In the Moment

Editor's Note: For over twenty years and 18 albums, Dianae Reeves has performed the world over and this year she will be on the road from Canada to Australia. This interview first ran in May 2001 when she spoke about her music.

Jazz singer Dianne Reeves has ascended into the upper echelons of jazz singers. She has recorded extensively for Blue Note records and won a Grammy earlier this year for her release titled In the Moment. At about the same time she released The Calling, which is a tribute to Sarah Vaughan, and the record is perhaps Dianne Reeves’ most traditional jazz album. The record allows Reeves to soar above the orchestral arrangements on songs that encompasses Sarah Vaughan’s long career.

In a recent Jupiter Index interview she talks about her most recent album, how she has become one of the best singers of her generation, and about the music she has in store for people in the coming year.

Michael Aiuvalasit: This past February you released, The Calling: Celebrating Sarah Vaughan, which is your tribute to the music and talent of Sarah Vaughan. Vaughan is obviously a big influence on you, so why did you decide to do this tribute album now?
Diane Reeves: It just felt like the right time to do it. I feel like in a lot of ways I have come into my own. There are a lot of projects that I have wanted to do, earlier on I did a kind of a tribute album, but we didn’t call it that, called, The Grand Encounter, where I had the opportunity to work with a lot of great musicians who inspired me along the way. And so with Blue Note (her record label) I have had these projects I have wanted to do. I actually have a couple of more that I want to do in the future. So over a period of time we have been able to do them and this was the next one and I am really excited about it.

I have been listening to the album a lot and your voice impresses me the most of everything on the album. What kind of practicing and training do you do to sound so good?
I have a really great vocal teacher who lives in New York. I don’t see her all the time, but I go there periodically and I study with her and keep my voice up. So most of the time I am here working on music and doing my regular vocal exercises. But I live here in Denver, Colorado and a lot of the time I go up high into the mountains and sometimes into Redrock, which is not that far away, and I just vocalize. But I am always around the house humming or what-have-you. When I have a project or when its time to go out on the road, I work on my voice prior to going out on the road.

Do you have a pretty busy tour schedule coming up?
Yes, later this month [April] we are going to Japan for a couple of weeks, which I am excited about. Then I come back and I have a little brief period off, which generally when we have a big tour would be when I would work on my voice to get it together, because there is a lot of music and I have to work on my physical stamina because we are traveling a lot. In June we take off and we don’t really come back until mid-August.

How do you plan on touring? This last album was with a full orchestra, what will be the instrumentation for this tour?
Well, the wonderful thing about the arrangements from the record is that the strings are arranged from the rhythm section up, so the rhythm section arrangements stand-alone very well. We are going to be doing small group things, which the group is five people, and that is piano, bass, drums, guitar, and percussion. We will also be working with orchestras, about ten different orchestras while we are on tour.

You have such a wonderful, expressive, free voice that is perfect for jazz. When you are scatting or singing a phrase and it is developing what is going through your head in these freer, improvisational moments? Are you thinking really hard about your vocals or do you just let go?
Nothing really goes through your head except for that moment. You really are, I guess the best way to say it is, you really are at one with what is happening. The great thing about jazz music, especially with the band that I have is that there is an intimate exchange between the musicians. So you have to be conscious of what is going on, so you are really, really in the music. And they are playing certain things, variations on harmony and you want to be able to catch all of those things. So when you are improvising, or even when I am just there singing it is really about being in that space.

It sounds like singing is a way to become hyper-aware about the things going on around you.
Well, your mostly aware of the music going on around. I would have to say that it is the closest thing to meditation, or at least it is like meditation. Because a lot of times after we have been up there for an hour and a half or two hours it doesn’t feel like we have been there that long.

You mentioned that you have future projects coming up. How do you decide what project you are going to do? Is your decision solely yours or do your peers, friends and family or even music critics influence it?
A lot of times the record that I have done before will dictate the direction. There will be something about the record and I will say, ”hum, I want to develop this, I want to develop this part.” Like In the Moment was a live album but the record that I would say was before, The Calling, was Bridges. The last song on the record was a jazz standard which was, Make Someone Happy, it felt really, really good and I remember thinking, 'Wow, I think I want to go back home for a minute and develop this.' And that is how, The Calling, came into being, from that one song. But each record always says, go this way, go that way, and a lot of times when I am out on the road we are developing the music, so what people hear on the record and what they come to hear live is almost two different things because we have been dealing with it for so long that it takes on a whole different character. My musicians are really very creative and the one thing I like is that they come with ideas and we are always developing stuff on stage. So a lot of times the performing of the songs lets me decide what I will do on the next record.

Jazz is a music full of teachers. When you were coming up you sang in Clark Terry’s band and you obviously were taught by others. Now that you are in an established position do you teach and impart wisdom to younger performers?
There are many young singers that I keep in contact with that are really brilliant. They are not out there yet but they are on their way out there and they are working really hard to develop their own sound and their own concept. So I keep in touch with them and a lot of times when I am on the road I will see them and sometimes they will even come out with me and we will travel, mostly on the East Coast. They will come and we discuss concepts, because I think going to school is extremely important for any kind of music, but I think doing the music to find who you are in the music is really important. I would say probably 70 percent.

Which do you feel is more important to become a musician, talent or hard work?
Well, the interesting thing is that when you are young and you have talent the challenge is to develop your talent. The fortunate thing that happened with me that I really thank God for is that I ended up being around a high level of musicianship. It was a musicianship that was very encouraging to me. Being in that kind of situation makes you reach for things, you try to understand concepts, and you want to learn what it is that they are doing, how they are doing it, and be a part of it. I think the richer the soil when a talent is first there the better the outcome. I think that the major thing to be able to be around the quality that is much higher and much more enlightened than yourself.

This has been a good year for you so far, you won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Performance for In the Moment, you released, The Calling, to great critical fan-fare, you have a tour coming up, what else is in your plans?
Well the next record I want to do from this record will be not have as much production or as much sound. It will be a quieter record. I want to write a lot more things for the next record. Then I have a side project that which is a group of musicians and myself that are kind of forming this group that is going to be more experimental poetry, it will be a bridge between jazz and hip-hop. So, I am really excited about that because those are some of the things we experiment with on stage. It is going to be more funk oriented. So there are many little things I want to do. Fortunately, the record company, Blue Note, really allows the artists artistic freedom. They have the classical side of the label, the jazz side of the label, the more pop oriented side, so I want to have the opportunity to be as many things as I can be.

Who do you like to listen to, what are the qualities you like in music?
I really enjoy people who are really strong in their music; people who have really developed their voice. Coming up listening to music I remember there was this group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, they were brilliant. Here was a group of musicians who were bringing Bach and Mozart into rock music. There was a high level of musicianship, playing, improvising, and writing this incredible music that was accepted. That is what I like, there was really no end to what they could do. There are a lot of groups like that, and we travel all over the world and it gives us the opportunity to listen to music from everywhere.

by Michael Aiuvalasit