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Diane Schuur: seasoned jazz singer with a joyful energy

By Amy DuncanSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / February 23, 1987



New York

When vocalist Diane Schuur sings, people sit up and take notice. She's had a powerful voice since she was a baby (she started singing at age two), with perfect pitch and a wide, wide range. Now, with three albums to her credit, Miss Schuur, affectionately known as ``Deedles'' (the title of her first album), has established herself as a versatile and seasoned artist. She recently returned from a tour of Japan as featured vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra. Wide recognition didn't come until jazz saxophonist Stan Getz discovered Schuur at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1979, but she has been singing professionally since she was nine years old. In an interview on the occasion of her debut at the Blue Note, a jazz club here, she remarked, ``I was working in the Northwest, doing a lot of gigs at Moose and Elks lodges and so on. I went through school and worked weekends, and I listened to music a lot.''

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Who did she listen to? ``Dinah Washington - we got almost every record she ever made; Sarah Vaughan's albums; and Duke Ellington; George Shearing ....''

Schuur was raised in Auburn, Wash., in a family that was supportive of her musical aspirations. Blind from birth, she grew up filling her hours with music: ``I had no judgment of time, so late at night I'd start belting out a song. Mom and Dad would be asleep, and they'd open my door and say, `Diane, shut up!''' She laughed. ``But they encouraged me. They schlepped me to all the gigs and gave me a lot of support.''

Schuur not only sang but also played the piano - from age three. ``The first stereo we got when I was about nine years old. It was called a Thomas - a record player-organ combination, which was real interesting. So I started playing organ even before I played piano.''

Although Schuur has been called a jazz singer, her repertoire covers everything from rhythm and blues to pop standards to contemporary rock. Each of her three albums (``Deedles,'' ``Schuur Thing,'' and ``Timeless,'' all on GRP Records) reflects these different aspects of her musical character. Yet she can hold her own with the finest jazz singers, too, as she proved at the Grammy Awards telecast in 1985, where she was wedged in near Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and the Manhattan Transfer. She was only allowed to belt out one brief chorus of ``How High the Moon,'' but that turned a lot of heads.

In performance, Schuur has the kind of personality that makes you want to jump up on stage and hug her. She has an infectious, booming laugh and a joyful energy that are really engaging. But when it comes to her music, she is serious and thoughtful. ``I think that traditional music is coming back - I think that's why I'm in the music that I'm in. It lasts. It may not get to the No. 1 spot in the pop charts as quickly, but I want it to live and to last. I think quality is extremely important.''

Her advice to young singers is really a description of her own goals: ``Keep healthy; keep happy. Keep the human element going, meaning: Be yourself. If success should come, don't let it carry you away into something that it might be hard to return from. Be sensitive, and yet be real strong, and know what your convictions are, and know what directions you want to go.''

How does Diane Schuur manage to do all this?

``I do have a deep faith in God, for one thing. And for another, I want to keep going in the direction that is going to bring the most creative joy into my life and yet, at the same time, be able to have a little bit of financial security. I don't think that God put us on this earth to be down in the dirt and just not have anything. I don't think it's supposed to be that way. I think everybody - if they want to - can have a bit of prosperity and have some fun!'' That wonderful laugh booms out, and she adds, ``I enjoy myself. I really do.''