LOCAL LIVE! In Denver, About Denver, Musically Denver!!!!
Diane Schuur at the Soiled Dove Underground, Denver, May 22, 2010
Diane Schuur’s career started strong with Grammy wins for her third album in 1986 and another for her follow-up album in 1987 with the Count Basie Orchestra. Both earned Grammies for Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female. The Basie Band is a high octane outfit and shy, retiring singers have no place anywhere near those guys. Schuur proved she could go toe to toe, volume-wise, with that storied ensemble. She also displayed a remarkable range, reaching nearly into dog whistle territory. Those upper octave forays, however, sometimes sounded a little on the shrill side.
Despite winning a Grammy with the Basie Band, Schuur’s jazz credentials have been questioned over the years. That’s been due, in large part, to her decision to include some pop songs in her repertoire. Indeed, the 1987 album with the Basie Band includes “Caught a Touch of Your Love” which is clearly suspect in some serious jazz circles. The fact that she recorded on fusionist Dave Grusin’s GRP label for several years didn’t help establish her as a serious jazz singer.
Saturday night at the Soiled Dove Underground, Schuur served up a set of mostly jazz standards and she was accompanied by a swinging, acoustic trio. Since she didn’t have to compete with an 18 piece, brass filled big band, she wasn’t compelled to shout. Between that and a couple decades of maturity, the shrillness has mellowed to a more enjoyable sound. Now 56 years old, she still showed a wide range, but with more control than the early years.
Schuur, blind since birth, was led to a chair at center stage to start the set. She was obviously delighted to be singing and amiably chatted with the crowd between songs. She made a couple good natured complaints about the lack of oxygen at 5280 feet and explained that she’s recently lost 66 pounds. (Looking at you-tube videos recorded over the last few years, it’s obvious that she struggles with her weight.)
The music was straight ahead jazz; for the most part. Schuur knows how to deliver the swing and that, coupled with the choice of material left little doubt that this was a jazz concert and not a smooth jazz get together. She spent a considerable portion of the evening scatting. In fact she scatted the entirety of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” because, she said, she didn’t know all the words. On another occasion, she did a hum-scat with her mouth closed and big jumps in the pitch for almost a yodeling quality. A highlight was her driving interpretation of “My Favorite Things.”
A couple smooth jazz influences snuck in nonetheless. Early in the program, she performed “The Land of Make Believe,” a Chuck Mangione tune. However, the acoustic jazz trio leant more of a traditional jazz feel than the Mangione version with Esther Satterfield on the vocals. That’s a tune with many, many words and Schuur had the lyrics, in Braille, set up on a music stand so she could read them with her hand as she sang.
Toward the end of the program, she moved to the piano, displacing Randy Porter who had played a number of intricate and expressive solos throughout the evening as well as providing tasteful accompaniment. Schuur is an accomplished pianist and she played as well as sang the last three songs. Two of those, “Love Dance” and “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” were hits for her but mainly on the smooth jazz side. However “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” in particular has some swing to it, see you-tube clip. To wrap it up, she got back to uncontested straight ahead jazz territory with Billie Holiday’s “Lady Be Good.”