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Jazzing up the holidays

Dianne Reeves brings it home to Hancher

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Diana Nollen  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 3:45 pm   ::  

After spending her fall touring Europe and Turkey, Dianne Reeves is happy to be home for the holidays — even if she won’t be home for long.

After a short hop around the United States for three Christmas concerts — including a Hancher stop in Riverside on Dec. 7 — she’ll head into the recording studio in Boston. Then it’s off to Australia for three shows in January before heading back to the States, then off to Switzerland and back for another U.S. tour.

No wonder she relishes her down time amid all that zigzagging.

“I enjoy it, but I always feel it when I come home,” Reeves, 56, says by phone from her home in Denver, surrounded by the majestic Rocky Mountains. “I live in the city, but I see them every single day when I get up. I love them. People always ask me, ‘Where do you go on vacation?’ I travel so much, I come home.

“Denver is a very beautiful city,” she says. “I like to walk and I like to go up to the mountains. I like to cook — I’m really good — and there’s a very organic culture here for food. I’ve been working with a couple of friends who are chefs, to learn really good, organic cooking.”

But caroling season is upon us, and the jazz diva will be doing what she does best — dishing up her great, organic takes on familiar holiday songs. A liberal sprinkling of scat singing turns up the heat on “Let It Snow,” syncopation moves “The Little Drummer Boy” to a very hip beat and sparkling piano weaves nostalgia through the title track of her 2004 album, “Christmas Time is Here.”

She’ll share plenty of those tunes with her Hancher audience, but also add in some of her new music, some of her favorite vintage tunes and “lots of stories,” she says.

The details


The four-time Grammy winner has performed several Hancher concerts before the Floods of 2008, and is eager to return to Eastern Iowa. She remembers those concert experiences as being “really cool.”

“There’s a lot of jazz people and lovers of the music right here in the middle of the United States. I love that,” she says.

She’ll be bringing her band along for the ride, with piano, bass, drums and guitar, ready for anything. That’s what she likes best about performing live.

“It’s the interaction with the people and the edge that it puts me and my band on,” she says. “While we’ve played this music from night to night, it’s always different, and I love that. Every day inspires what will be played that evening.

“We get out there, and it’s an intimate exchange with the members, and we invite the audience to be part of that — and when that happens, my goodness, you can sing all night.”

Born in Detroit and raised in Denver, Reeves has been singing all her days. It’s in her DNA. Her father, who died when she was just 2, was a singer. Her uncle, Charles Burrell, played bass with the Denver Symphony and turned her onto jazz. Other relatives work in the music industry, as well, and helped guide her through her early days in Los Angeles.

Long before that, she knew music would be her profession.

It happened in junior high.

“I thought, this is what I want to do. I like it, I like it,” she says. “I like how it feels. Having had the opportunity to work with my uncle, who was really, really instrumental in helping me get out there, working with him was really great. And I loved it. I loved the feeling. I liked jazz because it was a kind of freedom. I couldn’t say that then, but that’s what attracted me to the music.”

Today, music is her sanctuary.

“It’s like a prayer,” she says. “It’s not from my mind, it’s from my heart. It just comes right from there, out of my mouth. You feel lifted. I always tell people the stage is my sacred place. I’m totally different on stage than I am walking around in my life. I feel a kind of connection to something greater than myself.”

After a year at the University of Colorado, she left for California to embark on her career, finding work as a studio and sessions singer.

“I love that I was 19 years old and I had a plan,” she says. “I felt good. Didn’t know what I ultimately wanted to do, but knew what I didn’t want to do. It was a good start.

“I just wanted to be able to be respected for the music that I was singing. I was very selective,” she says. “I understood even then the power of words, so I was very selective in the lyrics that I would sing, and the kind of music that I wanted to sing. I loved the sophistication of jazz music at that time.

“I love all kinds of music, but there’s something about being able to be in an environment where people have these intimate conversations through music that are soulful and intellectual. I knew that’s what I wanted. I knew that the people that were a part of the music, no matter how old they were, always felt young and that they had been able to do their heart’s desire for as long as they lived.”

Touring with Harry Belafonte in the ‘80s changed her life.

“Up to that point, it was strictly jazz music,” she says. “The music was becoming extremely complex, and when I worked with Harry Belafonte, he sings folk songs from all over the world. He is very much part of the struggle of people, and it was through him that I really learned how to deliver a lyric, that simple ‘less is really more.’ I started to enjoy playing the space of music way beyond the notes that I was caught in before. Then I learned how to place the notes and I realized you have more notes to place if you take the time, at any given time.

“It was through that experience that I really learned how to deliver lyrics and even more so, the importance of words.”

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