Looking back at jazz’s rich history and tradition, female vocalists have always had a stand-alone relevance as one of the genre’s most significant influences. Without a doubt, the music of Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington and Ma Rainey have served as a series of guideposts to light the way for others to follow. But the shoes of those legendary mistresses of song have been difficult to fill for jazz’s sake since their passing. Although there are numerous modern day ladies of song, only a nominal few can even begin to rise to the measure of their predecessors. In my mind, the lady who is more capable than most is a true "Jazz Empress" and she is at the top of her craft as one of the genre’s premier instruments of song. For those with an informed opinion, Dianne Reeves is in a vocal jazz category of her own design and making.
On the evening of December 4th, Da Camera of Houston brought Ms. Reeves to Houston, Texas in conjunction with their 2009-2010 Artistic Season. As one of the city’s most dynamic arts organizations, Da Camera has consistently highlighted jazz as a major artistic influence. The bringing of Dianne Reeves to Houston was in keeping with their overall mission of providing a wide array of artistic impressionism, to include classical, chamber and other musical genres in their overall schedule. Dianne Reeves’ performance epitomized the traditions of jazz as an art form and brought a repertoire of intricately woven melodic tapestries.
Throughout the concert, Dianne Reeves conveyed a sense of timing in her life, where the experiences of family, love and circumstances guided her path. From the love of her grandmother to her many travels in life, Dianne Reeves conveyed a sense of retrospective intuitive reasoning that has facilitated a life of song. Always wanting to be a singer while growing up in Denver Colorado, she spoke fondly of an uncle who introduced her to music and jazz, experiences in high school filled with vocal ideas of her own and the most influential introduction of all; hearing Sarah Vaughan sing "Misty" for the very first time. That one moment in time established a style of singing that beckons to be heard at every opportunity. Even more profound and when experiencing her music on any level; whether live or recorded, Dianne Reeves awakens the spirits of every great influence who came before her.
With such songs as "Let It Snow," "Better Days," "Misty," "Today Is A Good Day" and a host of Christmas Carols augmented with a wide array of signature songs from her many albums, Dianne Reeves pushed the envelope of lyrical intuitive creativity. As jazz’s most dynamic of vocalists, Ms. Reeves carries a tradition of excellence that is superceded only by those who influenced her, the most dominant being Sarah Vaughan. With the story-telling zeal of Nina Simone coupled with the whimsical style of Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves drew the Wortham Theater’s audience into her performance as would a moth to a flame. At times captivating, sometimes comedic, in many ways introspective and retrospective, Dianne Reeves’ visit to Houston seemingly left her audience well pleased.By any stretch of one’s imagination and the conveyance of the intuitive creative spirit that comes from within, Dianne Reeves has the inherent ability to titillate one’s fancy, mesmerize an audience and soulfully embrace the fond memories of our upbringing. Her visit to Houston as well as to stages all over the world is a reminder of just how important the contributions of Bessie, Carmen, Ella, Nina, Sarah and other divas are to the cause of jazz. By those standards, the embodiment of "America’s only original art form" continues on in the music of jazz’s 21st century diva in residence.