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Dianne Reeves - America’s First Lady of Jazz

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Friday October 10, 2014

From the Irish Examiner

Dianne Reeves – America’s First Lady of Jazz
By: Ed Power

IN advance of her gig at the Guinness Cork Jazz Festival, Ed Power Dianne Reenes is as humble as ever, despite her Grammys and singing for George Clooney.

The first lady of American jazz wears her mantle lightly. Dianne Reeves may be garlanded in Grammy awards and have a fanbase that includes George Clooney and Elvis Costello. However, in person she is endlessly understated, blanching at the idea that she is the era’s preeminent ‘jazz’ vocalist. She’s a singer – nothing more, nothing less. It horrifies her to think she might be placed on a pedestal. She prefers to keep her feet on solid ground.

“I grew up in a time when people would listen to everyone and every thing,” she says, explaining why she doesn’t like to be pigeonholed. “I’ve always kept that with me. Marvin Gaye was from a gospel and r’n’ b background. He still sang jazz. Ella Fitzgerald was singing The Beatles. There were no boundaries – just good music.”

Despite her protestations, Reeves (57) has been a stalwart of the jazz scene for decades. In 2005, she came to the attention of a wider audience when George Clooney cast her as a lounge singer in his 50s-set drama Good Night and Good Luck. In the film, Reeves’s character serves as a sort of Greek chorus, her singing echoing the frame of mind of the protagonists (the movie is an exploration of McCarthyism and the manifold hypocrisies of post-war America).

She smiles as mention of the ‘C’ word: since Good Night and Good Luck, it feels as if a day cannot pass without someone asking her about Clooney. Not that she objects. She was flattered the actor would seek her out to play such a pivotal role in a project close to his heart (Clooney directed and produced the feature, which was nominated for several Oscars). And working with him was a joy. He was grounded and had a sense of humour, while making it clear he expected the absolute best from everyone on set.

“The reason I was in that movie is because I was friends with George’s aunt Rosemary Clooney [a noted jazz vocalist]. She and I had done this thing in Los Angeles years before and had shared a dressing room. We had laughed through the whole thing, really struck up a connection. We both remembered that.”

Clooney had wanted to cast his aunt. However, she had passed away before the project got off the ground. He felt Reeves was perfect to take her place. Her singing was meticulous and emotive, the perfect splicing of poise and emotion.

“When he told me that it was going to be set in that period [the 50s] I was thrilled. I have so many recordings and films from that time. I adored the singers from back then, the way they carried themselves, how they performed. To be on set, singing… it was like a dream to me, and I wasn’t even dreaming. I’ll never forget it.

“Rosemary had told George about me. She had made the transition [ie. passed away], which was why they asked me. George used to hang out a lot with his aunt. He understood the power of live performances. That is why, in the movie, all the singing is live.We both knew it had to be that way. It makes a difference.”

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