Haimish For the Holidays

Whatever the season, when jazz vocalist Dianne Reeves comes to town to sing, she sings about her family and her childhood. Oyb zi volt gezungen vegn zey in Yiddish, if she sang about them in Yiddish (and if only she would sing a song or two in Yiddish!), she could call it: Haimish For The Holidays

Dianne Reeves in Concert at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts

Dianne Reeves did come to our town, Saturday, December 1st, with her band, appearing at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts and performing the kind of Christmas program distinctive to jazz artists and musicians. Her band of fine-fingered festive musicians was: Reginald Veal on acoustic and electric bass, Billy Childs on acoustic and electric piano, Terreon Gully on drums and percussion, Romero Lumbambo on acoustic and electric guitar. This quartet clearly is ‘at home’ in the songscapes which, with her sumptuous, scintillating voice, Ms. Reeves invokes and evokes for musician and listener alike. In every tempo, there came upon us a ‘cascadence,’ to coin a word, of luscious and laving sound.

And, indeed, she did sing about–and for–her grandmother and her mother, a shared selection from her private family album-in-song. For her too, memory is for a blessing; remembrance gives life, and to remember is to choose life.

Jazz, as readers may know, has its own tradition of Christmas and holiday music, doing for Christmas and holiday songs what jazz has always done with standards and other popular songs; that is, to swing them, to re-chord and re-phrase them, to innovate with the familiar and to surprise with the expected. Which, precisely, is what Ms. Reeves and her band did with Vince Guaraldi’s “Christmas Time Is Here.”

Jazz does not confine itself to the conventional and expected holiday tunes. Neither did Dianne Reeves. Prefaced by her humorous story of first meeting Sarah Vaughan — who subsequently became a mentor to her, she sang “Misty,” for some weather-at least in a classic jazz standard-is always in season. Her choicest selection of song for the evening was “A Child Is Born,” by Thad Jones, in which her whole art of song interpretation was en force.

If there could be an heir to the voice of Ella Fitzgerald-and almost certainly there cannot be, but if there could be, then Dianne Reeve’s voice, in song, is an heir. Hers is one of those singing voices which is as a bridge between earth and heaven, from gutbucket groan to swinging seraphic.

Finally, if I may make a request of Ms. Reeves for next year’s program: sing a song or two in Yiddish, giving them that Brazilian setting in which you so like to s(w)ing!

Those readers who observe the traditional Jewish Christmas Day of a movie and Chinese food, may want to add to your observance and get jazzed for the holidays with the music of Dianne Reeves. On Tantzn, on Zingn, on Freilekhtn …With tithings of naches and azoy!

The next concert in the Annenberg Center‘s Jazz series will be jazz vocalist Jane Monheit in performance, Saturday, March 16, 2013, at 8 PM (there will be a pre-show talk at 7 PM with Jane Monheit).

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