Concert Review: Dianne Reeves Meets the Bill Charlap Trio

August 2, 2021 | By

The famed jazz singer, Dianne Reeves returned to performing at the 92nd Street Y with the Bill Charlap Trio as a part of Charlap’s Jazz in July series.  It was her second post-pandemic concert after a year and a half of lockdown and quarantine.  There was sense of anticipation in the packed audience as they awaited the start of one of their first events back in the real world of vaccinations and lack of distancing.  An event is what they got!  

Dianne Reeves with bassist Peter Washington. (Photo: Richard Termine.)

This was an historic concert in every sense of the word, recalling the iconic evenings at the Newport Jazz Festival with major artists like Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams and the like, with no added filler of rappers, or rockers, or soul singers for “commercial appeal.”  Here was a master performer backed by the equally brilliant trio of Bill Charlap on piano, Peter Washington on bass, and Kenny Washington on drums.  The impressive vocals never faltered and the cohesion and communication among the four artists was remarkably tight and empathic. Song by song, the evening built to a triumphant climax leaving the audience clamoring for more.  

Her opener, “Yesterdays” (Jerome Kern, Otto Harbach), was a marvelous contrast of drive versus beauty.  Charlap’s angular, percussive piano perfectly fit the singer’s explosive attack on the vocal.  Reeves added a vocalise section of her own devising with timely references to the pandemic and its aftermath.  She has always adlibbed topical and personal asides in song—singing her patter, in a way. No one does this quite like her and it is thrilling, and often hilarious.  She was immediately centered, relaxed, and welcoming.  I have rarely seen such a magnanimous display of musical virtuosity.  “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)” (Harold Arlen, Johnny Mercer) morphed into a celebration of the power and resilience of that amazing voice and, ultimately, of singing itself.  

Declaring her desire to “savor it all,” she was led into “Skylark” (Hoagy Carmichael, Johnny Mercer) by the most sophisticated music box there ever was, courtesy of Charlap. As Reeves and the other musicians joined in, I was struck by the thought that we were in the presence of a “Mount Rushmore” of jazz talent.  She revealed that she had spent much of her time off “taking a good look” at the lyrics of songs that she may have taken for granted in the past.  The result of that investigation was a mature, dramatic, and electrifying resetting of the classic pop song, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” (Gerry Goffin, Carole King). This performance alone would have made the evening unforgettable.  Her arms outspread to the audience she built on that energy with “I Sing Because I’m Happy” (Curtis B. Doss) that served as an invocation of the power of music and became a veritable blessing on the audience.

L. to r.: Bill Charlap (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Ms. Reeves, and Kenny Washington, drums. (Photo: Richard Termine)

The simmering swing of “Too Close for Comfort” (Jerry Bock, George David Weiss, Larry Holofcener) gave way to the vocal grandeur and lyric simplicity of “My Foolish Heart” (Victor Young, Ned Washington) that included a gorgeous vocal ornamentation which reminded me of the great Betty Carter.  As if to second my observation, she followed it with Carter’s signature tune, “Social Call” (Gigi Gryce, Jon Hendricks), that gave the song back its epic stature.

It cannot be overstated how accomplished the trio was throughout the evening.  “Comes Love” (Sam H. Stept, Lew Brown, Charles Tobias) began with a hilarious “conversation” between the singer and Charlap’s expressive keyboard, with the pianist blues-ing up a line and Reeves shaking her head and saying, “Bill, I agree with you!”  While creating a mesmerizing groove, the singer managed to give the witty lyrics their full due. 

A luminous, contemplative “A Time for Love” (Johnny Mandel, Paul Francis Webster) allowed us to luxuriate for one last time in the rich, powerful sounds created by these master musicians.  She managed to imbue the wordless portions of the vocals with as much poetry as the lyrical portions.  Diane Reeves and the trio allowed us to break free from this mortal and disease-ridden coil for an hour or so and we cheered her exit from the stage at its finale.  She elevated the art form and elevated our spirits.


Presented at the 92nd St. Y, as part of the Y’s Jazz in July Series, on July 27, 2021.

Category: News / Reviews / Commentary, Reviews

About the Author ()

Gerry Geddes has conceived and directed a number of musical revues—including the Bistro- and MAC Award-winning "Monday in the Dark with George" and "Put On Your Saturday Suit-Words & Music by Jimmy Webb"—and directed many cabaret artists, including André De Shields, Helen Baldassare, Darius de Haas, and drag artist Julia Van Cartier. He directs "The David Drumgold Variety Show," currently in residence at Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and has produced a number of recordings, including two Bistro-winning CDs. He’s taught vocal performance at The New School, NYU, and London’s Goldsmith’s College and continues to conduct private workshops and master classes. As a writer and critic, he has covered New York’s performing arts scene for over 40 years in both local and national publications; his lyrics have been sung by several cabaret and recording artists. Gerry is an artist in residence at Pangea, and a regular contributor to the podcast “Troubadours & Raconteurs.” He just completed a memoir of his life in NYC called “Didn’t I Ever Tell You This?”

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