• Define It, Refine It, Respect It, and Protect It: Jeff Tamarkin on Dianne Reeves

    Widely regarded as the foremost female jazz vocalist in the world today, Grammy winner Dianne Reeves brings her robust, sultry voice back to the Carnegie Hall stage on February 16, along with special guests Esperanza Spalding, George Duke, Lalah Hathaway, Nadia Washington, and Terri Lyne Carrington. Here JazzTimes associate editor Jeff Tamarkin speaks to Reeves about her influences and speculates about what the future holds for her.

    Some artists let superlatives go to their heads, but when Dianne Reeves sees the words "greatest living female jazz singer" attached to her name—which, let there be no doubt, is quite often—she just shrugs it off. "I don't even react," says the four-time Grammy-winning vocalist. "Sometimes that's just someone's way of giving you a measuring stick, a very high one. I come from a great tradition—I always acknowledge that—but from that tradition, what I've learned is to be yourself. You can't do what somebody else did. I always say, 'Take what you have, define it, refine it, respect it, and protect it.'"

    That individualism is vital to Reeves's ongoing evolution as an artist. More than 35 years after the release of her debut album, Reeves, who originally hails from Detroit, has continued to shift into new directions, setting new challenges for herself at every turn. Since her earliest days, and particularly since signing with Blue Note Records in 1987, she has blurred the lines between jazz, pop, R&B, world music, and other genres. Her dynamic range is unmatched, and her curiosity and charisma are boundless. Whether recording a tribute to Sarah Vaughan—one of her major influences, alongside Carmen McRae and Ella Fitzgerald—the soundtrack to George Clooney's 2005 film Good Night, and Good Luck, or delving into Brazilian sounds, Dianne Reeves makes the music her own.

    For Reeves, forward motion is at the heart of artistic integrity. "As life changes, you add new things that have influenced you or washed over you," she says. "I love what I do, and I love the fact I can work with many different kinds of musicians. One of my biggest talents, in a way, is that I'm a chameleon, so I just look to the future to see what's next."

    What's next, hopefully, is a new album, her first since 2008's When You Know. Reeves has been in the studio of late, working on new music, about which she is keeping her lips sealed for now. But perhaps a hint will be extracted from the singer's February 16 Carnegie Hall concert. Another key to Reeves' next direction might be gleaned from Sing the Truth, a fabulous trio that finds her singing songs of female empowerment with fellow dynamos Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo.

    Wherever her music heads next, one thing is certain: When she hits the stage, Dianne Reeves will have any audience in the palm of her hand immediately. Performing for her fans remains what she loves best—it's where she is most in her element. "I love being in the studio, but in live performance there's no going back," she says. "It is what it is and it's in the moment. I'm most comfortable getting ready to jump off the edge."

    Jeff Tamarkin is the associate editor of JazzTimes magazine.

    Related: February 16, Dianne Reeves and Friends