What is America?

Diane Schuur: Q & A

After her concert at Blues Alley on Saturday night, Diane Schuur spoke with me about life and music. See my review (posted earlier) for more details on the performance.

It’s been 10 years since you’ve been back at Blues Alley—does it feel good to be back?

Oh, absolutely. It’s wonderful to have such an attentive and yet enthusiastic crowd. When you get the combination of that, it’s very cool.

What’s one of your most memorable experiences from this tour?

I went to Salerno, and performed with one of the best bands I’ve ever worked with in my life. They came from all over Italy to perform with me.

I also did a master class there, which was really interesting, for 25 students, and I took them through the same tune, “Always,” that I took you all through. And it was really fun. And it’s so funny, but I just had a visual of doing that particular song, of having an audience participate. It’s kind of a unifying experience for everybody, to feel that they have participated. It’s kind of a love fest. It’s a very sweet song, and those songs just aren’t done that much anymore. Older people can go down memory lane with their spouses and younger people can be introduced to a previous era, so it serves dual purposes, you see? More than that, it serves multi-dimensional purposes, because a tune like that just really touches the soul.

Do you have any advice for young, aspiring jazz singers?

Well, Judge Judy has a wonderful piece of advice for people, and that is, put on your listening ears. And that’s one of the things that I did when I was a little girl, is put on my listening ears big time. Since I don’t have sight, I wasn’t distracted by a lot of things that other people would be. I would just say to young people, give it your all. Put everything you’ve got into the craft, and do it with feeling. Yeah, it’s okay to have the technique, but one of the things I’ve learned in my experience growing up in this business is critics were really quick to say, “Well it’s great, but the gymnastics, you know you don’t have to show everything off in one note.” And that’s what I’ve tried to learn through the years.

Stan Getz had a wonderful phrase, “less is more,” and that’s what I’ve really tried to do. I think this is one of the reasons I’m really jazzed about doing a country record, is every song tells a story. In fact, that’s what Charlie Parker said, you know, he says, “Hey man, every song tells a story.” That’s why he loved it, and that’s one of the reasons that I love it. [The country album] doesn’t mean I’m going to get away from jazz, it’s just that I need to get into a different market recording-wise. It’s just time. It’s going to be on Vanguard records, which is a pretty cool label. It’s going to be kind of like in the style that Ray Charles did when he did his country album [“Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music”]. Hey, if Ray could do it, why couldn’t the Deeds?

What happened there on “Bewitched”?

Hey man, I forgot the lyric, I mean, that was almost a train wreck in the middle of “Bewitched.”

But that’s what we do, that’s how we learn, that’s how we grow as artist. There is something to forgetting because we learn. And I meant it when I said, in my own experience, my husband’s starting to suffer from Alzheimer’s, he’s got Parkinson’s and prostate cancer. [Mr. White, Schuur’s manager] is one of the people that have really become a lifeline for me, in dealing with the situation. I’m really grateful.

Things happen, you know. It’s a drag, but you know at the same time, it’s like digging for pearls in the oyster; you’ve got to look for the pearls within the sand. That’s what I try to do. I’m finally getting some peace with it. It’s kind of like, well I’m a recovering alcoholic, and so I know the behaviors that go on with that. I’ve been sober now for 21 years. I quit coffee six days ago.

How’s that going?

I didn’t even get a headache. It’s so funny, I have what they call laryngeal reflux, probably from years of damaging my body with, you know, “tippin and trippin,” drinking and drugging and stuff. That catches up with you. Singers go through that, regardless of what they do, you know, they get older, and things start to break down. That’s exactly what’s happening to me. So I’ve got to do everything possible to preserve the instrument that I’ve got left.

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