Diane Schuur at Birdland

Diane Schuur



By Marilyn Lester


After 22 years gigging at downtown club The Blue Note, jazz pianist, vocalist and two-time Grammy Award winner, Diane Schuur (known affectionately as “Deedles”) flew into Birdland with humor intact. Pretending to forget where she was, Schuur launched into “S’ Wonderful” in her straight-ahead style, with able sidemen Joel Frahm on tenor saxophone, Roger Hines on upright bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Schuur’s patter was easy, spontaneous, witty and welcoming throughout the set – just as laid back as her next standard, “Nice ‘n’ Easy.” It’s a pity Schuur didn’t include more blues in the set. Her slow, easy tempo on “Danger Zone” was a showcase for her sum total musical abilities, with Schuur grounding herself in the earthiness of the number.

Schuur has been performing since childhood, with 23 albums to her credit. She’s noted for her musical eclecticism and an amazingly clear and vibrant voice that spans three and a half octaves. She’s not afraid to play with the music, either, a bonus since her mature voice has lost some flexibility and control of her famous vibrato in sustaining notes. She will, at any given moment switch from a brassy driving scat to a smooth lyrical display of clarity and go anywhere in between. Wisely, she bumps up her approach to singing improvisationally, with short bursts of vocalizations, plenty of scat and focus on her well-honed piano chops. Except for one number, “The Man I Love,” in which Frahm sat out, Schuur relied heavily on the sax man to carry much of the weight of the show. Schuur’s ear is especially attuned to the ways of the saxophone. She happens to have perfect pitch memory, but more than that one of her great influences was sax man and mentor Stan Getz, who caught on to her talents early in her career. Working in a groove with Frahm, the two traded call-and-response riffs as well as an easy weaving in and out of solo turns.

Frahm is a fluid player, who, for this set, played economically, moving up and down the harmonic range without straying too far off the melodic line. Occasionally he’d insert an improvisational riff of a melody into a tune, but mostly refrained from doing so. It was on the jazz classic “Seven Steps to Heaven,” co-written by trumpet giant, Miles Davis, that all the players were able to truly shine, especially a solo by bassist Hines. Later, with Schuur invoking the spirit of the late electric bass genius, Jaco Pastorious, Hines switched instruments, plugged in and executed impressive lines on the progressive jazz arrangement of “The Chicken,” a number most associated with Pastorius. Drummer Jones had his moment in the solo spotlight on an up-tempo and swinging “I Remember You,” his percussive attack smooth as silk as he moved around the kit with ease. Closing with one of her signature songs, a mid-tempo “Louisiana Sunday Afternoon,” Schuur and her trio played out with syncopated splendor.


Birdland Jazz, 315 West 44 Street, NYC