DIANNE REEVES is a musical veteran, and she isn’t afraid to bare her soul on her new album, Beautiful Life.
Grammy-winning jazz singer Dianne Reeves titled her new album Beautiful Life (Concord, $16), but she admits that her life has been anything but rosy lately.
The album, out this month, was her final collaboration with her cousin, famed keyboardist George Duke, who died last August — and her first recording since the 2012 death of her mother, Vada Swanson. Although Reeves gets choked up talking about her family, her tears vanish as fast as they appear.
“Music has a way of pulling you through the sadness,” the 57-year-old Reeves says. “My family taught me that music isn’t just entertainment. It’s a way of life.”
It’s the only life she’s ever known. As a teenage singer, she won rave reviews from jazz legends Sarah Vaughan and Clark Terry, who became her mentor. In her 20s, the Denver native moved to Los Angeles and found herself in the studio with Marvin Gaye, whose guitar player she was dating at the time.
“The biggest thing I learned from Marvin Gaye was how to be uninhibited,” says Reeves, who covers Gaye’s “I Want You” on Beautiful Life. “He’d think out the song way before, but when he sang it, it went straight from his heart to his mouth. It was so real you could touch it.”
You could say the same about Reeves’ dazzling scat singing on “Tango.” She wrote the new song in tribute to Celia Cruz, Miriam Makeba and other non-English singers whose LPs she grew up listening to.
“I didn’t understand the words, but there was so much joy in their singing — it was like a soul-to-soul exchange for me,” she says. “I realized then that music was its own language.”
Reeves explores different dialects on her new record, including her versions of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” and indie rocker Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors.” The album might not thrill purists, but Reeves doesn’t mind. She’d rather push jazz in new directions with help from simpatico musicians like Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, who both guest on the album, and Terri Lyne Carrington, who produced Beautiful Life.
“Jazz is in a heavy transition period right now, and I wanted to address that with this record,” she says. “Young jazz artists are referencing the R&B music I grew up listening to. … Everything’s getting all mixed up now, and it’s really kind of cool.”