- The Washington Times - Friday, April 27, 2007

Every one of the historic Lincoln Theatre’s 1,237 seats has been sold for Dianne Reeves’ concert tonight, according to the spokeswoman for the Washington Performing Arts Society, which is co-presenting the event with the Duke Ellington Jazz Festival (which takes place in September and won’t have Miss Reeves on its bill).

The WPAS last hosted the multiple Grammy-winner in 1994, but Miss Reeves hasn’t exactly been a stranger to the District in the intervening years. There have been annual performances at the Kennedy Center, including 2005’s “Billie & Me,” a musical tribute to the late Billie Holiday, which also featured Rita Coolidge, Joan Osborne, Niki Haris and Rokia Traore.

“I always love playing in D.C.,” Miss Reeves says during a phone chat from her Denver home, one of several interviews squeezed into a jam-packed schedule.

Amid all the activity, the star, who turned 50 last fall, doesn’t seem to have a handler or flack fielding her calls. She’s manning the phones herself, running errands and tending to her small barking dog.

Tonight’s Lincoln Theatre date (where she’ll be accompanied by pianist Geoffrey Keezer, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Gregory Hutchinson) is part of a rigorous tour schedule that began earlier this month and continues through mid-November.

Set for a fall release is an album featuring new works from the celebrated vocalist for the first time in six years. “Can’t talk about it, though,” she coyly says in her familiar warm contralto.

Music lovers, of course, have been fascinated with Miss Reeves’ vocal agility since long before her days as a headliner or her recent turn as — what else? — a jazz chanteuse in the acclaimed 2005 film, “Good Night, and Good Luck.” Her work on the soundtrack (which includes Duke Ellington’s classic “Solitude” and the novelty tunes “Straighten Up and Fly Right” and “TV Is the Thing This Year”) earned Miss Reeves her fourth Grammy, this time for best jazz vocal album.

In 1987, she became one of the few jazz vocalists to find commercial success on the pop charts with “Better Days,” a touching ballad of childhood memories, family ties and the wisdom of elders from her self-titled LP.

” ‘Better Days’ is a song that I wrote from a very real place,” Miss Reeves says. “It’s great to have a hit on the pop charts, but jazz was always my love.”

Miss Reeves came to that realization early on, “although I listened to all kinds of music while growing up,” she says. “Motown, the Supremes, Sarah Vaughan, Nina Simone, Carmen McRae: You name it, I listened to it.”

A musical family environment also factored into the mix — an uncle played bass with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, and the composer, producer and noted keyboard wizard George Duke is a cousin.

By high school, Miss Reeves was performing as a vocalist with her school’s big band. The group won first place in a national competition, but, more important for Miss Reeves, led to a meeting with legendary jazz trumpeter Clark Terry, who would become her mentor.

After studies at the University of Colorado, Miss Reeves moved to Los Angeles, where she developed an interest in Latin American and world music.

Yet, her love of jazz remained. “What I found in jazz music was a place where I could really stretch, discover and define my style,” says Miss Reeves.

After doing session work in L.A., she went on tour with both Harry Belafonte and Sergio Mendes in the early 1980s. The Afro-Caribbean and bossa nova influences of each can be heard within her vast repertoire. But Miss Reeves — an accomplished pianist and arranger — says she simply looks for “beautiful music” when selecting a song.

“I was working with (pianist) Billy Childs at the time when we decided to do ‘I Remember Sky,’ ” she says of the complex but little-known Stephen Sondheim song from her much-heralded album “I Remember.” (The varied 1991 album, one of Miss Reeves’ best, also included Cole Porter’s “Love for Sale” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.”)

“It’s one of the few, and maybe the only song, that he didn’t write for a Broadway show,” she says. “The song is about a blind girl and was written for a musical TV special titled ‘Evening Primrose.’ ”

While music is a given, “I’d like to do more films, whether it’s acting or singing,” says Miss Reeves, who also appeared as a wedding singer on the 2002 season finale of “Sex and the City.”

“That one scene took forever to shoot,” she recalls, “but I loved it.”

WHAT:Dianne Reeves

WHEN:Tonight at 8

WHERE:Lincoln Theatre, 1215 U St. NW

TICKETS:$36 and $46

INFORMATION:Call 202/785-WPAS (9727)

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