Ms. Reeves performed 12 powerful selections from her vast recorded history which spans over 25 years at Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium. The audience was prepared for a great performance which is no surprise, after all, Dianne had just been awarded her second Grammy earlier this year. However, to everyone’s pleasant surprise, Reeves and her quintet delivered ten fold. Dianne Reeves eloquently proves she is as much a catalyst of the future of contemporary music and jazz, as she is a torch bearer of the past.
The Vanderbilt audience was simply mesmerized as Dianne Reeves performed beautiful standards using her autobiographical sketches to "personalize" the music, while her colorful voice inflections touched the audience in a profound way. The stage is both a musical playground and sound canvas that "Lady Dianne" commands with joyful power, elegance and grace - not to mention some great anecdotal stories of her sojourn through life. Dianne showcased her finesse on many songs while she interacted with the audience on a personal and humorous level, receiving great lovable applause from the crowd. Dianne’s contra-alto voice was full of strength and fire as she emulated instruments like muted trumpet, trombone for beautiful low register sonorities and her daring, yet, graceful scat singing.
"I really believe in touring," she says. "It’s the only way you can get close to your audience." For those who are jazz purist, Dianne Reeves leaves them behind with her adventurous pursuits of great music and song writing. "I really try to let the critics know: Look, you have to allow me the opportunity to grow whether you like it or not," she says. "It’s part of who I am. It doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning jazz. I’ve just found different ways to say what I really feel."
Dianne Reeves is not to be confused with the "girl" singers of today’s pop scene as she demonstrates virtuosity, impeccable tone and a mature delivery that comes with decades of hard work and a genuine love for her craft - especially, in front of an audience. After witnessing a Dianne Reeves concert, it is no wonder why her Blue Note release "In The Moment - Live in concert"(2000), would finally receive a coveted Grammy -Award after four previous nominations! To many in the music industry and fans of great jazz, the follow up recording; "The Calling"(a tribute to Sarah Vaughan), was the heir apparent - a sure winner for 2001. "The Calling" garnered a second Grammy win - complete with the lush string arrangements of Billy Childs, great song selection, George Duke’s focused production and powerful, yet graceful vocal delivery of Reeves. The collection made a ripple, then a wave in the music industry. Reeves explains, "I recorded with the (42 piece) orchestra live in the studio, that was a first for me. However, for ‘The Calling,’ I wanted to have the spontaneity that Sarah brought to her sessions. We ended making a few fixes here and there later, but for the most part the album is live. We recorded it in four days!"
The Vanderbilt audience of 1, 200 was able to witness a world-class vocalist who has had numerous performances at Kennedy Center, Lincoln Center Theater and many world tours. The Friday night concert was part of the Great Performances at Vanderbilt Series which hosts varied jazz artists each year. The "Celebrating Sarah Vaughan" performance was a treat and an EVENT for all present at Langford Auditorium.
From the moment Dianne Reeves hit the stage, the kinetic energy was in the air and set a fun pace for the evening. Since I’ve been witness to three Reeves shows in the last year, I knew what to expect but was pleasantly surprised as always, by the 12 song performance. Standout performances of "Misty," "Bridges," "Suzanne." would be peppered with show stopping versions of her originals; "I Remember Sarah," "Testify," "Endangered Species," "The Best Times (Grandma’s Song)" and "Nine." These originals , along with the jazz standards she so eloquently performed show the depth and artistry of Dianne Reeves and her band. One big surprise of the set was a down- home blues number that featured the sultry blues vocals ALA Bessie Smith with ragtime styled piano romps and punctuated percussion kicks. Reeves really let her hair down and wooed the audience and left them screaming for more. The blues was contrasted by a slow swing version of "Misty" which featured the upright bassist, Reuben Rogers in a high thumb position solo that received very loud approval from the audience. The band also included stellar musicians; Munyungo Jackson on percussion, Peter Martin on piano and Greg Hutchinson on drum kit. These fabulous musicians worked great together supporting each other very well while, giving Reeves the dynamic support and freedom to improvise as she needs to in concert. Reeves let the band improvise numerous times to the benefit of the audience. Reeves introduced them in her trademark vocalizing fashion, part whimsical and part Matriarch choir leader. Dianne told the crowd how she felt about her quintet, "These guys are not just my back up band - we play together!"
Perhaps, the most powerful selection performed was "Endangered Species," which had tribal African percussion with ostinato bass and punching piano burst. Complete with lyrics like; I am a woman, An Artist, And I know where my voice belongs (and comes from)! There was no doubt about the inspirational rhythmic bounce and powerful range of Dianne’s voice. The house was full of attentive listener’s as Reeves displayed her gospel pop work with "Testify" and the autobiographical musings of "The Best Times (Grandma’s Song)" and a Bossa pulse on "Nine." The dynamics of the band were heard by the audience who treated the 1,200 seat hall like a Nashville songwriter listening room, listening and reacting to every dynamic section, groove and solo. The encore selection of "Embraceable You" performed as a duo ballad with sensational pianist Peter Martin was a touching way to end such a supercharged evening. Somehow, the sublime duo seemed the perfect way to end such a well balanced performance.
After the concert, a gracious Dianne Reeves came out to sign autographs and greet her waiting fans. To all left in attendance, it was a pleasure to meet such a warm and friendly artist. Reeves is a strong lady who also has a beautiful sensitive side that really connects with people. Her stage performance is not an "act" as her genuine love of life and fellow music lovers make her a special artist indeed.
When asked about the attraction and influence of Sarah Vaughan, Dianne explains, "Sarah opened the door." Reeves was heavily influenced by "Sassy" in life as well as art. Vaughan’s influence led to a young Dianne pursuing vocal improv music seriously. "I never heard a voice like that, that could soar, that was so rich and deep and beautiful, that sang all over the place. It was like magic, to be able to phrase and improvise like that. I thought, you mean there are those kinds of possibilities. So in the very beginning of my vocal development, I viewed her as my vocal guide and inspiration."
What is most apparent now is the fact Dianne Reeves has come into her own and her style is synonymous with superlative music performance in any context. Take away the 42 piece orchestra, slick studio production -and a unique artist who sings and writes fantastic songs is ever-present. We are blessed to witness such an inspiring artist! Upon reflection, one can only wonder if a young lady somewhere will take a dream and inspiration from Dianne Reeves and offer their own tribute to "Lady Dianne" in the future. One thing for certain, it would be well deserved - and well received! Fine.