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By Jef With One F
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Don't tell Dianne Reeves that jazz singers can't have million sellers. "That's not so at all," she says firmly. "Sara Vaughn and Ella Fitzgerald sold millions of records. Billie Holiday, too. Oscar Peterson, Miles Davis, Coltrane, all these people sold [millions], and that's just to name a few."
Of course, Reeves has sold a few records herself (she's recorded over 15 albums). And she's won a few awards, including four out of the last six Grammys for Best Jazz Vocal Album. So, how does she manage to keep her music from an often overlooked genre in front of contemporary audiences?
"I really do try to sing songs that I can stand by and that have some kind of meaning to me," she says. "A lot of my songs are really about my life and who I am.
"Music is like a conversation. In a conversation, through the words, you find connections. In music, through the notes, you find connections, too. I go to countries where they don't speak English so they don't understand the words I'm singing, but they understand my heart. I want to make sure that what I'm saying in my music is really in line with what I feel.
"Like for instance, 'I've Got it Bad and That Ain't Good' by Duke Ellington," she continues. "I used to love to sing that song and then I just became conscious about a lot of different things, and I didn't particularly care for the lyrics anymore. So, if I do sing it now, it's in celebration of Duke Ellington, but for my own show, I wouldn't do it."
Reeves won many of her newest fans from her work on the 2005 Academy Award-winning film Good Night, and Good Luck., starring George Clooney, in which she performed 1940s-era classics such as "Straighten Up and Fly Right" and "How High the Moon" on screen. Her performance was critically acclaimed, and the film's soundtrack was one of the most popular of that year. "For me to be in a movie, where the music was prominently positioned and, you know, where it was very much a part of the storytelling like Good Night, and Good Luck., was an incredible experience, something I would never have dreamed of," she says. "The majority of things that have happened in my career, I could not have even dreamed of. (laughs) To be part of the closing ceremony of the  Olympics was amazing. To run a music program for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, to play in the most incredible theaters around the world with the most incredible symphonies and conductors, none of these things could I have ever dreamed of, but they've all [come true]."
But, wait, isn't jazz supposed to be relegated to smoky bars? How do the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Sidney Opera House fit into Reeves's straight-ahead jazz career? "It's all music, right?" she says. "Those labels, like jazz or rock or classical, those are just words. It's the music that matters, and the music doesn't know it's supposed to be just jazz or just rock. It does what it wants to. When I come into a venue and they say, 'Well, only this has been played here, we've never really had this or that,' I never even pay that any mind because at the end of the day, people come for the music. They come to have an experience that is rich, that is well thought out and wonderfully presented. When they leave, that's what they leave with, the experience, not the label."
There's no doubt that Reeves's recordings have been well received (remember those four Grammys?), but she says it's her live shows that she most enjoys. "One of the things that I have always loved is to be around great musicians and to say, 'Okay, we've learned the song, now let's breathe air and life into this music.' That's always wonderful," she says. "And when we're on stage, we try to invite the audience to go on that journey with us, that is a whole other magic in itself. Really, we go out there to give our hearts."
For the moment, Reeves has left symphony orchestras behind and audiences have seen her in much smaller combos, including one with Reeves and just two guitarists, Romero Lubambo and Russell Malone. "One is from Brazil and the other from Georgia. One has an understanding of the music from the Delta; the other has an understanding of samba. Both come from their own roots and we kind of meet in jazz. We went on tour, just the three of us. No bass, drums or anything, just two guitars and voice, and it was amazing because I just found another place in my voice to sing," she says.
In fact, Reeves was so happy with the collaboration, her next album will feature Lubambo and Malone. (Reeves's Da Camera performance this week will feature Reuben Rogers on bass, Greg Hutchinson on drums and Peter Martin on piano.)
Recording a jazz album with just vocals and two guitars is a risky business when fickle audiences and crazy critics are involved. "Everybody has an opinion, all right," Reeves laughs. "But I've grown up having people have their opinion about my shows and records all my musical life. You deal with it. I used to read my reviews, and they used to just kill me if it was a really horrible review. Even if it was a good review, [sometimes] I felt like they missed certain things, so I just stopped reading them.
"My thing is that when I come back to a town and people from the last concert bring new people to see me, then I know I'm doing okay. Critics, reviews, all of it has its place, but music is an experience, and to me, it's like, 'Go see it for yourself. Decide for yourself.' People should come listen and then decide.
"The real deal is all of us on stage, doing what we do best." The Dianne Reeves Trio appears Saturday, October 28, at the Cullen Theater, Wortham Theater Center, 500 Texas. Call 713-524-5050 or visit www.dacamera.com online for more info.
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