Only one jazz singer has befriended one famous Clooney and been hired by another — Dianne Reeves.
Rosemary Clooney once chatted with Reeves backstage before an event, and the two quickly hit it off, which Rosemary mentioned afterward to her nephew George. Years later, he remembered what Rosemary said and asked Reeves to play the jazz singer in his movie “Good Night, and Good Luck.”
“I performed live on set,” Reeves said. “No lip syncing.”
That performance won Reeves her fourth Grammy in 2006. Nine years later, during a time that included five years of relative quiet on the recording side, she has released a new album, “Beautiful Life,” that is influenced by all the living that occurred during her hiatus.
“The biggest thing during this time was my mother was very ill,” Reeves said. “I was also involved in a project called ‘Sing the Truth’ with Lizz Wright and Angelique Kidjo, which celebrates music and female artists. This entire experience showed me how time goes by so quickly.”
For that reason, Reeves now wishes she had called the album “Beautiful Life Experience.” Regardless, it is a blend of original works and covers from artists who have inspired her over the years, including Ani DiFranco, Marvin Gaye, Bob Marley and Fleetwood Mac.
Reeves will certainly perform some of her new songs tonight in the Cistern Yard, but she won’t be arriving with a set planned out in advance.
“My sets always vary, but I’m fortunate enough to be traveling with a band of musicians who I have been playing with for years and know all of my stuff,” Reeves said.
Pianist Peter Martin, bassist Reginald Veal, guitarist Romero Lubambo and drummer Terreon Gully have been Reeves’s foundation for a while and will be performing with Reeves for her third appearance at the Spoleto Festival.
Lubambo, who has been playing with Reeves for almost 20 years, said he appreciates the openness with which she performs. “I don’t ever want to do just one thing in my life,” he said. “With Dianne, we can stretch our imaginations. One song will be blues. The next will be fast jazz or samba. We mix things. That’s what makes things fresh and good.”
A large part of the novelty in these shows comes from Reeves’s improvisation and scatting abilities.
“Dianne loves to be surprised with different notes and different harmonies,” Lubambo said. “She always responds with different lines or ideas, so that’s what makes it really fun every day, not only live, but in the studio also.”
Reeves said she keeps her performances special by keeping her mind open. “It’s really about this ability to let go,” she said. “You have to respond and be free enough to have a conversation with the music.”
Reeves continues to engage in this open and observant approach as she tours globally. And the hiatus from the recording studio is clearly over: She plans to release another album by the end of the year.
Dianna Bell is a Goldring Arts Journalist from Syracuse University.