Reeves has rarely been content to live musically within the confines of her genre. Her early career included multiple stints with jazz fusion groups, as well as time spent touring with Harry Belafonte. Perhaps because of these varied influences, Reeves has long infused global sounds into her songs. In her cover of John Coltrane’s “Afro Blue,” her dynamic vocals and exceptional scat skills are paired with African-inspired rhythms and a soaring soprano sax.
With the release of her eponymous solo album in 1987, Reeves effortlessly straddled the worlds of jazz and contemporary pop and R&B. The commercial success of this album and the subsequent Never Too Far announced the arrival of a major talent who could translate her classical jazz skills to a wide audience, landing several singles on Billboard’s Hot R&B chart, including the latter album’s sultry title track, which peaked at No. 5 in 1990.
It’s only natural that the singer hailed as one of the best since Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan would see these singers as major influences, paying homage to the latter with a cover album in 2001, which earned a Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal. “The singer who really opened the door for me was Sarah Vaughan…especially when I was growing up. My parents loved jazz music, so on Saturday it would be the ‘Longine’s Symphonettes,’ and on Sunday it was Mahalia Jackson,” Reeves has said.
Reeves again found new audiences in 2005 when she appeared in the critically acclaimed film Good Night and Good Luck, compiling a soundtrack full of midcentury jazz standards featuring Reeves at the height of her powers, and winning her yet another Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album.
Her most recent album, 2014’s Beautiful Life, finds Reeves once again blending R&B, Latin and pop elements within the framework of 21st-century jazz. In addition to covers that reinterpret songs by Bob Marley (as seen below, with “Waiting in Vain”), Fleetwood Mac, Marvin Gaye and Ani DiFranco, the album—another Grammy winner—features collaborations with such talents as Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper and Lalah Hathaway. It showcases an artist who, three decades into her career, is still exploring and raising the bar on what contemporary jazz can sound like, while effortlessly retaining the rich and layered vocals that brought her to the forefront of the genre.
Da Camera presents Dianne Reeves on Friday, June 1, 2018, at 8 pm at the University of Houston’s Cullen Hall. Tickets start at $42.50 and can be purchased online or by calling 713-524-5050.