Reeves Plans to Accentuate the Positive


Dianne Reeves may be too versatile for her own good. Name a style, and there’s a high probability that the gifted singer can handle it with ease.

She has done studio session work with musicians such as Lenny White and Stanley Clarke, toured with Sergio Mendes and Harry Belafonte, and performed in settings ranging from Ellington to smooth jazz, from Latin jazz with the group Caldera to experimental efforts with the group Night Flight. Her takes on the music of Joni Mitchell and Peter Gabriel have been as fascinating as her approach to the standards in the Great American Songbook.

But extraordinary as that versatility is, it’s also probably the reason why Reeves still hasn’t been fully acknowledged for the depth of her jazz skills.


Asked about the disparity, Reeves simply shrugs.

“I know,” she says, “a lot of people don’t think I have made a commitment to doing jazz, but I really have. In the last year I’ve been doing a lot more jazz, kind of returning to my roots. And I think I’ll stay there for a while because I’m really enjoying it--and I need it, too.”

Her return to her jazz roots will be on full display tonight and Saturday at Founders Hall in the Orange County Performing Arts Center, when Reeves performs two sets each evening. And her appearance in a pure jazz setting will underscore her feeling that, at 44, she is at the right time and the right place in her life to fully explore the experience of making jazz.

“What I’ve discovered,” says Reeves, “is that I actually have more to give to the music than I did when I was younger. Because it takes awhile to find your voice. And jazz music was the thing that finally allowed me to find it, the thing that told me that individuality is the most important key to one’s art.”

Like many singers who deal with jazz, however, Reeves had to come to grips with the fact that the genre demands an integration of storytelling, musicality, imagination and swing--a demanding mix.

“Yeah, that was difficult,” she says. “The storytelling for me has always been essential, and that’s probably what led me into the other kinds of music where I felt it was easier to tell my stories. Because when I listened to jazz artists like Sarah Vaughan, it sometimes felt like two different waves of music. Sometimes there were songs that you said, ‘Yes,’ because everything flowed together. But at other times, you just had to look beyond the words and realize that her voice was really an instrument.”

Reeves has never been content--despite the extraordinary range of her own vocal instrument--to emphasize the music at the expense of the words. And the result has been an integration of elements that reflect the worldview of an artist with the creative skills and the life experience to bring it all together.


But Reeves herself is just happy to have finally centered in upon her focus, to have found a way to weave the diverse threads of music she heard and loved while she was growing up in a musical household.

“You know,” she adds, “when I did some concerts at Lincoln Center recently, I had so much fun that I said, ‘Hmm, I think I’m going to change my major.’ And I’m glad I did.”


* Dianne Reeves at Founders Hall in the Orange County Performing Arts Center, 600 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa. Tonight and Saturday, 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Tickets $42 for 7:30 p.m. performances, $36 for 9:30 p.m. performances. (714) 556-2787.


Jelly Gets Jammed: He may have been a braggart and a showman, but there’s no question that Jelly Roll Morton was one of the primal figures in the early growth of jazz. Although he didn’t exactly “invent” the music as he says he did, he was responsible for some of the most vital innovations of the pre-Ellington era.

A few years ago, Morton’s musical reputation was further enhanced by the discovery of some of his music scores in a New Orleans French Quarter apartment. Equally important, hundreds of letters contained in the same cache appear to reveal that Morton--who had fallen on such dark financial times that he could not afford to have the music performed--was actually being ripped off by his own publisher.

Chicago Tribune reporters Howard Reich and Williams Gaines have written a detailed report of their investigation into the material and their evaluation of the fashion in which Morton lost control of his own musical copyrights. Their superbly researched stories are central elements in a fascinating overall view of Morton at the Chicago Tribune Web site (at In addition to the extensive description of the manner in which Morton was exploited, and the impact it had upon his life, the site includes samples of his music, video, a gallery of photographs, a timeline and interviews with musicians. If reportage on jazz ever deserved a Pulitzer, this is it.



Jazz Piano Revealed: Morton’s music makes an appearance in “Dick Hyman’s Century of Jazz Piano,” a CD-ROM that probably includes everything you ever wanted to know about jazz piano. Hyman--whose career ranges from stride piano to vocal accompaniment to providing music for Woody Allen films--captures every imaginable jazz style (Morton, Count Basie, Dave Brubeck, Bud Powell, Horace Silver and Thelonious Monk, to name only a few) in the five hours of performances included on the disc.

In addition, there are 21 historical videos, 200,000 words of documentation, biographies and stylistic analyses and 90 minutes of video lessons. Talk about a last-minute Christmas gift for the jazz piano fan at your house.

This remarkable educational vehicle is available in two forms. The Home Version ($49.95 plus $5 shipping and handling) includes all the above except for the video. The Pro Version ($99.95 plus $5 shipping and handling) adds the video and a MIDI Studio that allows for the note-by-note study (at any tempo) of each of the Hyman performances. Available from JSS Music ([800] 557-7894) or the Web site