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Dianne Reeves: Amazing Grace

Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves
Dianne Reeves

Applying Darwinian principles to jazz singing, Dianne Reeves represents the survival of the fittest. Unravel her musical DNA and you’d discover the dexterity of her hero Sarah Vaughan, the disciplined integrity of Carmen McRae and the effusive warmth of Ella Fitzgerald. You’d detect traces of such disparate mentors and teachers as Clark Terry, Billy Childs, Sergio Mendes and Harry Belafonte. You’d find familial echoes of her bassist uncle Charles Barrell and her cousin George Duke. In a career that spans three decades, the 46-year-old Grammy winner has combined all such influences to create a jazz-world-pop-bop synthesis that is the bellwether for such genre-hopping acolytes as Norah Jones, Jane Monheit and Lizz Wright.

As with Bobby McFerrin (one of the few artists who rivals her multiplicity), critics continue to be stumped by Reeves’ professional legerdemain, often damning her for the very assets that make her unique. Chatting over breakfast during an early summer concert stop in Buffalo, N.Y., Reeves recalls a particularly painful moment of journalistic mean-spiritedness. “It was several years ago in Arizona. A reviewer called me up and I was very honest with him, musically speaking, about a lot of different things. His story appeared the next day and the headline was ‘Raking Reeves.’ At the end of it he said that as long as people continue to listen to people like Dianne Reeves, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin and Manhattan Transfer jazz will be on the decline. I never had an article hurt me so badly because I knew that my jazz foundation enabled me to absorb a world of music. I knew that one of my talents was my versatility and I loved that in my life. Because of that versatility I’ve had the opportunity to share music with all sorts of different people on all sorts of different levels.”

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