Lucky for local soul jazz lovers, Dianne Reeves is back just a few short months after her last stop in Indy for the American Pianists Association Jazz Fellowship Finals at the Hilbert Circle Theater. And she'll perform just a mile or so from Hilbert on Tuesday, at the Walker Theater as part of Indy Jazz Fest. The five-time Grammy Award winner brings with her a gorgeous new album, 2013's Beautiful Life (for which she won a Grammy this year), an eclectic collection of pop standards (Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams," Bob Marley's "Waiting in Vain," Ani DiFranco's "32 Flavors") and soul classics (Marvin Gaye's "I Want You") plus original compositions penned by Reeves and her band, and collaborators like Esperanza Spalding.
I spoke with Reeves in late August about her new album and many accolades, plus the woman who provided an example of a true beautiful life: her mother.
On working with Esperanza Spalding on Beautiful Life track "Wild Rose":
"Beginning with Esperanza, we had kind of talked about this a year before. I told her to be a part of the record, and she said, 'Oh, absolutely.' She's got a very sweet and uplifting spirit. So I saw her at the Mercy Jazz Festival, and we were talking about it. And I said, 'Would you be interested in writing a song for me?' And she said yes, and we discussed what it would be about. I told her where I am in my life, how I feel and what I've done. ... We started the record in the Christmas of 2013 and she gave me the song then. When I heard it, I couldn't believe it. It has this really beautiful rhythmic sense and harmonic sense, and I love the fact that it's a story. It's a story of empowerment and being your authentic self. She gave it to me, we rehearsed it, and it was really, really nice because she has a whole different way of looking at the music. Her universe is very broad and getting even more so. I really enjoyed it."
On recording "32 Flavors" by Ani DiFranco for this album:
"It was in my live repertoire because to me, she's a poet more than anything. The thing that I love about the music that I do, I have the musicians come up with a groove, or I'd just improvise, and I could always just improvise and use these words [the lyrics to '32 Flavors']. I love the strength of the words – well, the strength of her music any way. I decided that I know I've been doing it [live], but I want to include it because not everybody has heard it. So we did it.
On Beautiful Life's "Long Road Ahead," a song written for her mother:
"My mother was a pretty extraordinary person, as I guess we believe all our mothers are. She really touched a lot of lives. She had her faults like everybody, but she was able to take those faults as things that she learned about herself and change them and use them to help other people. She was a nurse, and she worked in the community. She worked with generations of people. She would work with one girl's child, and that child would bring her child, and that child would bring theirs. It was like that. It was really a pillar in the community. For me, even now, we just lost her like almost four years ago, you hold onto everything that you ever learned. Everything that you ever saw the shining example. For me, my mother really held the sky up for me in a lot of ways. She was a wise person. This song, a mother lives in her children, and in children in general. She always saw light, and she always saw the best in them. This song was really my journey with her, and some of the things that she would say, and her spirit."
On her many awards, including a new honorary doctorate from Julliard:
"It's pretty extraordinary. This is the second one; the first one was from the Berklee School of Music. There are all of these amazingly brilliant lights of students that are at this graduation. More than anything it's an opportunity to let them know to be unique and be yourself, and do your thing to the fullest. Enjoy what it is that you do. I know that you'll hear from a lot of them in different kinds of ways. You could feel the passion in the room. To be celebrated with some of the other people who received the honorary doctorate, and hearing their lives, it just made me feel so grateful for having art in my school. It made me grateful for being able to take something that I'm most passionate about, and it saved my life.