All That Jazz
Diane Schuur gets her act together and takes it to the Blue Note.
Blind since her birth in Tacoma, Washington in 1953, Schuur certainly hasn't allowed that challenge to cramp her style or to impact negatively on her career. Though primarily identified as a jazz artist, her marvelously malleable voice and stylistic sensitivity at the piano have allowed her to triumph with all kinds of material, from straightforward renditions of great American songbook standards to thrilling performances of new songs. A frequent headliner at the Blue Note in Greenwich Village, she'll be there again April 22-27 with her own special brand of cool heat.
Schuur lives in Orange County, California, but for our TheaterMania interview last week, I called her in Columbus, Ohio, where she was doing a gig.
THEATERMANIA: Diane, I've never had a chance to see and hear you in live performance, so I'm really looking forward to your gig at the Blue Note. I assume you're going to be doing a lot of songs from Midnight, your new CD?
DIANE SCHUUR: I'll be doing some of those, yeah, and the favorites that people really like from other albums. I try not to be too scripted in my stuff. I'll probably be doing "New York State of Mind," "Louisiana Sunday Afternoon," "Love Dance," and tunes of that nature.
TM: The show you're going to do at the Blue Note is not the same show you're doing in Columbus?
DIANE: Exactly. In Columbus, it's with a big band. It's a different group setting altogether in this place, the Southern Theatre, because it holds 900 people.
TM: Let's talk about the new album. You've got Barry Manilow and Brian McKnight...
DIANE: Right, they're both doing duets with me. And so is Karrin Allyson, a great jazz vocalist. The album was produced by Barry Manilow and Eddie Arkin. It's taken about a year to put all of it together -- the writing and everything else. It's coming out in July.
TM: And it has 12 new songs?
DIANE: I think it's actually 13. The only tune that's been recorded before -- by Barry Manilow and Monica Mancini and Nancy Wilson and a few other people -- is "When October Goes." But that's it. Everything else is original.
TM: This will be your third album on the Concord label. I have all of the GRP stuff and it's really great. Was it your idea to make the change, or how did that go down?
DIANE: It was time to go somewhere else, let's just put it that way. One thing that I've got on my side is a really good publicity team for this new record. The other team tried to be supportive, but if you're going to push your record, you really need a big publicity department behind you.
TM: You've worked with such terrific arrangers and orchestrators. Maybe you could tell me about some of those people whom you particularly admire.
DIANE: Well, there's Patrick Williams. There's Billy May -- who's one of the all-time greats -- and Johnny Mandel and Jeremy Lubbock. Of course, Barry Manilow's a great arranger himself, and so is Eddie Arkin.
TM: The press release for the new CD says that you're celebrating your 25th anniversary in show business. That's pretty amazing.
DIANE: Actually, it's my 40th. I was nine years old when I first sang at a Holiday Inn in Tacoma, so that's 40 years ago. I feel blessed to have such a wonderful, rich career and a good body of work. And I appreciate the fact that journalists are interested in the things that I do. It's cool, you guys taking the time to call. Although I will say that reviewers scare me sometimes -- 'cause, you know, they're paid to be real critical. Frank Sinatra was so funny; he used to say, "Critics come out of the foothills and shoot the wounded."
TM: Well, I love your stuff. I'm just not sure if my favorite is your Tribute album or your Love Songs album. Fortunately, I don't have to pick.
DIANE: No, you don't! They're all good albums in their own way. I've never been able to be typecast: One album I'll do with B.B. King, the next album I'll do with a big band or an orchestra. It's always a collaboration -- like the Friends for Schuur album I did for Concord with Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles and a lot of other wonderful musicians, including Dave Grusin.
TM: There's one more thing I wanted to ask before you go: When do you think you'll run out of puns on your name to use for album titles?
DIANE: Well, this next one's being called Midnight, so I think we're giving the puns a break.
TM: Schuur Thing was a great one -- both the CD and the title.
DIANE: It was a fun album to do. You know, that was 18 years ago. As far as doing actual shows, singing and playing the piano, I am pushing a quarter century of performing. As I said, I've really been singing a lot longer than that. But hey, you know, 25 probably sounds better than 40!