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Acclaimed Jazz Singer Diane Reeves Takes On A Soulful Sound


Again, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath.


DIANE REEVES: (Singing) Don't know why there's no sun up in the sky...

RATH: Diane Reeves has received just about all the accolades a jazz singer could. She's been described as part of the great tradition that stretches through singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan. But strict traditionalists might be taken aback by the music on her new album "Beautiful Life" which has Reeves sounding a lot more like a soul singer. One reason for that sound might be that this album has a lot of new collaborators.

REEVES: One of the main inspirations for this record was that I was listening to all these young jazz musicians. They were being greatly inspired by the music that I came up listening to, so I thought, wow, this is a good place to have a conversation. And so that's why people like Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, even Gregory Porter, Lelah Hathaway, all these musicians were a part of this record.

And I thought it would be very interesting to see, you know, where the music could go. And this whole project ended up being this great collaborative experience and experiment.


REEVES: (Singing) Listen to the wild rose in bloom.

RATH: Well, let's talk about one of those tunes. "Wild Rose" is one that's got, again, an amazing lineup. You got Esperanza Spalding who wrote the tune and Ingrid Jensen, trumpet player, Sheila E. What's it like when you assemble that group?

REEVES: I love this song because she gave it to me Christmas of 2012. And I thought, wow, this is the best Christmas gift I've ever received. So, you know, just coming in, it's like any other session. You have these great professional musicians and you come in and you put it down.


RATH: I'm sure you know you've been very celebrated as a jazz singer as being part of this great tradition. And I wonder have you had any pushback from people who, you know, maybe this is moving away from what they might traditionally consider jazz and they want you to stay in that box.

REEVES: Well, I think people have come to know that I am not comfortable in a box, you know, and that I love music. I don't really look at music in terms of genres and all of that because the music experience that I grew up in, I mean, you had people like Marvin Gaye, which, you know, we did a Marvin Gaye song but, you know, you would see jazz musicians on his record. Jazz musicians talked about Marvin and Marvin talked about them as well.

You attended concerts that, you know, you could see Ravi Shankar and Miles Davis on the same bill. So music was without boundaries. I love that part that it's not broken down into pieces. So when people listen to this record, it's music. And it has a different flavor and a different taste, and it's served in a different way. But it's still Diane Reeves.


RATH: A lot of songs on this album are covers of tunes. You have Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Bob Marley. I want to talk to you about "32 Flavors," though. That's an Ani DiFranco song originally. What attracted you to that tune?

REEVES: Oh, the lyric, because, you know, Ani DiFranco is such an incredible wordsmith.



RATH: I want to talk about one of your tunes that's on this album, "Tango."


RATH: First off, wow. How do you write a tune like that? Does that just come straight out of you?

REEVES: Yes, it does. You know, all my life, I - you know, I love music, and I have music from all over the world. You know, my records are one thing. My live performances are something totally different because they're very improvised performances. And I - we'll have a section of the show where, you know, I'd just do what I want to do, what I'm feeling in the moment. And this melody just kept coming to me, and I just kept building on it and building on it. And it ended up being the song "Tango."


REEVES: It's really a dedication to all of those records that I own of artists who don't sing in English, sing in other foreign languages but still communicate the power of what they're saying through their emotions and their spirit, all of those kinds of things. And so that's kind of what this song was born out of.


RATH: Diane Reeves, it's been a pleasure speaking with you.

REEVES: It was my pleasure.

RATH: Diane Reeves' new album is called "Beautiful Life," and it's out right now.


RATH: And for Sunday, that's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR West. I'm Arun Rath. Check out our weekly podcast. Look for Weekends on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED on iTunes or on the NPR app. You can follow us on Twitter @nprwatc. We're back next weekend. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "TANGO") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.