Dianne Reeves Explains 'When You Know'

Singer Dianne Reeves is a force to be reckoned with. She has an international reputation, and she's the only singer to win Grammy awards in a vocal category for three consecutive recordings. NPR's Tony Cox spoke with Reeves about her new album, When You Know.

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FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

Dianne Reeves is a force to be reckoned with. She has an international reputation and following, and she is the only singer to win Grammy Awards in a vocal category for three consecutive recordings. Reeves won a whole new set of fans on her on-screen role in the 2005 film "Good Night, and Good Luck."

NPR's Tony Cox spoke with Reeves about her new album, "When You Know." She started by talking about the influence her talented family's had on her. Her cousin is the musician George Duke, who also produced her album.

Ms. DIANNE REEVES (Jazz Vocalist): Music, I learned, at that time was more than just entertainment, but it was also a way of life, and a means of communications and it was something that brought the family together. It was just a very, very powerful, unifying force.

(Soundbite of song "Over the Weekend")

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) Back in my grip and I'm taking a trip Out of town Over the weekend Must have a change from the sight Of this strange lonely town Over the weekend

TONY COX: "Eclectic" is the word I would use to describe your discography. You've sung all kinds of music, jazz, Latin, classical, world music. Talk about that kind of experimentation, why you went into it and what it has done for your career or, perhaps, to your career.

Ms. REEVES: I think that all of that music is a part of my soul, you know? And for me, it's all one thing. It's just a different way of expressing it. One of my greatest talents, I think, is that I - you know, that I'm a kind of chameleon, you know, that I love all kinds of different things. And I've found that, you know, the world of music is so vast and so broad, but at the same time, it's easy to find parts of yourself in places that you wouldn't even think that you were, you know?

So all of those things are very much a part of what I do, and I love that. And I kind of got license to do that from people like George Duke and other great jazz artists who are out there that have the ability to do so many different things. I think jazz is the foundation for a lot of great musicians, and then after that, you know, it's this broad expression of things that really have influenced and addressed your life.

(Soundbite of song "Midnight Sun")

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) I can't explain the silver rain that found me. Or was that a moonlit bay? The music of the universe around me. Or was that a nightingale?

COX: Let's talk about the new CD, "When You Know." I want to ask you a question about it, but let me set it up this way, because these are some of the track titles. I'm going to read them, and apparently there's a theme to this CD and I want you to help us identify it, after I read the song titles, to see if there's a clue there for the audience. So here they are.

The songs are "Just My Imagination," "Over the Weekend," "Lovin' You," "I'm in Love Again," "Once I Loved You," "Social Call," and "Today Will Be a Good Day." Dianne, I'm just not sure what the theme is here exactly. What is it?

Ms. REEVES: Well, I think the obvious theme is love, you know? But then, love in different kinds of ways. But more than anything, it's a journey. I mean, you said "Just My Imagination" and "Lovin' You." Those are song from my youth. Those are songs that really bring back memories of a lot of things and a time when I was younger. Young!

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: And, you know, and innocent and green and fresh and all of that and all of that kind of stuff, and you know, not knowing a lot of things about the world but learning through song, you know, of things about, you know, things about the world. And the music progresses and the song, like "Windmills of Your Mind," is just that representation of that flood of memories and feelings and emotions that I've had throughout the years.

But it was really sobering after we did it because it was kind of cathartic in a certain way and in a lot of ways, it made me see, wow, there were a lot of seeds that were planted then that have, you know, been very, very fruitful now in my life.

And so the songs take on the feeling of a journey, and when they listen to the songs, they'll hear different parts of different songs in, you know, other songs. So I pull all of the story together by doing that, by quoting things, like, at the end of "Just My Imagination," I say, "In the windmills of my mind, I think about him all the time."

(Soundbite of song "Just My Imagination")

Unidentified Background Singers: (Singing) Just my imagination.

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) In the windmills of my mind Ooooh. I would think about it all the time.

Unidentified Background Singers: (Singing) Just my imagination.

Ms. REEVES: There's a connection with all the music, and in the very last song - well, the record is called "When You Know," and I love that song, "When You Know," because that's something you heard all your life, when you know that you know that you know, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. REEVES: But - and then the last song is "Today Will Be a Good Day," and for me, that's the ultimate. It's a song that I wrote for my mother and it's a song that really represents positivity and optimism.

(Soundbite of song "Today Will Be a Good Day")

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) I've got myself up to greet the day. Thank the good Lord for what he made. Made my bed up, had myself some coffee. I read the newspaper to see what they had to say. Now whether it's good news, Or it's just blues, Today will be a good day. I'm going to make it that way.

COX: You appeared in a documentary on the life of the legendary composer and pianist Billy Strayhorn.

Ms. REEVES: Yes.

COX: Now, his music, if I can say so, seems to me to really fit your style, because you have such a smooth, silky, rich voice. How special was the artistry of Billy Strayhorn to you?

Ms. REEVES: Oh, extremely special, because, you know, it was interesting. He wrote beautiful, beautiful music, music that you want to play the melody. You don't want to do a variation on the theme. You just want to really savor the melody within these amazing harmonic structures, because he was masterful at that.

But his lyrics, sometimes, a lot of them are so sad and they're longing for a lot of things. And when they told his story in the documentary, I really, really understood why he wrote the kind of words that he did, or why the kind of words that were in his songs appeared, because there was this part of him that was not fulfilled.

And you actually can hear it in the melody, but more than anything, you hear it in the lyrics. But his music is very important to jazz music because of its structure. It's always fresh. When people learn his music, it's something that always stays new and wonderful.

COX: You were born in Detroit. You've lived in L.A. You live in Denver. I'm not sure where else you have lived..

Ms. REEVES: New York. I lived in New York.

COX: What's your favorite place?

Ms. REEVES: Where I am. I love Denver. You know, when I left home, I said, I'm never coming back here! You know, but then I was 18 years old. And I lived in Los Angeles for a long time, and in a lot of ways, I felt like I lived in my car.

But that's where, you know, a lot of things began, and then I moved to New York, and that was absolutely wonderful, you know? A lot of energy here. And then I moved back to L.A. and I decided I'm going back to Denver, and I've been there ever since and I love it.

COX: Dianne Reeves, it's wonderful talking to you. I guess it is true. When you know, you know, right?

Ms. REEVES: That's right.

(Soundbite of song "When You Know")

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) When you know, you know...

CHIDEYA: That was NPR's Tony Cox speaking with jazz singer Dianne Reeves. Her new CD, "When You Know," comes out next week. And that's our show for today. Thank you for sharing your time with us. To listen to the show or subscribe to our podcast, visit our website, nprnewsandnotes.org. To join the conversation or sign up for our newsletter, visit our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

News & Notes was created by NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium. Tomorrow, she's climbed to one of the most powerful positions in America. Now some say Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shouldn't rule out the job of second-in-command. We'll discuss if Secretary Rice really wants the vice presidential nomination and how she might perform in that office.

(Soundbite of song "When You Know")

Ms. REEVES: (Singing) When you feel in your skin, in your bones, In the hollow of your heart.There's no way you can wait 'til tomorrow...

CHIDEYA: I'm Farai Chideya. This is News & Notes.

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