Dianne Reeves Visits for a One-Night-Only Event at the San Francisco Symphony December 11th, and Talks Exclusively with The Hub

Dianne Reeves Visits for a One-Night-Only Event at the San Francisco Symphony December 11th, and Talks Exclusively with The Hub

by Associate Editor Michael P. Coleman

Dianne Reeves, one of the world’s preeminent jazz vocalists, joins the San Francisco Symphony for a performance of standards and holiday songs led by Sarah Hicks Wednesday, December 11th at 7:30pm at Davies Hall.  A four-time Grammy Award winner, Reeves is set to release her Concord Records debut, Beautiful Life – a blend of R&B, Latin, and pop within the framework of 21st-century jazz – in February 2014.

The Hub recently had a chance to visit with Reeves by phone, while she was baking a pound cake and getting ready for the holidays.  She shared her excitement about coming back to town, personal thoughts on the recent loss of her cousin, music legend George Duke, and her views about changes in the music industry.

THE HUB: What can we look forward to in San Francisco on the 11th?

REEVES: Well, I always love to come to San Francisco to perform!  There will definitely be a little bit of Christmas that night — well actually, a lot! — and a lot of the music from the new record, as well as some other favorites.

THE HUB: I saw you for the first time while you were promoting your “Christmas Time Is Here” album, about ten years ago now.  A writer with The New York Times called it “…one of the best jazz Christmas CDs…” he’d heard.  I’d take “jazz” out of that sentence.  The album’s brilliant.

REEVES: Thank you so much!  I really had a good time making that record…in the middle of the summer (laughs).  Performing those Christmas songs in San Francisco is going to be fun…it’ll be stories and Christmas…and just life!   There will also be a couple of songs from my “When You Know” album.  And we’ll put in a couple of things from the new record.

THE HUB: You have two phenomenal covers on “When You Know”.  I don’t think I’d ever heard The Temptations’ “Just My Imagination” the way you do it!  And I’m from Detroit, so I have The Tempts and all of those great Motown songs in my DNA.

REEVES: Oh, I love that song!   And I was born in Detroit too!  After my father passed, I wound up coming here to Denver where my grandmother was.  There were Reeves and Burrell’s in Detroit, all my family.

THE HUB: You wouldn’t happen to be related to [Motown legend] Martha Reeves, would you?

REEVES: No, but she and I laugh about that all the time.  There were two sets of Reeves in Detroit.  But we both say that we’re cousins in some distant way!

THE HUB: Talk to me a little bit about the new album that you’re releasing early next year.

REEVES: I’m excited about this record.  There are a lot of collaborations on it.  It was produced by Teri Lynn Carrington, and I’ve known her since she was a little girl.  She’s just blossomed into this multi faceted musician.  I’d had a sketch of an idea about what I wanted to do, and she was as excited about it as I was.  The album’s really a jazz record steeped in soul.  Teri has one foot in the jazz tradition and the other in the music of today, so she was kind of a bridge for me.  The sound of this album is different, but it’s still me.  I love it.

THE HUB: You just spoke of bridging genres.  You’ ve said “I grew up at a time when categories and boundaries were not as finite as they are today.”  I can recall not all that long ago, when [country superstar] Kenny Rogers hired a pre-solo career Lionel Richie to write and produce “Lady” for him — and R & B radio in Detroit played it.

REEVES: Right!  And it was like that even before that.  Nobody looked at music as categories back then, they just looked at it as music!  And that was really, really cool.  And the beautiful thing about it is that all of the music was coming out of the same root, just interpreted in a different way.  As you know, the majority of the musicians that played on all of the Motown hits were jazz musicians!  I grew up at a time when you could go and see Miles [Davis] and the Grateful Dead on the same bill.  My cousin George Duke playing Frank Zappa music and just CRAZY good stuff!  Miles was making “Bitches Brew” and the music was so fantastic and experimental and forward-moving.  What was called “popular” music was inclusive of world music artists.

THE HUB: What do you think has triggered that dramatic shift in the industry over the last few decades?

REEVES: [Pauses] The record industry has a way of just making what THEY think is palatable, for driving whatever they think is going to bring in the most revenue.  When I came up, it took three records to break an artist.  Now, artists are here today and gone today.  And because it’s like that, a lot of the listening audience sometimes…loses patience.  When I grew up, music consumers were active listeners.  The pedestrian knew many aspects of a song that they’d been listening to.  People had more sophisticated ears.  I’m not saying that it doesn’t exist at all now, but I think that was one of the things that maybe the record industry wanted to erase.  It’s easier if music is closer to Musak.

THE HUB: You mentioned your cousin, the late George Duke, and you collaborated with him on the new album.  [Duke passed away last summer.]  Can you talk about him and working with him?

REEVES: I grew up in Denver, and George lived and recorded in San Francisco and LA.  We had an uncle who was very instrumental in both of our careers.  He was a bassist with the San Francisco Symphony and he would bring George in — as a teenager — to play bass with him.  I’d heard family members talk about George, but I’d never really talked to him because he was a little older.  But when I started singing, he reached out and he was very much in touch with me through junior high and high school.  Eventually, I moved out to Los Angeles, and wound up doing sessions with him and he was this person who watched out for me while I took my first steps, making my dreams come true.  When I started recording in the late 80s with Blue Note, he produced my first record for them.  To talk about him, I just want to say that he was an extraordinary person.  He was the personification of excellence — everything he did, it was second nature for him to be great at it.  From classical music to straight up funk!  He produced lots of people — George had a sound, but he would never put his sound on their record.  It would always be about the artist, and that’s an extraordinary ability.

THE HUB: It’s a gift.  I just caught George on a episode of TV One’s “Unsung”, with [R & B legend] Deniece Williams.  The work he did with her alone was so varied — from “Black Butterfly” to “Let’s Hear It For The Boy” to “I’m So Proud”.

REEVES: Yeah, he just “got” it.  He would listen to someone and would go to where they were.  I used to tell him “You have so much in your treasure chest.”  And he was someone that you could talk to.  People would just like to come hang out with him in his studio while he was working, they’d just like to hang out with him.  He was great.

THE HUB: Is you collaboration with him from the upcoming album, “Feels So Good” his last project before he passed?

REEVES: No, he did his own record before he died.  [Sighs] That record is very prophetic to me.  You listen to it and get that feeling that, you know, that he knew.  The album’s called “Dreamweaver”.  As a matter of fact, the record came out while he was in the hospital and he was in the hospital doing interviews for the record, right before he passed.

THE HUB: Of your upcoming album, you’ve said “Even in a world of much sadness, at its essence life is beautiful and I wanted to celebrate that which can be easily overlooked.”  Is some of the sadness you talk about related to George’s passing?

REEVES: Yes, George’s passing, my mother had passed within a few years of his, George’s wife passed a year before he died.  There was just a lot of stuff going on.  But we can’t define ourselves by the things that we have, things are fleeting.  I still have some beautiful people in my life, and being with them makes me look at life a different way.

THE HUB: I saw an online clip of you at his memorial service.  I could see and hear your grief and at the same time your celebration of his life.  It was very moving.

REEVES: Thank you.  There were a lot of people there.  Musicians from everywhere.  When I looked out, and thought “I know them because of George.”  They were from EVERYWHERE, all kinds of music.

THE HUB: A lot of those musicians have good things to say about you.  One of them, Wynton Marsalis, says you “…have one of the most powerful, purposeful, and accurate voices of this or any time.”  How’s it feel to hear that from Wynton Marsalis?

REEVES: I paid him good for that one!  [Laughs]   You know, I’ve worked with him throughout the years, and it’s been extraordinary.  It feels good coming from someone that I respect so highly.  When someone’s your peer or colleague and they feel that way about you, something like that is better than any award. 

Tickets for Dianne Reeves’ performance are available at www.sfsymphony.org or 415-864-6000.


Email Michael P. Coleman at mikelsmindseye@me.com or follow him on Twitter:  @ColemanMichaelP