In Conversation: Dianne Reeves

In Conversation: Dianne Reeves

The jazz legend on finding your own voice and keeping things fresh on the road. 

Dianne Reeves
Detroit, United States of America

In Conversation: Dianne Reeves

The jazz legend on finding your own voice and keeping things fresh on the road. 

You initially trained as a classical singer. Can you tell me about how this has impacted the way you sing jazz?

I studied classical voice when I was at the University of Colorado, and it really was the perfect foundation for my technique. I had very good instructors and teachers who taught me that having a solid technique meant you could use your voice in any way you wanted. No matter how you wish to sing, your technique should allow you to do it. I think that young singers should be able to define and refine their instrument, and while there are a lot of really wonderful teachers now who do everything, it’s important that you remember how crucial it is to have a good technical foundation. 

Building a successful career in the music industry can be seriously challenging, and takes more than just a good voice. What else do you have to be good at to make it? 

The industry is no longer like it was. It’s a tough game out there for you now. When I was starting out, there were a lot of options for young singers: you could do studio work, you could write songs, you could be a lot of different things. I wrote my own songs and sung other people’s songs, and it felt as if there were a lot of places I could go and do a range of musical activities. It’s not that there aren’t opportunities now, but the environment has changed. Social media has played a really huge role in the way the music industry is now, I believe, which has a lot of positives that young people should take advantage of. The industry is hard, but you can and should create your own opportunities, and be creative in figuring out a way to get yourself out there. I think this new generation of performers have a better idea of how they can promote their music, and who they’re promoting to because social media gives you face to face access with your audience. 

You are constantly on the road, performing all over the world. What is it like to be away from home so often?

That’s just how it works out! It’s what you do as a musician. I always tell young people that if you love music and you give your heart to it, it takes you places! Music has taken me all over the world and I’m certainly not complaining. It’s important that every performer knows their own limits when they’re touring, so they can make decisions about when they need to take time off or have a bit of quiet time. The biggest thing for me now when I’m on the road is rest and exercise. 

If you could give young musicians a piece of advice about career development in the music industry, what would you tell them?

Well, I would say learn the music and listen to the music. That’s the most important thing. You can go to school to learn about musicianship and singing, but it’s really crucial that you’re listening, and listening carefully. Then it’s about getting out there and singing and pushing yourself. You can and should define your own unique approach and sound. Be yourself!

You’re coming to Melbourne pretty soon to close the Melbourne International Jazz Festival. How do you craft a show?

I never tell people what I’m performing! Every show is unique and I pick songs as I go, which keeps things fresh and exciting for me and the audience. I have a really great band and we are co-creators, constantly changing things up and coming up with new ideas. Jazz is a living art form, I believe, and we change arrangements for different performances and we sometimes create things on stage for the first time. Jazz is and always should be alive! 

Dianne Reeves performs at the Arts Centre Melbourne as part of the Melbourne International Jazz Festival on Sunday 11th June. Tickets and more information are available here. If you're Sydney based, you can catch Dianne at the City Recital Hall on Tuesday 6th June.