It’s been at least two generations since jazz stars took on aristocratic titles, otherwise Dianne Reeves would surely be known as The Queen. The gorgeous singer with an even more glorious voice is one of jazz’s most regal figures, an artist who embodies the music’s enduring values of elegance, class and improvisational poise (which isn’t to say that she can’t get earthy when the music requires a little grit).
She’s a performer with a gift for transforming any space she inhabits into her living room, where she spins evocative tails for her listeners. Over the years I’ve seen her tear the roof off little theaters and mesmerize the Hollywood Bowl, where she put together events for several years as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s first head of jazz programming.
“Small, large, it doesn’t make a difference,” says Reeves, 55, who plays Friday at Zellerbach Hall for Cal Performances with her longtime pianist and music direcotr Peter Martin, bassist Reginald Veal, drummer Terreon Gully, and Brazilian guitar master Romero Lubambo. “No matter where you are, it’s all the same place when it comes to communicating with an audience.”
Reeves has been one of jazz’s brightest stars for almost three decades. Discovered in high school by the trumpet great Clark Terry, she has always cast a wide net when it comes to influences. Though her jazz roots run deep — pianist/producer George Duke is her cousin, her mother played trumpet and her uncle is an accomplished jazz bassist and longtime member of the Colorado Symphony – Reeves first hit the road with Brazilian pianist and bandleader Sergio Mendes in the early 1980s. Before long she attracted the attention of Harry Belafonte, whose band has served as a launching pad for numerous jazz players, such as Cameroonian electric bassist Richard Bona and French pianist Jean-Michel Pilc.
Reeves started gaining attention in her own right with the albums she made with keyboardist Billy Childs in the early 80s for Herb Wong’s Palo Alto Records (sessions reissued by Blue Note in 1996). While most jazz fans don’t put much stock in the discernment of the Recording Academy members who vote for Grammy Awards, there was little controversy when she won the Best Jazz Vocal Album trophy for three consecutive releases, an unprecedented feat.
More recently, she earned another Grammy for the soundtrack of George Clooney’s 2005 film “Good Night, and Good Luck,” which featured her prominently on screen. While her crushed velvet vocals helped establish the film’s period feel, her latest release, 2008’s George Duke-produced “When You Know (Blue Note), is a decidedly more contemporary affair, ranging from Motown and Minnie Ripperton to Jobim and her uplifting originals. No matter what era she’s evoking, Reeves reigns uncontested as jazz royalty.
Not to be missed: Terrence Brewer
As an aspiring young guitarist growing up in Pittsburg, Terrence Brewer always appreciated the welcoming vibe at Jupiter.
“When I was too young to get into some clubs in San Francisco, I would come by Jupiter and catch Charlie Hunter or the Mo’fessionals,” says Brewer from his home in San Francisco. “And then, as a young artist, it was one of the first places I contacted to get gigs.”
A regular part of the musical mix at the downtown eatery and microbrewer for more than a decade, Brewer just opened a month-long Tuesday night residency at Jupiter. Alternating between a duo with organist Tim Campbell (May 8 and 22nd) and a trio with Noah Schenker and drummer Surya Patri (May 15 and 29th), he’s taking advantage of the gig to display several different musical facets.
“When I play with Tim we get into more of a Lou Donaldson groove thing,” Brewer says. “With a drummer we open it up in a different way, getting into some more Latin kind of stuff and other rhythms.”
His upcoming album “Of, By, For The People” by his new band Citizen Rhythm showcases a different side of Brewer. Featuring keyboardist Michael Coleman, electric bassist Gabe Davis and drummer Rob Rhodes, the session is a singular fusion of jazz, rock and R&B, tapping into Brewer’s formative influences. He brings the same band to Yoshi’s on June 13 to celebrate the album’s release.
“The idea was simply that I came to the guitar through rock ‘n’ roll, and I grew up playing hard rock, funk and R&B,” Brewer says. “As I became more of a jazz player, the rock and funk roots are still there. I wanted to put together a groove heavy band that embodied both things, using jazz standards as vehicles for improvisation. I don’t think there’s anyone out there doing this fusion of jazz and funk and rock.”
Andrew Gilbert, whose Berkeleyside music column appears every Thursday, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley.
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