Jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves is a lot of things. She's a Denver, Colorado, native who admits her preference for the Mile High City. She's a jet-setting star who has traveled the globe. She's a critically acclaimed vocalist, with three Grammy's for her last recordings to prove it. And last, but not least - she's a captivating storyteller on a mission to preserve treasured memories.
Reeves performed in Denver Friday and Saturday with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra at Boettcher Concert Hall. Scheduling conflicts kept me from purchasing tickets, but I got lucky. As I was driving home from work at about 8 pm Friday night, I caught the last portion of KUVO's live, high definition broadcast of Ms. Reeves' performance.
Let me take a moment here to say I was impressed by the clarity of the station's first HD broadcast. It sounded like Dianne Reeves was riding shotgun in my Honda, singing directly into my ear. Although I missed most of the concert, I spent the next half hour on the highway in aural heaven, listening to the lady flex her vocal muscles. If you know anything about this amazing singer, then you know I was happy to catch even a small portion of her performance.
Reeves wrapped up the evening by improvising a riff that told the story of herself as a child sitting in her grandmother's kitchen, eating shortbread. "I loved the taste but it didn't occur to me," Reeves sang, "to ask her for the recipe, now that sweet taste is just a memory."
Reeves words' conjured warm memories of my own grandparents: my own grandma, who was a magician in the kitchen and whose home always held the scent of freshly baked breads and cakes, and my grandfather, who grew an awesome garden and who used to love reaching out from his easy chair with the hook of his cane to capture me and my siblings. Replaying these memories in my mind, with Dianne Reeves providing a melancholy vocal score, was better than a late night movie with popcorn and a hot date. I mean, it just felt so good.
Reeves ended her nostalgic lament, and the performance, by encouraging people to tell and share their family stories...and to vote. What better ways for people to preserve their identities and belong to the global community? And what better gifts to pass on to our kids?
I thought about Reeves' words all that night. I couldn't wait to tell forgotten family stories to my son. I fell asleep inspired, with the echo of Reeves' scatting through my mind.
Following the broadcast, KUVO's DJ admonished Denver to show support for native daughter Reeves by turning out in force for her Saturday night concert. Though I didn't have concert tickets, I made up my mind that I would show my appreciation by attending a meet-and-greet-the-artist event being held at Onofrio Pianos that day.
Upon arriving at Onofrio Pianos, my companion and I learned that the event with Dianne Reeves was a promotional appearance to endorse the Borsendorfer piano. I was willing to sit through a sales pitch just for the honor of spending a few minutes in the presence of Dianne Reeves. I only hoped I would have the chance to congratulate Ms. Reeves in person, thank her for her touching words, and maybe get her to autograph a couple of CDs. I ended up getting much more than that.
The event was held in a little recital studio, which quickly filled up with Reeves' admirers. The singer walked in to a standing ovation and got things started by doing what else? Telling a story.
Reeves' relayed the tale of visiting Onofrio Pianos for the first time while accompanying her aunt to purchase a piano for her nephew. Of course, at the time, she laughed, she never imagined that one day she would return to the historic Broadway piano store as a celebrity, helping pitch pianos.
"Now, I'm not trying to do a commercial," Reeves intoned, "but I love this piano. Not only is it beautiful to look at - (and it was, a gorgeous black grand so shiny it would put any mirror to shame) - "but because it truly has a beautiful sound." Reeves went on to describe the tones produced by the instrument, in terms of warmth and color.
Then, to the surprise and delight of those in attendance, Reeves invited her producer, Arif Martin, to sit down at the keys to demonstrate just what she meant by "warmth and color" by accompanying her as she sang Thelonius Monk's composition, "Reflections."
It is nearly impossible now to describe what it was like to be sitting four feet away from this incredible singer, in a closed room with the only the sound of her voice, the answering tones of the grand piano, and the caught breath of her captive audience as she interpreted Monk's classic tune.
Following the song Reeves picked the thread of conversation back up easily, answering questions about her work as Creative Chair of the L.A. Philharmonic and her upcoming Christmas album. After graciously rebuffing requests to sing some of the more technically complicated pieces from her repertoire, Reeves' surprised us once again by generously performing another number in the crowded little studio.
Griot* she is, Reeves introduced the piece by telling another story, this time the tale of a music-loving aunt who liked to used the "good" china on ordinary occasions and who taught her impressionable niece the lyrics from down-and-dirty blues tunes. As a little girl, Reeves explained, she was unaware of the double meanings of these traditional songs she was learning, and loving, to sing.
It was only later, as a young woman singing the blues to the enthusiastic catcalls of an appreciative male audience, that the naive young Miss Reeves learned "just what those words really meant."
With that, Reeves launched into a soul-wrenching interpretation of the "Hard Rock Blues," drawing us once again into the heart of a song with her subtle phrasing and a host of convincing facial expressions. You really thought this was a heartsick woman down in the delta, alone in her bed and missing her lover.
Following the blues, Reeves expressed her admiration for the late Sarah Vaughan. She talked about Sarah Vaughan understanding her voice the way "a saxophone player understands his instrument." Reeves' appreciation of this quality has led to impeccable command of her instrument; a confident and expressive voice as complex and inviting, and as full of hues and flavor as the Borsendorfer piano she was there to endorse.
While certainly no substitute for seeing Reeves perform with the CSO at Boettcher, her impromptu concert at Onofrio Piano was a unique and special experience in its own right. It was an incredible honor to be in the presence of this woman, who has won consecutive Grammy awards for Best Jazz Album for her last three recordings, and hear her sing songs she spontaneously picked for the occasion.
Following her performance, Reeves mingled with the crowd and honored the owners of Onofrio Pianos by autographing the piano in the studio. It truly was a momentous event. Through the songs and stories she shared, jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves demonstrated her immense talent, her many accomplishments and generosity of spirit for her lucky audience - and gave me a special story of my own to tell.
Photo Credit(s): Eli Robinson
n : a storyteller in West Africa; perpetuates the oral traditions of a family or village [French, alteration of guiriot, perhaps ultimately from Portuguese criado, domestic servant, from Latin cre tus, one brought up or trained, from past participle of cre re, to produce, bring up. See create.]