Dianne Reeves Writes a Love Song to Brazil

Photo: Jerris Madison

The vibrant traditions of Brazilian music can be heard distinctly in the work of Dianne Reeves. Pluck out nearly any song from the jazz vocalist’s limitless catalogue and you will surely recognize them: intrinsic improvisation. Dancing polyrhythms. Quiet, expansive melodies. Brazilian music, of course, has many expressions including bossa nova, samba, and pagode. But the thread connecting them all? An unmistakable celebratory soulfulness.

“It is really for your mind, for your body, and for your spirit,” Reeves says, over the telephone from her hometown of Denver, Colorado. “You feel that in it. I have just always loved it.”

Reeves discovered the South American music in the 1970s, through an album by Flora Purim called Stories to Tell. Her cousin, pianist George Duke, produced it. Reeves felt an immediate connection, particularly to the melodies. Then, she heard Wayne Shorter’s Native Dancer, a collaboration with Brazil’s Milton Nascimento combining funk and jazz rock. “And that just killed me,” Reeves laughs. “I was hooked from then on. There was something about it that was so familiar and I felt that, in some sort of way, it was a part of me, as well.”

After moving to Los Angeles from Denver in the late 70s, she explored Latin-fusion as a member of Caldera, a band influenced by salsa, samba, and Afro-Cuban. In 1981, she toured internationally with Brazilian pianist Sergio Mendes. The rich and intricate sounds soaked into Reeves’ sensibilities and inevitably had a profound effect on her own body of work, surfacing within inspired textures in songs like “Sky Islands,” “Tango,” and covers of Brazilian players like Vinícius de Moraes.

As such, Reeves’ latest project, Beleza Brazil, is a natural progression. “It was time,” she adds, considering how important Brazilian music has been to her. Its title translating to “the beauty of Brazil” from Portuguese, the dedicated concert program features selections from Reeves’ repertoire, as well as compositions from musicians including Dori Caymmi and Antônio Carlos Jobim—two of her favourite artists.

Reeves is also, for the first time, releasing an album of Brazilian music. It’s still in early stages, but its arrival is imminent. “I’m just excited about the record,” she beams, delight radiating through her voice. And no wonder: it is an opportunity to become further acquainted with a part of herself that Reeves describes as one she cherishes. A chance to explore sonic terrain that already feels intimate, but still has space to be fully discovered.


Dianne Reeves performs Sun, Mar. 8 at the Chan Shun Concert Hall (Vancouver) // TICKETS