US vocalist DIANNE REEVES’ album ‘Beautiful Life’ (Concord Records) has just won a Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy, her 5th Grammy. It includes Esperanza Spalding, Terri Lyne Carrington, Lalah Hathaway, George Duke, Robert Glasper and Gregory Porter. Alison Bentley interviewed her:
LondonJazz News: I know you have an incredibly busy schedule at the moment.
Dianne Reeves: That’s okay, don’t worry, I’m ready for you!
LJN: First of all congratulations on your 5th Grammy!
DR: Thank you so much.
LJN: This interview is for International Women’s Day. I noticed that you have a lot of women playing on your new album and a lot of the music is written by women. Was that a deliberate thing?
DR: You know, the deliberate thing was just finding great musicians. At the end of the day, a lot of the people that are on there are women, and I guess it just speaks of the fact that this is a new day. It’s funny, ‘cause you’re probably the first person to even notice that there are a lot of women- nobody’s ever said that.
LJN: [Drummer] Terri Lyne Carrington – how did it come about that she produced this album?
DR: A lot of that had to do with her record that she won a Grammy for – Mosaic. I’m on that record and I was doing a series of performances. I was telling her while we were on the road my idea for my new record. She started sending ideas that were very, very cool. I thought, ‘You know. It’d be great to work together on this.’ I asked her would she produce it, and she said yes.
LJN: It seems to bring together quite a lot of the musical strands from your previous albums.
DR: You know, the biggest thing was with a lot of the music on there- the whole idea was collaborative. I found a lot of musicians, a younger generation of musicians, who were really referencing the music I actually came up on. I thought it would be a really great place to start. And so the feeling of the record and the ability to work with all of these different people – that was more like a Beautiful Life experience!
LJN: Latin music- does that go back to your time singing with Sergio Mendes?
DR: Even before then. It was very early on. There were a lot of really great records, like Dizzy Gillespie working with a lot of Cuban musicians. I found out about Brazilian music through Wayne Shorter – all the great jazz musicians, my cousin George Duke, all of them. You know, we were working around the world. Those were my first World Music experiences through jazz musicians – Sarah Vaughan, everybody. And then when I moved to Los Angeles early on, I had the chance to work and record with this group Caldera. And made a lot of lifelong friends from that experience, two being George and Eduardo Del Barrio from Argentina. So that whole thing had always been a part of my life. Then much later I ended up working with Sergio Mendes and Tito Puente.
LJN: Is your tune “Tango” on the new album a tribute to that era?
DR: That whole song really is a tribute to all of the records that I have in my collection- of people who are singing things…I have no idea what the songs are about but they still speak to me. My World Music collection. It’s interesting because everything is so global now. People are hearing things that they really love. It could be from another country and they don’t understand the words so they try to learn the words. It could be English, and they could speak – I don’t know – Korean or something. It doesn’t matter – it’s the emotion. People try to sing the words in English, even though they totally mess them up- it doesn’t matter. It’s what they feel from it. It’s like a powerful thing.
LJN: And African music- that’s been a big part of your singing?
DR: I don’t know that it’s African- I call it Ancestral, because I could never tell you where these references come from – I just let them be, always obeying the things that are in my heart to sing.
LJN: The standards – I loved the arrangement of “Stormy Weather” on the new album – did you do that?
DR: Yeah, me and my piano player. That whole thing came about when I was doing this thing for the Thelonious Monk Institute. They wanted me to do something with Wayne Shorter. So I wanted something- me and my pianist got together really quick. We came up with this arrangement so that it would feature him the way I was hearing him, in a kind of openness. Wayne Shorter is just so brilliant, you just want to hear him. It doesn’t matter, he plays one note, then it’s like – wow!
LJN: The gospel element to your singing- that’s something that’s always been there?
DR: Oh, that’s always been there, if you listen to [my] early, early records. I came up at a time when there was a lot of rich music. I was listening to that even though jazz was my foundation. I was into everything, so that comes though.
LJN: You have so much energy in your live gigs – what’s the source of your energy?
DR: I just love what I do! With a passion. I really love what I do – I love what happens on stage between me and my musicians.
LJN: When you’re touring so intensively, it must be hard for your voice.
DR: The biggest thing is- just try to stay relaxed. And I have really great people around me. The only stresses come from the natural stresses of travel. I do laugh a lot. I’m always supporting my voice because vocalists don’t just sing – we talk. We have to be very mindful of all of that. I warm up before I go onstage, I warm up while I’m onstage…
LJN: You once said that being onstage for you is like a sacred space?
DR: I call the stage my sacred space – there’s no inhibition, it just is. I don’t think that there’s anywhere else that I’m quite that free. Anything that I feel, I want to say, I do onstage. You can’t do that in a lot of other situations – just say what you want to say. Everywhere else is restricted, but the stage is not.
LJN: There seem to be lots of women who’ve inspired you through your career. Your songs “Better Days” and “Today Will Be a Good Day” – were they about your grandmother?
DR: My grandmother and my mother. Better Days was also about my mother. My mother was my hero. She was very, very supportive of me as a child, as an artist. And just made a way for me every time- to help me grow and push me forward. She was my biggest, biggest champion.
LJN: Are there particular singers who’ve inspired you?
DR: It was the times, it wasn’t really one person. The greatest inspiration for me was the time that I grew up in – music was without boundaries. You had everybody referencing and talking about everybody. You didn’t hear the word ‘genre’. You could go to a concert and see all kinds of artists – Ravi Shankar and Miles Davis on the same stage. That’s what really inspired me and gave me the licence to just be. Jazz musicians were doing rock musicians’ music; rock musicians were playing with jazz musicians. Everybody was across the board, loving each other – that’s what inspired me.
LJN: In what ways would you like to inspire younger musicians?
DR: My biggest thing is to tell them – listen to all the music you want to listen to, but be yourself, because there’s nobody like you. Develop that – your uniqueness – and stand behind it, push it, because those are the things that are going to make things change. I find that there are a lot of musicians who were unique, and then a bunch of people coming after them doing what they did. No, they already did it!