so far from home-to tell me that he died. I knew that he was sick before I left. Then when I got to Japan, she called me. I said, ‘God, I’ve never felt so far away from home.’”
Influences on the Reeves’ sound, however, hasn’t just been limited to folks she admired or work with. Life in itself has been a great barometer of persuasion in her music as well, said Reeves.
“My greatest influences are words and my travels,” Reeves said. “I have an opportunity to hear music all over the world and perform for people who have no idea what I’m saying…I listen to all kinds of stuff. I think music should be without boundaries, without genres. I think you should respect the culture of music from different places.
“But at the same time, when you go there, you realize it’s the same note and the beat is emphasized in a different place. But some some kind of way, it’s a connection. The thing about music is you don’t have to speak anything. You just have to play music and you can communicate that way. That’s the beauty of it.”