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Dianne Reeves Makes a Case for Jazz's Relevance

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Monday April 04, 2011

From Isthmus

Singer Dianne Reeves makes a case for jazz’s relevance
By Dean Robbins

The recent death of Abbey Lincoln made it official. The golden age of female jazz singers is over.

But that doesn’t mean the genre is played out — not by a long shot. Contemporary women are finding a way to sing jazz without slavishly imitating Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan, the three titans who set the standard over half a century ago. One of the best is Dianne Reeves, who appears as part of the Wisconsin Union Theater’s Isthmus Jazz Series on April 8.

Reeves rivals her idol, Vaughan, in virtuosity. She shapes phrases with exquisite subtlety, making use of a shiver-inducing lower register. Her ballads have a languorous quality, with dramatic swooping notes and a delicate vibrato. On up-tempo numbers, the lyrics sometimes dissolve into scat syllables, Fitzgerald-style, and Reeves melts into the band as just another instrument. At times like these, she communicates something ineffable — a sort of bliss that exists beyond the realm of words.

Familiar melodies don’t sound at all familiar when Reeves gets through with them. She has a gift for improvising, to the point where standards like “The Man I Love” and “Love for Sale” become something else entirely — something she can call her own. This is jazz singing of the highest order, matched by only a handful of others since Louis Armstrong invented the art form in the 1920s.

Read the entire interview here