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Jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves: Yesterday, today, and tomorrow

Scott Haas
Jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves: Yesterday,  today, and  tomorrow
Dianne Reeves. COURTESY PHOTO

Dianne Reeves, whose voice exemplifies the heart and soul of jazz, arrives in Boston on Saturday, Feb. 8 for one show at the Berklee Performance Center at 8 p.m. A recipient in 2018 of the Jazz Master award from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the winner of five Grammy awards for Best Jazz Vocal Performance, Female, Reeves brings intellect, tradition and boundary-breaking elements to the music. Her first album, recorded in 1987, featured Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Tony Williams. These days, she continues to collaborate with musicians pushing forward: her latest recording, “Beautiful Life,” has songs she performed with Robert Glasper and then with Esperanza Spalding. She spoke with the Banner by phone from her home in Denver, Colorado.

Q: You’ve been recording music for close to forty years, and I’m wondering how you’ve evolved. I listen to a lot of your music, and hear new sounds, but similar, distinctive elements.

A: Similar and distinctive elements are just me — I’m in love with my instrument, more and more in love with my voice. And as time progressed, how I wanted to say things. You learn more, you learn to do better. To improve. To become more confident in taking chances with the music. Getting together with other musicians helps. And you find parts of yourself you didn’t know existed.

You’ve performed with so many jazz greats, from Clark Terry to Herbie Hancock to Robert Glasper. Each collaboration is different, of course. For those unfamiliar with that process, can you say a few words about what it’s like?

The beautiful thing, and this applies to all of the musicians you mentioned, is that each person has a different approach to the music. So when we work together, they have me doing things a little differently. And they’ll say things like, ‘I love the way you do this,’ so that I’ll then go down that road further — ways to harmonize, for example. I respond to all these things. Working with Robert Glasper, for example, was great! What I love about him is that he’s always doing something different. He’s extremely confident in what he does, from his approach to the music to his arrangements. And while he’s blazing new trails, as in bringing hip-hop into the music, he’s also firmly in the traditions of the church. Generations of listeners can come to his music because of his ability to put it out there.

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What I love about your voice and what you sing about is how it makes me feel — it seems more emotional and confessional than a lot of music, no matter the genre. Is that fair to say?

Oh, it’s definitely fair to say! I try to only sing things that I have a strong feeling for, to paint a clear picture. In that way, it’s cathartic. On stage, there’s a release of whatever’s been going on day-to-day. And I feel lifted by the words I choose to express myself. All you can trust is yourself.

As a woman in jazz, are there thoughts or advice you might offer to women just starting out? What you have learned to avoid, accept and pursue?

The biggest things I tell young women are: There is nobody like you. What you have to say absolutely matters. Trust your instincts, refine and define those things. Don’t be afraid to sing and explore what you’re attracted to. Don’t listen to the noise. Don’t be afraid!

“Good Night and Good Luck,” the movie made by George Clooney, featured you in its soundtrack. What was it like for you to work in another medium?

That was incredible. George selected all the music, and what blew me away was how much he loves the music. I also thought I was going to be asked to lip-synch, but he said, “absolutely not” — he wanted it live. It was a really extraordinary experience to make myself part of the movie. I was the Greek chorus of the film! Keeping the story or movie moving along.

Who are you listening to these days among living artists?

Brazil has been part of my musical vocabulary for a long time, and now more so because I’m approaching doing a project that involves Brazilian music. Overall, there are a lot of young artists doing amazing things. Like Cecile McLorin Salvant — her singing! She is really, really deeply talented.

What’s 2020 have in store for you?

I’m doing research on a new project that is about the Brazilian music that I love.

Finally, what’s it like for you to perform in Boston?  What ties do you have to this city?

I have a lot of family in Boston. And there’s my friend Terri Lyne Carrington, the great Boston musician — I met her when she was 10! I just spent the past Thanksgiving with her. Overall, Boston has great musicians and a wonderful jazz society. I started out performing in Boston long ago — at a little club above Howard Johnson’s!

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