After ‘Midnight’: Diane Schuur swings.
Jazz singer Diane Schuur soars on latest project
By Greg Cahill
Being blind since birth has never kept Diane Schuur from realizing her dreams–even skydiving. Compared to jumping out of an airplane and free-falling several thousand feet, recording with pop icon Barry Manilow was a cake walk for this gifted Seattle-born jazz singer and pianist.
“Not many people are aware of this, but Barry is a huge jazz fan,” says Schuur, whose recent CD, Midnight, features 13 new songs by Manilow. “He is such a giant. The writing was done so lovingly. No one has ever done that for me before.”
Critics have been duly impressed as well, especially since the project took Schuur to new heights and brought newfound credibility to a songwriter better known as the Prince of Schmaltz. “Manilow proves to be an underrated songwriter,” music critic Scott Yanow recently said of the disc, “contributing some touching ballads and a few swingers while collaborating with some talented and often witty lyricists. A few of the songs are good enough to become standards.”
It’s a well-deserved milestone for Schuur, whose first professional gig was singing country songs at a local Holiday Inn at age 10. Twenty-five years ago, jazz tenor saxophonist Stan Getz began championing her career after hearing Schuur sing “Amazing Grace” at the 1979 Monterey Jazz Festival. The song has become something of a signature piece for Schuur, who can bring tears to your eyes with her soaring talents.
Over the years, she has been better known as a pop singer, but Schuur has remained firmly rooted in jazz. She recorded a great 1987 album with the Count Basie Orchestra and has released several impressive swing collections, including 2001’s critically acclaimed Swingin’ for Schuur. Her 1995 recording of Dinah Washington’s “Blue Gardenia” is a spectacular nod to that late, great jazz diva.
North Bay audiences will get a rare chance to get up-close and personal with Schuur at the 19 Broadway nightclub in downtown Fairfax, when the singer holds court at that intimate room on Friday, March 5, for two shows, at 8pm and 10 pm. Admission is $40 (and worth every cent). Comedian Doug Berg opens the show. 415.459.1091.
– The North Bay jazz scene is jumping these days. While the March 6 concert with Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra at the Napa Valley Opera House is sold-out, the Luther Burbank Center–which two weeks ago hosted Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis–will present the Newport Jazz Festival’s 50th-anniversary tour on March 23. The all-star roster for that show includes pianist and composer Cedar Walton; Grammy-nominated guitarist Howard Alden; bassist Peter Washington; Grammy- and Emmy-nominated trumpeter and composer Terence Blanchard (music director and composer on several Spike Lee films); tenor saxophonist, flutist and six-time Grammy-nominated soloist Lew Tabackin; clarinetist Ken Peplowski; drummer Karriem Riggins; and comedian and jazz diva Lea DeLaria. $28-$50. 707.546.3600.
– Meanwhile, Zebulon’s Lounge turns up the heat this month with several first-rate jazz acts, from acid to fusion to trad. On Friday, March 5, look for Dave MacNab’s Jazz Lab, featuring L.A. transplant and San Francisco resident Dave MacNab on guitar. MacNab has recorded with Shelby Lynne and Bob Weir and shared the stage with the likes of Sting, k.d. lang, Matchbox 20, Ben Harper, Jeff Beck, Willie Nelson, Taj Mahal, Rickie Lee Jones and Bon Jovi, to name a few. He promises to cook up something new and interesting in his Jazz Lab, which features drummer Scott Amendola (of the Charlie Hunter Quartet) and bassist John Shifflett (who has recorded with everyone from Peter Apfelbaum to Michael Zilber).
– On Saturday, March 13, Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Frankye Kelly (cousin of blues master Albert Collins and a Mississippi native now living in the Bay Area) brings her blues-inflected stylings (think of a young and vivacious Sarah Vaughan) to Zebulon’s; Mel Graves provides accompaniment.
– On March 20, the Broun Fellinis return with their unique brand of hard-bop explorations. This seminal acid-jazz trio (bass, drums and sax) have performed with everyone from Erykah Badu to the Roots, and from Medeski, Martin and Wood to Ben Harper. Did someone say high energy? Zebulon’s Lounge, 2321 Fourth St., Petaluma. 707.769.7948.
From the March 3-10, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.