Born 1956 in Detroit, MI. Education: Attended the University of Colorado in the mid-1970s. Addresses: Home--Denver, CO. Record company--Blue Note Records, 1290 Avenue of the Americas, 35th Floor, New York, NY 10104.
With jazz as the base of her vocal stylings, Dianne Reeves freely mixes in pop, African and South American influences as well as her own vision, a combination that has led to her acclaim as a unique contemporary songstress. However, Reeves' albums have met with mixed receptions, with I Remember at the top of the jazz charts for weeks and Art and Survival critically acclaimed but rarely played. Occasionally criticized by jazz purists for straying from the straight-and-narrow or for indulging in pop-like schmaltz, Reeves has nevertheless attracted a strong following for her vocal interpretations.
Born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1956, Reeves grew up in Colorado, and at an early age her talent brought her to the attention of professional musicians. While performing at a National Association of Jazz Educators convention as a featured singer in her high school's big band, Reeves was heard by trumpeter Clark Terry. He took an interest in the young performer and invited her to sing with his big band. Reeves performed with Terry's group for several years, continuing even while still attending the University of Colorado.
When Reeves completed her studies at the University of Colorado in 1976, she moved to Los Angeles to further her career and her musical education. She worked as a studio artist, recording with Lenny White, Stanley Turrentine, and Alphonos Johnson. She also began working with Billy Childs, developing a musical relationship that would continue for a decade. In the late Seventies Reeves performed with the group Night Flight; their gigs took them throughout southern California on the "beach circuit." These various experiences--session recordings, live performances, and musical experimentation with Childs--all made this period a richly educational one for Reeves.
In 1980 Reeves continued this education by taking on studies with vocal coach Phil Moore. The following year Reeves embarked on an important new experience: she auditioned for and won a spot with Sergio Mendes' world tour group. Fresh from performing for international audiences with Mendes, Reeves recorded her first album in 1982, Welcome to My Love. She produced it with Billy Childs and included several of her own compositions. One of these original Reeves pieces was "Better Days," which made it onto the jazz charts.
Although Reeves had already tempered her jazz origins with pop and fusion influences from the likes of Stanley Turrentine, George Duke, and Mendes, she further expanded her musical repertoire through the influence of Harry Belafonte. After moving the New York in 1983, Reeves began performing with Belafonte and has credited these mid-Eighties performances for her introduction to the rhythms of West Africa and the West Indies. She continued this exploration by experimenting with music from Brazil and Cuba, as well as venturing into the rhythms of early African-American folk music such as field hollers and slave songs.
Reeves' next album, For Every Heart, reveled in the new knowledge she had gained with Belafonte. Mixing reggae and world rhythms into jazz, Reeves took what she had learned under Belafonte's tutelage and made it her own. Reeves acknowledged Belafonte's influence when she noted in her artist biography for the Blue Note label that "Harry's always been an artist who mentors others. He has respect for that folk tradition." The album also featured many of the world musicians Reeves met while working with Belafonte.
In 1986 Reeves returned to the West Coast and formed a trio with Billy Childs, which they took on the road throughout the United States. The next year, after a Grammy-nominated performance at the "Echoes of Ellington" concert captured the attention of Blue Note president Bruce Lundvall, Reeves began recording Dianne Reeves for the eminent jazz label. The 1987 album benefited from her collaboration with George Duke, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Tony Williams, and Stanley Clarke. As Reeves' most successful recording effort to date, it garnered attention from critics and fans alike. Will Friedwald described the various influences on the self-titled LP in Jazztimes, noting that "on one hand, in [Reeves'] pan-cultural voyages she strives for a degree of authenticity, but at the same time she feels a strong obligation to the tenets of jazz and fusion, and also to her own idiosyncracies."
When criticized by jazz purists for the pop leanings of the album, Reeves defended her experimentation with various styles. As she explained to Peter Keepnews in Billboard, "Jazz is my foundation. . . . I come from Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday. They set a standard of excellence; nobody sounds like them. And people forget that they also did albums that could have been considered pop albums."
Still exploring new genres, Reeves added an R&B component to her next album, Never Too Far. Released in 1989, the album sold well and attracted more fans to her sound. However, Reeves chose to return to a more purely jazz format in her 1991 release, I Remember. Remaining for 12 weeks at the top of the Billboard jazz chart, this album was her most popular yet. Reeves also continued to gather fans through her live performances in the U.S., Europe, and Japan.
Reeves' next recording evoked an unusual response from her audience. Art and Survival, released in late 1993, was acclaimed by critics but little received little promotion from EMI and little exposure on the radio. Reeves attributes this reaction to the emotionally charged topics she explored on the album, including her condemnation of female circumcision in "Endangered Species." Although the album did not sell well and was criticized by some fans as too emotional, Reeves has said it was an important album for her personal growth.
Rallying after Art and Survival's poor sales, Reeves quickly began work on her next album, Quiet After the Storm. After the emotional storm and controversial topics of her previous album, Reeves said she wanted to simply sing on this one. It was completed in two weeks. "I feel with this album I have become a real storyteller," Reeves told Zan Stewart in Down Beat. "It was done with a great deal of ease, because I have an understanding of a lot of life-related things, and it's easy for me now to translate that into music and tell a story." Some of those stories were her own; Reeves peppered the album with original songs, including "Smile" and the autobiographical "Nine." The album rose to the top ten of the jazz charts and solidified Reeves position as one of the more important jazz divas of the late twentieth century.
by Susan Windisch Brown
Dianne Reeves's Career
Began performing with trumpeter Clark Terry while still in high school; recorded sessions with Lenny White, Stanley Turrentine, and Alphonso Johnson in the mid- to late 1970s; performed with the group Night Flight in southern California, late 1970s; joined the world tour of Sergio Mendes, 1981; recorded debut album, Welcome to My Love, in 1982; performed with Harry Belafonte, 1983-1986; formed a trio with Billy Childs and toured the United States in 1986; recorded Dianne Reeves in 1987 and toured the United States and Asia for the next two years; recorded the jazz hit album I Remember in 1991 and the critically acclaimed Art and Survival in 1993; recorded Quiet After the Storm in 1995 and toured in support of the album.
- Selective Works
- Welcome to My Love, Palo Alto Jazz, 1982.
- For Every Heart, Palo Alto Jazz, 1985.
- Dianne Reeves, Blue Note, 1987.
- Never Too Far, EMI, 1989.
- I Remember, Blue Note, 1990.
- Art and Survival, EMI, 1994.
- Quiet After the Storm, Blue Note, 1995.
August 19, 2003: Reeves's album, Little Moonlight, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921985790, August 20, 2003.
February 8, 2004: Reeves won the Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album, for A Little Moonlight. Source: 46th Grammy Awards, grammys.com/awards/grammy/46winners.aspx, February 8, 2004.
February 8, 2006: Reeves won the Grammy Award for best jazz vocal album for Good Night, and Good Luck. Source: Grammy.com, http://grammy.com/GRAMMY_Awards/Annual_Show/48_nominees.aspx, February 9, 2006.
- Billboard, June 18, 1988; March 11, 1995; June 17, 1995.
- Down Beat, September 1991; November 1995.
- Jazztimes, January 1988.
- Additional information for this profile was provided by Blue Note Records publicity materials, 1995.