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A New Beginning, for Schuur : The Jazz and Pop Singer, Who Will Perform in Costa Mesa, Is Regaining Control of Her Life

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You’ve got to admire Diane Schuur. The 37-year-old jazz and pop singer has given up a lot lately.

Two years ago, Schuur, who appears Friday and Saturday with the Pacific Symphony at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, finally admitted to herself that she had a weight problem. Just over 5 feet tall, she weighed close to 235 pounds.

Through a diet program, the vocalist, who has been blind since birth due to a medical accident, eventually dropped 100 pounds and has kept the weight off.

“At least today I’m not using food to replace something emotionally,” Schuur said in a recent telephone interview from her home in Seattle, which she shares with her dog, Weedles.

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A few months after she started cutting down on her food, Schuur, who has been performing since she was 10, came face to face with another serious problem: alcohol abuse.

For years, Schuur had been what is known in substance-abuse terminology as a periodic.

“I would go for long periods and not drink anything, then I’d drink anything I could get my hands on, except Scotch, which I couldn’t stand the taste of,” said the artist, whose latest album is “Pure Schuur.” “It was like, ‘This feels so good, let’s get some more.’ ”

To stop, she went cold turkey, again with the help of a program.

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“Through God’s help and the support of others, I have been able to get somewhat of a grip on the problem,” she said. “I feel very fortunate I’m no longer obsessed with that imperious urge.

“It’s interesting that when you put down the bottle, you start to see the reasons why you drank and find other ways of processing that kind of thinking. You stop doing the things that (temporarily) made you feel better.”

Schuur figures it was the fact that she started singing so young--and her mother’s death when Schuur was 13--that wreaked havoc on her emotions, causing her to turn to external, and fleeting, substitutes for the lasting inner strength that is the fundamental element of self-esteem.

“I never had a chance to live a somewhat normal childhood,” Schuur said, referring to her performances from ages 10 to 15 of country tunes and pop standards at Seattle nightclubs. “But what’s normal? Growing up the way I did wasn’t easy, but at the same time, I wouldn’t be where I am if it hadn’t happened that way.”

With food and alcohol no longer around to calm her emotions, Schuur discovered she had yet another self-defeating behavior to relinquish: addictive relationships. She said she’s hopeful that she got out of her final one last August.

Her pattern in the past was whenever she got out of one relationship, she’d replace it right away with another. “But this time, I’m giving myself some space and really looking at it,” said Schuur, who won Grammys for her “Timeless” and “Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra” recordings. “I think I’ll get involved romantically again, but it won’t be the same. I’ll be stronger; I won’t be as dependent.”

One issue that complicates those relationships is her celebrity--she’s been in the jazz spotlight since she appeared with saxophonist Stan Getz at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979.

Schuur, who has never been married, said: “You wonder if a guy loves you for who you are or if he’s there for your money or star status,” she said. “There are a lot of things to consider.”

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The upshot of Schuur’s eliminating all of these dependencies has been a revitalized, more authentic kind of performance.

“There’s more depth to my interpretations, more feeling,” she said. “I’m not numbing out anymore. I always had the feelings. Now I can really express them with more honesty and intensity. I really understand the pain behind a tune like ‘Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry,’ which is about the ending of a relationship.”

That song is included on Schuur’s upcoming album, “In Tribute,” due for release in January. On it she pays homage to several of the singers who have had an impact on her: Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald and others.

But not Dinah Washington, whose 1959 pop hit, “What a Difference a Day Makes,” was a major inspiration for Schuur when she was a child.

“Dinah was once my main influence, but not anymore,” Schuur said. “I’m evolving into my own style, which is a compilation of all the female vocalists that I have been influenced by, but not any particular one.”

In what will be her first engagement with the Pacific Symphony, Schuur will offer tunes from several of her albums. The list of contenders includes “Easy to Love,” “Just Found Out About Love,” as well as “Guess I’ll Hang My Tears Out to Dry” and “Everytime We Say Goodbye” from her next album.

These days, though her current schedule of steady touring does sometimes make her tired, Schuur is reasonably happy. “It feels good to remind myself of what I’ve got and be in gratitude,” she said. “The thing is that I’m not drinking or using a substance abusively, at least for today.”

* Singer Diane Schurr joins the Pacific Symphony in pops concerts Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tickets: $16 to $47. Information: (714) 556-2787.

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