What an honor it is to be in the company of one of the greatest vocalists of our time. With our preview party approaching, we are delighted to premiere this exclusive interview and a new track by the ever-so-lovely and elegant Dianne Reeves. Featuring the late pianist and masterful composer George Duke, it is titled “Feel So Good”. Get ready for Reeves’ upcoming February 11th album release Beautiful Life (Concord Records) and for you, New Yorkers, a chance to see her live at our Beautiful Life Preview Party happening on 2/12 in BK. 

Recently, one of our senior contributors, Fredara M. Hadley, got a chance to talk with the incomparable Dianne Reeves about her return to Brooklyn next week and her new album, Beautiful Life. Much like her beloved Denver skies, she was relaxed and open about the vista from which she views her musical journey and she gushed about the new breed of musicians that inspire her.

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Photo by Jerris Madison

FMH: Let’s just start off with what you have going on now– your upcoming show in Brooklyn on February 12th at BRIC– because a lot of people may be surprised that “the great Dianne Reeves” is playing in Brooklyn.

DR: I love it. You know, when I was in New York, that’s where I spent most of my time. I’m very familiar with Brooklyn and I love the community there– spent years going to DanceAfrica– so this is exciting for me! Plus, I have lots of friends in Brooklyn and I think they’re going to show up Wednesday night.

FMH: It’s interesting because Wynton Marsalis and his sextet played in Brooklyn to commemorate the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 100th Anniversary in 2012 and it feels like a lot of the energy of the Manhattan jazz scene is shifting to Brooklyn…and of course it helps that people like Bilal, Robert Glasper, Gregory Porter, and lots of others all live in Brooklyn.

DR: I understand that. I think that’s kind of happened through the years. I remember when I lived in New York, Terence Blanchard lived in Brooklyn, in Clinton Hill. Musicians have always gravitated towards Brooklyn. Creative people, in general, have gravitated to Brooklyn, because when I lived there, I caught a lot of art in Brooklyn. I can’t remember the artist’s name and he’s since passed away, but he was a part of the community and sold all this great art by great African Americans and sold me my first two [Elizabeth] Catlett’s. There’s all kinds of wonderful stuff in Brooklyn.

FMH: You’re right. I was talking with Gary Bartz once and he reminded me that Max Roach grew up in Bed-Stuy and there’s a really great tradition of artists who are from this community.

DR: Yep. I remember Terri Lyne used to live in Brooklyn, Greg Osby lived in Brooklyn.

FMH: I think Brooklyn’s jazz history is so important to talk about because when people hear “Brooklyn,” a lot of folks just think “hip hop.”

DR: Oh really?? Nah. Nah. There are all kinds of things going on in Brooklyn.

FMH: Speaking of jazz, I want to ask you about that word “jazz” and how you choose to engage/disengage it.

DR: It’s a word and it’s out there. But I like what Abbey Lincoln says, “Jazz is a spirit.” That’s how I look at it and that is the thing that allows me to explore lots of different territory.

FMH: I’ve been thinking a lot about these things since Amiri Baraka passed.

DR: It’s amazing because with Amiri Baraka and all of those poets remind of when every aspect of African American music was together, it wasn’t walled off. That’s exactly why I wanted to do “I Want You.” It’s just a wonderful song and here you have a singer like Marvin Gaye who was steeped in jazz. On any given day you would hear Marvin talk about Sarah [Vaughn] and you would hear Ella [Fitzgerald] talk about any of the great R&B singers. I hate to say ‘genres’ because it’s all one big thing, but every branch of the tree really came together. That’s exciting to me.

FMH: So I want to shift gears a little bit. When I knew I’d be speaking with you, my mind went back to the concert you did at Carnegie Hall almost a year ago, in February 2013.  It was a “Dianne Reeves and friends” concert and I thought it was so beautiful because you yielded your stage to other great artists like Terri Lyne Carrington, Esperanza Spalding, and Lalah Hathaway.  And the night also included up and coming artist Nadia Washington and a super special moment with the late George Duke. Can you talk about what that night meant to you and why it was so important to you to include the voices of others?

DR: First of all, it was an extraordinary night. You know, I’ve always been a part of big jazz festivals around the world where artists come together and you never know what’s going to happen because they speak the language of music so strongly, they can get together and do whatever. And a lot of times, after the show, you just go backstage and hang with everybody. I’ve always loved that feeling and felt like that was a part of the culture that really drew me in. So, I guess I was just trying to create that same thing on this stage at Carnegie Hall and it was very successful because we had a ball.

FMH: Then to add another layer to it, you’re already a four-time Grammy Award-winner and then Terri Lyne Carrington won a Grammy this year, so did Lalah Hathaway, and of course, Esperanza Spalding won a few years back for Best New Artist. 

DR: And that was Terri’s second Grammy! She won for Mosaic, as well. Terri has been doing this for a long time and she’s really extraordinary. And as big as her talent is, a lot of people don’t really know who she is, but I think they know now.

FMH: And Terri Lyne produced Beautiful Life.

DR: She produced Beautiful Life, which is the second record she’s produced for me. Years ago, we produced a record called That Day. She’s just excellent at what she does.

FMH: Indeed. And I was just blown away by Nadia Washington’s talent. How did you find her?

DR: I’d gone to Berklee a few years back and Terri introduced me to her. Nadia was playing piano and Terri told me she’s really incredible. I’d go to Youtube to be able to see her, but then Nadia picked up that guitar and it was a whole other story. I kept seeing her videos and we decided to work with her and it just went from there. Nadia looked pretty amazing.

FMH: Yeah, Nadia looked pretty at home on stage at Carnegie Hall.

DR: Yeah, I’m going to be playing at Jazz at Lincoln Center this month, too, and she’ll be joining me there.

FMH: Well, the audience is in for a treat! So let’s talk about your new album, Beautiful Life. It’s been five years!

DR: Everybody says that and I guess it has been, but it doesn’t seem like it’s been that long to me because two of those years I was touring from the last record. It just doesn’t seem that long. But you know life happened and I was needed close to home and a lot of things happened.  Sometimes you just need balance. You need to live a little bit before you have something to say.

FMH: Amen. With that in mind, what is the message of Beautiful Life?

DR: Well, the biggest thing is collaboration. I love all the possibilities and it reminded me of when I recorded earlier in my career and I used lots of different people for specific reasons because they created things in a way that was really amazing. And also, jazz is my foundation but I love music so much that I like exploring all kinds of different things because it’s all music to me. So making this record was a return to that spirit of music without boundaries and singing what is in my heart to sing.

FMH: Just looking at the personnel on the album and the songs that you chose, both songs you interpreted and songs written for the album, it feels like some type of musical potluck where everybody brings their best dish and you see what kind of goodness you end up with.

DR: Well, the fact that everyone is a gourmet chef, it’s not luck. It’s gonna happen. [laughter] So then it is about bringing your best wares to the meal and creating something lavish and beautiful. So even with the Fleetwood Mac song, “Dreams,” that actually is a song that I like, but I didn’t choose it. Robert Glasper chose it and he said he had an idea. And when he told me, I texted him and said, “You mean ‘Players only love you when they’re playing?’ That song?” And he said, “Yeah!” And I wondered how did he know that song? I don’t even know if he was here when that song came out. But I love that this music that I listened to is influencing the music we’re making.

Someone used the term “neo-soul” and I said, “Hold up. I am soul. There’s nothing new about me.” I was here before that term was even put into play. But at the same time, I love [that] all these wonderful and incredible jazz musicians are making this music so that it touches everybody. When I grew up the music I listened to my mom also enjoyed. So I love that the feeling is back and that was another inspiration for the record.

FMH: I think that’s a great point because I’m definitely a part of the hip hop generation and there’s a whole side of musical life that I didn’t share with my family. I couldn’t play Doggystyle around my parents and I wasn’t supposed to play it around the younger kids in my family. So there’s something to be said for music where you don’t have to cringe while listening to it with the elders or cover the baby’s ears.

DR: Or the elders are buying the music. Gregory Porter sounds like someone that came out of the 1960s. They’re loving him across the board. It’s a broad demographic and I love that.

You know, when I grew up, music was not just entertainment. It was a way of life. It was the backdrop of everything. The music was talking about what we were dealing with right then and right there. There were songs that you would sing like a Bible verse because that was going to help you get through. Those songs were for the head, and for the heart, and for the feet.

FMH: I like that, “for the head, for the heart, for the feet.” Also, you mentioned Gregory Porter and he was another Grammy-winner this year.

DR: That’s right!

FMH: What does it mean to you, as someone who has been doing this at such a high level for a long time, to see this next group: the Gerald Claytons, the Gregory Porters, the Robert Glaspers of the world? How does it feel to watch them set the bar high and achieve great success?

DR: It’s very rich. I’ve never been at this vantage point in my life where I am seeing all of them come up. It’s exciting to me because they’re all coming with their own voice and in their own way. It’s all so intellectual, but there’s also fellowship and fun. It’s so many things. And it just says that the music is in transition because I can’t give a name to this period, but it says to me that the music is in the best of hands. So it makes me feel good and it makes me feel proud.

FMH: It’s true. I constantly go out to shows to see people, like the ones you’ve mentioned, perform and it’s literally like watching masters at work.

DR: The live concerts are just that, alive. The thing I try to stress is that that concert, that way, will never been seen again. It may be the songs, but never like that again. And that’s the thing that I love, that the music is in the moment, it is open to interpretation, it’s the pouring out of humanity, and it’s to be enjoyed.

See I read your tweets where you post little snippets of things, like that video you posted of Lalah Hathaway and Ruben Studdard singing, “If This World were Mine” and would have loved to have been there for that. Now that’s the New York that I used to live in. I used to not get home until the wee hours of the morning because people were playing! We would go from club to club to club. There were clubs all over the Village to uptown and all over. It was on and poppin’ all night long! So you got to hear all these musicians and all these ways of performing. I loved it.

I’m the type who will just show up somewhere and be a fly on the wall and listen. I love being in the energy of it. I love music and I love singers.

FMH: I love the idea that Dianne Reeves might just show up somewhere and listen in, too!

DR: Listening to other artists feeds me. When you’re on stage, you give out. But when you listen to other artists, you take in. I love that, because then I feel inspired when I go back out again. I’m amazed at what a lot of these young singers are doing. I love all of this in-the-moment creativity. I think it probably happened when we were young, but we didn’t have the interent! So, I check in with you guys and Revive Music a lot to see what you all are saying! You and Aja are my point of reference!

And I just love that the music is progressing in a very good way.

Catch the Preview Party at BRIC on 2/12! – More Info 

And her two-night residency at JALC on 2/14-2/15 – More Info 

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Fredara Mareva Hadley owns Jooksi, which provides the best music tours in New York City, and is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies at Oberlin College. Follow her at @fredaraMareva

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