Spoleto 2015 » Jazz, Blues, & Roots

Grammy winner Dianne Reeves isn't bound by expectations

Rocky Mountain Jazz

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These days it's easy for a writer to lazily depend on nothing but Wikipedia when researching an interview subject, especially if the information sounds legit. Leave it to Dianne Reeves, the award-winning jazz vocalist, to immediately call me out on my transgression when I ask her how she pictures a life in which her parents held more blue-collar type jobs, as opposed to being the professional musicians that a quick internet search led me to believe them to be.

"Well, they were," the singer exclaims with a laugh. "My daddy was a post office worker and my mother was a nurse. I don't know that there is any more blue-collar than that. I know the internet says she played the trumpet, but that was in high school, like in the band. She wasn't professional. And I grew up in Denver, Colo., which isn't exactly the jazz capital of the United States. We had mountains, and I fished with my father, but music was something that I still found and pursued because my blue-collar parents saw something in me and wanted to support it."

The strength of Reeves' family has been something the musician has been able to rely upon throughout her life. Despite living in a part of the country that isn't known for a deep relationship with jazz music, Reeves' mother helped foster the talent she saw in her daughter at an early age.

"When my mother realized that music was something I was going to move towards," Reeves recollects, "she began getting me the lessons and things that I would need to improve the talent that I already had. So it was both nature and nurture, and I was very fortunate in that way."

That early support that Reeves received as a child is what helped her develop into the entertainer she is today. When she looks back on the great experience that singing in her high school band gave her and compares it to the nonexistent or lackluster school music programs kids are offered today, the anger in her voice is palpable.

"I think it's terrible, because even if you decide that music won't be your career, the experience of music is such a powerful language," she says. "You know, I've traveled the world and everyone understands music. More than anything, when you are in situations of group singing, and all of the other things that music brings together — they help develop beauty and teamwork and art. Also the whole idea of possibilities. That's what I love about the idea of arts programs in schools. Not just music either, just all the way across the board. They help young people develop their imaginations and come up with new ideas."

She continues, "The one thing that God gave us was our uniqueness, in that no two people are the same in the world. It's a wonderful feeling to be given the opportunity to develop that."

Perhaps it's those memories that have led this five-time Grammy winner (for Best Jazz Vocal Performance) to return to her hometown. The singer says that while she had visited all of the major entertainment markets in the world, she still felt a pull toward Denver when it came time to settle down.

Reeves states with a contented sigh, "This is just a nice place to come home to. With the world that we live in now and the accessibility of computers and the internet and everything else, the world is just smaller. I used to live in New York and Los Angeles, but I can operate just as easily from Denver and not miss a beat."

Music industry expectations, and the locations required of it, are something that Reeves has had to deal with since first becoming a professional singer. If she wanted to be considered a serious musician, she had to move to New York. If she wanted to be considered a true jazz vocalist, she could only sing certain songs in a certain way. The old rules have always bored Reeves, and it didn't take too many trips around the globe for the entertainer to discover that her fan base stretched across musical genres. As her past experiences at Spoleto have attested, you can find appreciative fans of good music anywhere you perform.

Her performance this year is on the heels of her 18th album, Beautiful Life, which is her first studio album in five years. On it, Reeves sings smooth covers of songs like Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain" and Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" — it's a characteristically elegant and modern offering.

"This isn't the first time that I have played this festival, and I'm so excited to be invited down to do it again," Reeves says. "It's probably one of the most incredible festivals in the world. Like I said, music is a powerful language, so when I look out into my audience and see the wide demographic net that comes out to hear me, I just thank God every day because people just like the music." She adds, "Whether they are Southern in the United States or southerners in the south of France, it's all good."

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