ARTS & IDEAS FEST: Dianne Reeves is relieved I haven't asked the question journalists always ask. Until I ask it: How does she get along with two other divas in a tribute to the jazz world's greatest divas? Reeves, along with Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo, open the 2012 International Festival of Arts & Ideas with Sing the Truth!, a celebration of legendary women such as Odetta, Miriam Makeba, Abbey Lincoln, and many others.
"Oh, that's such a small-minded question," says the four-time Grammy Award winner who can sing anything. "They're always hoping for a cat fight. But we're sisters, mothers, daughters, the balance of the world. It seems like this would be a better place if women were in charge."
Which, in retrospect, seems incontrovertibly true.
Sing the Truth! has been touring for the last three years and Reeves has been with it the entire time. In the past, she has shared a stage with Dee Dee Bridgewater, a theatrical powerhouse, and Cassandra Wilson, an ingenious interpreter of American pop songs. In New Haven, she'll perform with Wright, a Georgia alto with roots in R&B, and Kidjo, a native of Benin steeped in Afropop and soul.
"We come from different places musically," Reeves says, but together they create a tapestry of jazz singing styles. "In the end, we rub off on each other. We want people to leave with anuplifted feeling, to celebrate the words of these great women and unite us in a spiritual place."
I suggest it's like leaving church on Sunday. "Well, we talk about a lot of other things, too, believe me," she says.
Variety is the spice of Sing the Truth!, which showcases the pioneering work of Odetta, Makeba, and Lincoln as well as the work of conventionally non-jazz composers such as singer-songwriters Joni Mitchell and Ani DiFranco. A good song is a good song, regardless of genre.
"Joni Mitchell's music reaches generations of listeners because it is beautiful poetry set to elegant music," Reeves says. "We have our favorites, then we talk about why we picked that music and why it touches us personally."
I saw Reeves perform in 2003 after she won the third of three consecutive Grammys, the only time a jazz singer has done that. What I remember is an exquisite performance by a musician who pushes away the tensions of the day and creates a space of tranquility and joy. In particular, I recall her singing Abbey Lincoln's classic "Throw It Away," a sensuous restating of "If you love something, set it free."
"Abbey Lincoln sang her truth," Reeves says. "In 'Throw It Away,' she says that all things in this life are passing through us, we can't own them, we must give to others."
Lincoln died in 2010 after a long illness, ending a groundbreaking life as a performer, actress, and civil-rights activist. She was featured on her former husband's seminal 1960 record, We Insist! Max Roach's Freedom Now Suite. She stood out by writing her own songs when singers typically sang other people's tunes. Reeves along with Wilson and Bridgewater celebrated Lincoln's life at the Kennedy Center earlier this year.
"I knew her," Reeves continues. "I had many conversations wit her where I was really listening more than speaking. It was sage advice. It gave you an opportunity to heal."
IF YOU GO:
What: Sing the Truth! with Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo When: 7 p.m. June 16 Where: New Haven Green Tickets: Free Info: artidea.org
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