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Reeves, Dianne 1956–

Dianne Reeves 1956

Jazz vocalist

At a Glance

Selected discography


By the beginning of the 21st Century, the jazz divas of the world had passed on, leaving a new generation of jazz vocalists to carry on. One singer that has been established as one of the most significant vocalists to fill the void is Dianne Reeves. After having received four Grammy nominations, Reeves won a Grammy for her album, In The Moment: Live In Concert in 2001. While Reeves is known for her eclectic choice of music, her approach to music is definitely jazz.

Born in 1956 in Detroit, and raised in Colorado, Reeves was surrounded by music as a child. Her father, who died when she was two years old, was a singer, her mother played the trumpet, and her uncle, Charles Burrell, played bass. Reeves was also surrounded by strong women who modeled hard work, and above all, persistence.

Reeves started singing in junior high school and credited her choir teacher, Bennie Williams, for providing the opportunity not only to discover that she had a great voice, but to realize the power of song: there are no boundaries in music. Reeves, who participated in one of the first busing programs to attempt racial integration and balance in the public school systems, remembered how Williams organized a concert at school to help unite kids of different cultural and racial backgrounds. For the concert, Reeves learned two contemporary songs, Spirit In The Dark (an Aretha Franklin hit), and Edward Hawkinss Joy, and, for the first time, Reeves got on stage with a microphone and discovered the power of her voice. Williams became Reevess mentor and piano teacher, and encouraged her to keep singing.

Later, in high school, Reeves took advantage of all the singing groups that were availablethe choir, a madrigal group, and the jazz band. It was during this time that Reeves became acquainted with the great jazz singers. Her uncle Charles, a jazz bassist as well as a bassist for the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, gave Reeves a stack of records, and she discovered the voice of Sarah Vaughan. She was amazed by Vaughans ability to evoke such a wide range of emotions. I didnt know the voice could do all that. She changed my way of listening and all of a sudden I had a place to reach for in my own singing, Reeves stated on her website, In addition to singing in school, she sang with church choirs and sang top 40 hits with her own group, The Mellow Moods. She also worked with her uncle Charles and jazz pianist, Louise Duncan.

Winning a city-wide competition in 1973, Reevess high school jazz band traveled to Chicago to perform at the National Association of Jazz Educators conference (now called IAJE). She came to the attention of Clark Terry, who at one time was a trumpeter for the Ellington Orchestra. Terry was so impressed with Reeves that he asked her to sing with him at the Dick Gibsons Colorado Jazz Party at the Broadmore Hotel in Colorado Springs later that year. She sang several jazz standards such as God Bless The Child, On A Clear Day, and Thats All, with Terry playing trumpet, Tommy Flanagan on piano, and drummer Grady Tate. Reeves referred to that event as her first grand encounter and, nearly twenty years later recorded an album featuring many of the musicians that she had

At a Glance

Born Dianne Reeves, 1956, in Detroit, Michigan.

Career: Jazz vocalist. Did session work 19761980; toured with Sergio Mendes, 1981; toured with Harry Belafonte, 1984; started recording as a solo artist in 1982; albums: Sky Islands, with Caldera, 1977; Welcome to My Love, 1977; The Palo Alto Sessions, 1981; Better Days, 1987; Come In, 1989; Never Too Far, 1990; Dianne Reeves, 1991; Art & Survival, 1993; Quiet After The Storm, 1994; The Grand Encounter, 1996; That Day, 1997; Bridges, 1999; In The Moment: Live In Concert, 2000; The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, 2000.

Awards: Has received four Grammy nominations, and won Grammy, for In The Moment-Live In Concert, 2001.

Addresses: Management Michael Davenport, The Merlin Company, P.O. Box 260377, Encino, California 91426-0377, telephone (818)986-3985, fax (818)784-2524, email, Website

worked with over the years, appropriately entitled, The Grand Encounter.

When Reeves first started to sing, she listened to the greatsSarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, and Carmen McRae. In particular, Reeves was drawn to Vaughans rich distinct sound and emulated her style, it was quite an education because it allowed me to feel what it was like to sing phrases over the bar line, to sing a melody and improvise within the harmonic structure without even knowing what I was doing, just listening to how she would do it, she said in an interview with Gerald Jonas, for Great Performances Swingin With The Duke, on PBS. However, Reeves was aware that she must develop her own voice, her own style.

While growing up, Reeves listened to, and appreciated, all kinds of music. She was impressed by songs that described the times, that told a story. She came to appreciate the tale that could be told in a song, not just from the lyrics, but by way of a nuance, the phrasing, the enunciation of a word, crescendo and descrescendo. In the mid-1980s, Reeves wrote and recorded Better Days, a gospel-like narrative about her youth and about her grandmother. Washington Post writer, Holly Bass, quoted at, called Better Days a picture of black Southern life as vivid as youd find in a story penned by Maya Angelou or J. California Cooper. Reeves explained to Jonas, that she liked the music recorded by Motown, particularly Whats Going On by Marvin Gaye. The song captured the moment, it was blues and jazz, and very free and open, like stream of consciousness, and Id never heard anything like that except in jazz music. Her song, Endangered Species, deals with various personal and political issues, including the status of women in the world.

Reeves, who considered jazz as a passport to other kinds of music, was also exposed to music from other countries and cultures. The fusing of different cultural styles of music was also very attractive to Reeves. After high school Reeves attended the University of Colorado for one year and was also kept busy performing in the local clubs. Reeves moved to Los Angeles in 1976, and became interested in Latin-American and Caribbean music. She worked with Sergio Mendes, with whom she accompanied on a world tour, and worked with Eduardo del Barrio, with whom she has consistently worked with for over twenty years. In the early 1980s, Reeves moved to New York and worked with Harry Belafonte, who introduced her to folk music from around the world, particularly African music. This experience allowed Reeves to fully realize the depth of influence the rhythm-oriented African music has had on Latin music and on jazz. In addition, Reeves also discovered the way in which the African tradition of call-and-response has influenced jazz. During this time, Reeves learned a unique style of scat singing which could be described as a blend of jazz and African incantation. The unique rhythms and dynamics that Reeves absorbed during this time has influenced her approach to interpreting a song and helped to develop her own characteristic jazz style.

For several years during her career, Reeves vacillated between musical styles: R&B, gospel, pop, Latin, African, and jazz. She enjoys the freedom that she has had to explore and perform such a wide variety of music, ranging from Ellington, to Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell, to Kurt Weill and Stephen Sondheim. Reeves admitted that she has derived a great deal of inspiration from the great jazz singers that she grew up listening to, but she also credited composers and conductors for their inspiration as well. For example, Duke Ellington would change the arrangements of his songs to fit the personalities of his musicians. In a way, Ellingtons approach helped Reeves realize the importance of just being herself and tailoring her approach depending on who she is playing with and who her audience is. In an interview located online at, Reeves said, Im a chameleon. When you put me in certain soils, musically speaking, I will be in that place. She also described the difference between singing with a small group and a large orchestra, you have to listen to the music, to the interplay going on in the different sections. Sometimes you have to be able to direct a little, to let people know when youre finished so they can move on.

Reeves maintained that jazz is her musical foundation, and it is undeniable that much of her foundation rests on the inspiration of Sarah Vaughan. In 2001 Reeves recorded The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, and album which featured tunes spanning Vaughans career. For the recording, Reeves surrounded herself with several guest artists and a 42-piece orchestra. The only original song included, I Remember Sarah, was written by Reeves and Billy Childs, who arranged the majority of the tunes and played the piano on several tracks. Interstingly, the final track on the album, A Chamada (written by Milton Nascimento) was not a song that Vaughan ever recorded, Wayne Shorter turned me on this song, which translated means the call. Its appropriate for the record because Sarah not only loved Miltons music but the sentiment of the song is so much about her. She heeded the call to sing and to be passionate. Its also a song about opening doors and unlocking potential, which is what Sarah did for me, Reeves told Down Beat.

Reeves also met her idol. While still in high school and not long after Reeves had started to listen to and study Vaughans recordings, she attended a memorial service for Cannonball Adderley with her cousin George Duke. She was backstage, surrounded by musicians and tech people rushing around. Reeves noticed a woman sitting on a sofa, went over and sat down, engaging in light conversation. The woman asked Reeves what she liked to do. Reeves politely responded, explaining that she really liked to sing. The woman then asked her who she liked to listen to. Reeves listed several of her favorite singers including, of course, Sarah Vaughan and explained why she loved Vaughan. After having a nice chat, the woman was informed that it was time for her to go on stage. Reeves watched the woman go on to the stage, and suddenly realized, with a shock that she had just had a conversation with Vaughan.

Reeves was obviously focused on Vaughans music rather than on Vaughan as a celebrity. By the end of the millennium Reeves had established herself as one of the most prominent jazz voices. She is grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from the masters and now that she has moved into the limelight, has begun to teach and mentor to young people. In an interview for LeJazz, Reeves explained, what Id like to do is have young artistslike Harry Belafonte did for me share my stage and experience that. You know, a lot of the tradition is just gone. A lot of young people want to become jazz singers, but there are not more jam sessions like there used to be. I just want to have the opportunity to be able to bring that to some young people.

Selected discography

Better Days, (single), 1987.

Endangered Species, (single), 1993.

The Grand Encounter, Blue Note, 1996.

In The Moment: Live In Concert, 2000.

The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, 2001.



Downbeat, February 1997, p. 28; June 2001, p.28.

Essence, August 2001, p. 60.

LeJazz, issue #5, 1997.


Christine Miner Minderovic

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Reeves, Dianne

Dianne Reeves


Toured with Sergio Mendes

Added World Rhythms to Album

Climbed the Jazz Charts

Selected discography


With jazz as the base of her vocal stylings, Dianne Reeves freely mixes in pop, African and South American influences as well as her own vision, a combination that has led to her acclaim as a unique contemporary songstress. However, Reeves albums have met with mixed receptions, with I Remember the top of the jazz charts for weeks and Art and Survival critically acclaimed but rarely played. Occasionally criticized by jazz purists for straying from the straight-and-narrow or for indulging in pop-like schmaltz, Reeves has nevertheless attracted a strong following for her vocal interpretations.

Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1956, Reeves grew up in Colorado, and at an early age her talent brought her to the attention of professional musicians. While performing at a National Association of Jazz Educators convention as a featured singer in her high schools big band, Reeves was heard by trumpeter Clark Terry. He took an interest in the young performer and invited her to sing with his big band. Reeves performed with Terrys group for several years, continuing even while still attending the University of Colorado.

When Reeves completed her studies at the University of Colorado in 1976, she moved to Los Angeles to further her career and her musical education. She worked as a studio artist, recording with Lenny White, Stanley Turrentine, and Alphonos Johnson. She also began working with Billy Childs, developing a musical relationship that would continue for a decade. In the late Seventies Reeves performed with the group Night Flight; their gigs took them throughout southern California on the beach circuit. These various experiencessession recordings, live performances, and musical experimentation with Childsall made this period a richly educational one for Reeves.

Toured with Sergio Mendes

In 1980 Reeves continued this education by taking on studies with vocal coach Phil Moore. The following year Reeves embarked on an important new experience: she auditioned for and won a spot with Sergio Mendes world tour group. Fresh from performing for international audiences with Mendes, Reeves recorded her first album in 1982, Welcome to My Love. She produced it with Billy Childs and included several of her own compositions. One of these original Reeves pieces was Better Days, which made it onto the jazz charts.

Although Reeves had already tempered her jazz origins with pop and fusion influences from the likes of Stanley Turrentine, George Duke, and Mendes, she further expanded her musical repertoire through the influence

For the Record

Born 1956 in Detroit, MI. Education: Attended the University of Colorado in the mid-1970s.

Began performing with trumpeter Clark Terry while still in high school; recorded sessions with Lenny White, Stanley Turrentine, and Alphonso Johnson in the mid-to late 1970s; performed with the group Night Flight in southern California, late 1970s; joined the world tour of Sergio Mendes, 1981; recorded debut album, Welcome to My Love, in 1982; performed with Harry Belafonte, 1983-1986; formed a trio with Billy Childs and toured the United States in 1986; recorded Dianne Reeves in 1987 and toured the United States and Asia for the next two years; recorded the jazz hit album I Remember in 1991 and the critically acclaimed Art and Survival in 1993; recorded Quiet After the Storm in 1995 and toured in support of the album.

Addresses: Home Denver, CO. Record company Blue Note Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10104.

of Harry Belafonte. After moving the New York in 1983, Reeves began performing with Belafonte and has credited these mid-Eighties performances for her introduction to the rhythms of West Africa and the West Indies. She continued this exploration by experimenting with music from Brazil and Cuba, as well as venturing into the rhythms of early African-American folk music such as field hollers and slave songs.

Added World Rhythms to Album

Reeves next album, For Every Heart, reveled in the new knowledge she had gained with Belafonte. Mixing reggae and world rhythms into jazz, Reeves took what she had learned under Belafontes tutelage and made it her own. Reeves acknowledged Belafontes influence when she noted in her artist biography for the Blue Note label that Harrys always been an artist who mentors others. He has respect for that folk tradition. The album also featured many of the world musicians Reeves met while working with Belafonte.

In 1986 Reeves returned to the West Coast and formed a trio with Billy Childs, which they took on the road throughout the United States. The next year, after a Grammy-nominated performance at the Echoes of Ellington concert captured the attention of Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, Reeves began recording Dianne Reeves for the eminent jazz label. The 1987 album benefited from her collaboration with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, and Stanley Clarke. As Reeves most successful recording effort to date, it garnered attention from critics and fans alike. Will Friedwald described the various influences on the self-titled LP in Jazztimes, noting that on one hand, in [Reeves] pan-cultural voyages she strives for a degree of authenticity, but at the same time she feels a strong obligation to the tenets of jazz and fusion, and also to her own idiosyncracies.

When criticized by jazz purists for the pop leanings of the album, Reeves defended her experimentation with various styles. As she explained to Peter Keepnews in Billboard, Jazz is my foundation. I come from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday. They set a standard of excellence nobody sounds like them. And people forget that they also did albums that could have been considered pop albums.

Climbed the Jazz Charts

Still exploring new genres, Reeves added an R&B component to her next album, Never Too Far. Released in 1989, the album sold well and attracted more fans to her sound. However, Reeves chose to return to a more purely jazz format in her 1991 release, Remember. Remaining for 12 weeks at the top of the Billboard jazz chart, this album was her most popular yet. Reeves also continued to gather fans through her live performances in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.

Reeves next recording evoked an unusual response from her audience. Art and Survival, released in late 1993, was acclaimed by critics but little received little promotion from EMI and little exposure on the radio. Reeves attributes this reaction to the emotionally charged topics she explored on the album, including her condemnation of female circumcision in Endangered Species. Although the album did not sell well and was criticized by some fans as too emotional, Reeves has said it was an important album for her personal growth.

Rallying after Art and Survivals poor sales, Reeves quickly began work on her next album, Quiet After the Storm. After the emotional storm and controversial topics of her previous album, Reeves said she wanted to simply sing on this one. It was completed in two weeks. I feel with this album I have become a real storyteller, Reeves told Zan Stewart in Down Beat. It was done with a great deal of ease, because I have an understanding of a lot of life-related things, and its easy for me now to translate that into music and tell a story. Some of those stories were her own; Reeves peppered the album with original songs, including Smile and the autobiographical Nine. The album rose to the top ten of the jazz charts and solidified Reeves position as one of the more important jazz divas of the late twentieth century.

Selected discography

Welcome to My Love, Palo Alto Jazz, 1982.

For Every Heart, Palo Alto Jazz, 1985.

Dianne Reeves, Blue Note, 1987.

Never Too Far, EMI, 1989.

I Remember, Blue Note, 1990.

Art and Survival, EMI, 1994.

Quiet After the Storm, Blue Note, 1995.


Billboard, June 18, 1988; March 11, 1995; June 17, 1995.

Down Beat, September 1991; November 1995.

Jazztimes, January 1988.

Additional information for this profile was provided by Blue Note Records publicity materials, 1995.

Susan Windisch Brown

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Reeves, Dianne


Born: Detroit, Michigan, 23 October 1956

Genre: Jazz

Best-selling album since 1990: The Grand Encounter (1996)

Dianne Reeves is an accomplished vocalist with a rich and agile voice that she brings to mainstream and smooth jazz, pop-soul, Brazilian repertoire, and African rhythms, straddling genres rather than integrating them into a single coherent identity. Self-described as a "jazz artist who explores other kinds of music," she pays homage to the late jazz singers Sarah Vaughan and Betty Carter, claims the veteran trumpeter Clark Terry as her mentor, and has been produced by her cousin, the jazz keyboardist George Duke. She has also toured with the Brazilian pianist and pop composer Sergio Mendes, the singer Harry Bela-fonte and as a member of fusion bands (Caldera, Night Wings) that realized onstage the heavily crafted studio productions of instrumental jazz that gets commercial radio airplay.

Reeves's family is musical: her father was a singer and her mother a trumpet player. During the years she was growing up in Denver, her uncle, a classical bassist, influenced her musical interests. She began singing and playing piano in her mid-teens and was noticed by Clark Terry during a performance by her high school band at the National Association of Jazz Educators Convention in Chicago in 1973. Terry invited her to perform at the Colorado Jazz Party in 1973 and the Wichita Jazz Festival in 1979, and he appears as a guest soloist on the most traditionally jazz oriented of her recordings, The Grand Encounter (1996).

Reeves moved to Los Angeles after one year at the University of Denver, and freelanced as a studio session singer. In 1980 she co-founded Night Flight with the pianist Billy Childs, who has remained her frequent producer and/or musical director.

Reeves worked her way through the troupes of Sergio Mendes (19811983) and then Harry Belafonte (19831986). After a brief residence in New York, she returned to Los Angeles, where she resumed activities with session players of West Coast commercial and pop music. The Palo Alto Sessions, 19811985 (reissued in 1996) demonstrates her wide vocal range, clear articulation, mastery of phrasing, and interpretive breadth. She sings the standard "My Funny Valentine" with a diva's self-composed drama and treats "Be My Husband" as an African-American chant, bare of artifice. She often employs effusive melisma and relies more often on layers of percolating grooves than on a driving rhythm section.

In the late 1980s Reeves performed at a memorial concert honoring Duke Ellington and performed at the Mt. Fuji Jazz Festival in Japan with the big band of the drummer Art Blakey. These occasions launched her into the international jazz festival circuit, where she has appeared with the Philip Morris Superband under the direction of the bluesy pianist Gene Harris and with Quincy Jones at the Montreux International Jazz Festival from 1980 until 1995.

Reeves was named Creative Chair for Jazz by the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association in 2002; she is responsible for creating jazz programs at the Hollywood Bowl and Walt Disney Concert Hall. She is the first woman among a handful of jazz leaders to have become the artistic director of a major jazz institution, joining such illustrious company as Joshua Redman at SFJazz, Terence Blanchard at the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance at the University of Southern California, and Wynton Marsalis at Lincoln Center in New York.

Reeves's status as a concert, club, and festival attraction in the United States and abroad is dependent on not only her vocal delivery but her choice of material that will be acceptable to a large, general audience. She has expanded on her personal esthetic and core listenership by embracing songs written and/or made famous by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell, Milton Nascimento, Cole Porter, Mongo Santamaria, and George Gershwin, among others.


Never Too Far (EMI, 1991); I Remember (Blue Note, 1993); Art & Survival (EMI America, 1993); Quiet after the Storm (Blue Note, 1994); The Grand Encounter (Blue Note, 1996); That Day . . . (Blue Note, 1998); Bridges (Blue Note, 1999); In the Moment: Live In Concert (Blue Note, 2000); The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughn (Blue Note, 2001); The Best of Dianne Reeves (Blue Note, 2002).


howard mandel

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