Just ahead of her Oct. 22 “Duets” performance with Chucho Valdes and Joe Lovano at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts in Costa Mesa, California, jazz great Dianne Reeves said getting back into the swing of performing live took a while.
Because the Covid-19 pandemic had shut down many aspects of the entertainment industry, particularly live performances for nearly two years, Reeves said she had to approach going out on stage with some precaution.
“It kind of started slow because it’s one thing to exercise your voice. It’s another thing to have it with all of the energy and all the concert frames,” Reeves said. So, I just kind of started off slow. My first performance was in Saratoga this summer, and I just had such a ball, you know. It felt good. It’s coming together. We’ve done a few other concerts since then. I feel like I’m back up to my old self.”
With the pandemic putting many activities on pause, the hiatus did Reeves some good. For decades, Reeves’ life has been a steady consumption of traveling to do concert gigs, recording, doing interviews and photo-ops as well as mentoring other singers.
The temporary work stoppage was beneficial to her, Reeves said.
“You know, it’s interesting because while it started off really, really rocky because we canceled a lot of things because it was like nothing that any of us had ever seen. So we had to figure out how to navigate. Once I got through that part, I realized, ‘My goodness. In the last almost 40 years I’ve never had this much time.’”
Reeves continued, “So what I found was more balance in my life because you’re out there, you’re committing to the music, you’re moving. The years go by. You’re constantly filing away things that you want to do or whatever. When I got still all kinds of things..my doors just opened and things just came out. Honestly, a lot of the things that I did had nothing to do with music, but will inspire what I do musically.”
Reeves said the downtime allowed her to take care of herself. That meant setting up her own calendar and schedule, something she is not used to doing.
“I got good sleep,” remarked Reeves. “I love to sew, so I was doing that. Just getting things in order and trying to make sense of everything. It was just a good time. And I’m working on an itinerary. That was different, you know because I’m used to my life being planned out. For a while there I was just taking it as it came every day. I’ll do this today and that tomorrow. So it’s cool.”
What’s cool is listening to the velvet, powerful voice of Reeves, who was honored as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in 2018.
“That is like to me is the most incredible honor because a lot of those great jazz masters that came before me were my mentors and teachers,” Reeves said. “To be able to sit at this table to share this with them is extraordinary. So, I’m so thankful to be invited to the table.”
When it comes to finding musical guidance, Reeves had a pretty good one in the late George Duke. The pair collaborated frequently throughout Reeves’ career with the benefit of being related to one another. Reeves and Duke are first cousins.
“George was a phenomenal musician because he was very comfortable in any genre of music with respect to the genre, with respect to the culture, and humility was always intact,” said Reeves. “He produced a lot of amazing artists and never put his sound in their music. It was always about helping them to say what it was that they wanted to say, which I loved about him.”
Reeves continued, “As a musician, he was masterful. As a cousin and friend, I miss him terribly because he was my favorite person, my umbrella. Even though he was my cousin I looked at him as my brother because he was just always there, always with wisdom or some joy, laughter. But more importantly, [he was] always there.”
When it comes to making music, Reeves herself seems to hit all the right notes at the right times. She is a five-time Grammy Award winner. She is hailed for her rich, full-throttled voice, one that fluidly crosses the lines of gospel, jazz, R&B, Latin, and pop.
Reeves’ crossover versatility has opened doors for her to perform with artists like Lovano and Valdes, both of whom are owners of multiple Grammys. Lovano is a noted saxophonist, while Valdes is widely recognized as a premier Afro-Cuban jazz pianist.
Reeves is eager to have the opportunity to share the stage with both musicians.
“I’m excited. I’ve known Joe Lovano for a long time,” Reeves said. “I love that it’s just voice, piano, saxophone; sometimes just voice and sax, sometimes it’s voice and piano. It’s really going to be nice.”
With so much that she has accomplished in her career, Reeves is not ghost chasing any dreams. Her bucket list is simply about turning vision into reality with hard work as the centerpiece.
“I’m not chasing anything,” Reeves said. “I realize that you work on your dreams. That means you do the hard work. You have your bucket list or whatever it is, but I stopped chasing a long time ago because sometimes the dreams and goals we choose and go after are really not the things meant for you. I just try to spend time listening to myself and seeing what I’m moved to do and then going with that.”