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REVIEW: Deedles is Back!: The Diane Schuur Quartet at Crooners

L-R: Diane Schuur, saxophonist Michael Cox, UR: bassist Roger Hines, LR: drummer Kendall Kay.

The great jazz vocalist Diane Schuur (two-time Grammy winner, five-time nominee) was born blind, but it has never slowed her down. She wears spangle-rimmed, almost Elton John-worthy sunglasses and includes references to her situation in her banter.  One of her first comments upon coming to the stage was “You all look so good!”, followed later by “What a beautiful place this is!”  Between songs, she riffed about technique, saying“I have to make sure that my boobs are touching Middle C.” In banter, as in singing, she is happy to be slightly bawdy.   

On Saturday night, “Deedles” was back on stage. That nickname was given to Schuur by her mother, and has not only stuck but also made its way into her music. Indeed, “Deedles’ Blues” opens her most successful album, Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra (1987), which topped the Billboard Jazz Chart for 33 weeks. Her first song on Saturday was a wandering piece of scat singing, with references to Crooners, her cat, and “Deedley Weedley”. This set the playful, mischievous tone that fans have come to expect from her concerts.

After a career of almost 50 years, and 25 or so albums, Schuur still exudes enjoyment when performing for a live audience.   Three of her songs were from her most recent album, Running on Faith (Jazzheads Music Group, 2020): the Percy Mayfield song, “Walking on a Tightrope”, Ray Charles’ “The Danger Zone”, and Miles Davis’s “All Blues”.  It is hard not to think about the sharp contrast with Miles. Miles would sometimes, notoriously, turn his back to the audience while playing. He explained in an interview with Alex Haley that this was not (as had sometimes been said) a sign of contempt for the audience, but rather because he simply wanted to concentrate on the music and avoid distractions. As Bruce Phares has noted, Schuur is just the opposite: she wants the connection with the audience: “She wants the love she has for singing to [be] felt by the audience, and she wants to feel the love back”. 

Singer-pianist Diane Schuur. Photo by Lani Garfield.

The rest of Schuur’s setlist hit other highlights from her impressive catalog: George & Ira Gershwin’s “’S Wonderful” (from her 2014 album I Remember You), “The Man I Love” (In Tribute, 1992), and David Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way” (Pilot of My Destiny, 2012) – the last also in honor of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, who had played Crooners the day before).

Schuur ended the evening with one of her signature songs, “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon” (from Talking About Your, 1988).  During the set, Schuur was often engaged in a call-and-response exchange with the excellent sax player, Michael Cox. The bass player, Roger Hines added a number of brilliant solos, while Schuur’s long-time drummer, Kendall Kay, gave the night’s improvisations the steady, reliable foundation they needed. 

At 68 years old, there will inevitably be some limitations.  Schuur commented after one long piano solo that she could have gone on “forever”, but her right hand was getting sore. And while there was ample evidence of Schuur’s famous three-and-a-half octave range, soaring vocals were sometimes interspersed with less demanding expressive talk-singing. However, Schuur reassured everyone that “life is good,” that “she was having a great time,” and that she was looking forward to her Walleye dinner between sets (“I haven’t had Walleye for decades”). She promised to be back at Crooners again soon, and her many fans will wait impatiently for that return.

Brian Bix