Dianne Reeves has been feeling quite reflective as of late.
The Detroit-born, Denver-based, multiple Grammy-winning jazz vocalist speaks softly and solemnly during this particular phone interview, almost quietly reminding herself to take everything in stride, making sure to appreciate every last moment because, hey, you might have that taken away from you the next day.
She definitely realized this two months ago, when she lost an important person in her life: cousin and jazz/funk legend George Duke, who passed away from chronic lymphocytic leukemia at 67.
“There were several (complications), but still nobody – we didn’t think that he was gonna pass away,” says Reeves, 56, on the phone from Indianapolis.
Reeves recalls it was Duke who was one of the first to put her to work when she moved to Los Angeles in late ’70s, eventually doing vocals on his 1977 “From Me to You” album. Duke would later produce her self-titled 1987 album, also her first album for the iconic jazz label Blue Note.
“Well, I mean George was just an extraordinary person, just period,” she says. “I always tell people that, you know, excellence was just second nature to him. Everything that he touched and did, he executed in a way that had dignity, grace and all of his time and love … He was very thoughtful and, you know, when you’re working on your project, he really, really helped you to say and do what it was that you wanted to say and do.”
Duke did some ivory-twinkling on Reeves’ last album, 2008’s “When You Know,” which was also her last for Blue Note. Despite her touring schedule, she’s been quiet recording-wise.
“For the last five years, I’ve been really taking care of home things,” she says, saying that she took care of her mother, Vada Swanson, until she died last year at age 87.
Fans of Reeves will be glad to know that she will release an album next February. “Beautiful Life” will be her first release on the Concord Music Group label.
“I fulfilled my contract with Blue Note and I wanted to do something different,” she says.
Indeed, this album includes Reeves doing covers of some eclectic, intriguing tunes, from Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” to Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain” to Ani DiFranco’s “32 Flavors.” She also does a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” on which she collaborated with pianist and contemporary jazzman Robert Glasper. “He wrote this amazing arrangement,” Reeves says of Glasper. “And I was just excited to do it.”
Friday night, Reeves will be at Duke’s Baldwin Auditorium, performing with jazz pianist/composer Billy Childs, as he and his Billy Childs Jazz Chamber Ensemble premiere a new song cycle commissioned by Duke, commemorating 50 years of black students at the university.
Even though she’s lost a few important people in her life recently, Dianne Reeves’ existence will always be cluttered with people she knows will have her back.
Not to mention that no matter what happens tomorrow, she’s content with what she’s accomplished.
“You know, I look at my life and my music has taken me all over the world,” she says. “I’ve met the most amazing people and done some pretty amazing things. Even with all the craziness that is happening in the world, there are a lot of beautiful things in the world. And I’m just really thankful to have this life – you know, this gift of life – to be able to experience a lot of things.”