Diane Schuur

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Diane Schuur
DianeSchuurByPhilKonstantin.jpg
Diane Schuur, photographed by Phil Konstantin
Background information
Birth name Diane Joan Schuur
Also known as Deedles
Born (1953-12-10) December 10, 1953 (age 63)
Tacoma, Washington United States
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician
Instruments Vocals, piano
Years active 1979–present
Labels GRP, Concord
Website www.dianeschuur.com

Diane Schuur (born Diane Joan Schuur, nicknamed "Deedles",[1] December 10, 1953 in Tacoma, Washington) is an American jazz singer and pianist. She won Grammy Awards for best female jazz vocal performance in both 1986 and 1987 and has had three other Grammy nominations.[2][3] As of 2015, Schuur has released 24 albums, and has extended her jazz repertoire to include essences of Latin, gospel, pop and country music.[4][5] Her most successful album is Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra, which remained number one on the Billboard Jazz Charts for 33 weeks.[6]

Schuur has performed in venues such as Carnegie Hall, The Kennedy Center, and the White House and has performed with many artists including Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, and Stevie Wonder.[7][8][9] Some of her albums have featured as co-performers Barry Manilow, José Feliciano, Maynard Ferguson, Stan Getz, Vince Gill, Allison Krause, and B.B. King. Her album with B.B. King was number one on the Billboard Jazz Charts.[10] She has been Johnny Carson's guest on NBC's The Tonight Show eleven times.[11][12]

Schuur has been blind from birth due to retinopathy of prematurity, but has been gifted with absolute pitch memory and a clear vocal tone.[4][13] In 1996, she was a guest performer on Sesame Street, where she was interviewed by Elmo and described to him how a blind person can learn to use other senses to adapt in the world.[14] In 2000 she was awarded the Helen Keller Achievement Award by the American Foundation for the Blind.[15][16]

Early life[edit]

Schuur was born two months premature and weighed less than three pounds at delivery.[5] Complications of prematurity resulted in her total loss of vision. Her twin brother, David, had normal vision at birth but some hearing loss.[13] Schuur grew up in Auburn, Washington, a southern suburb of Seattle.[5] She attended the Washington School for the Blind in Vancouver from age four to eleven. She lived at school but was able to commute home 150 miles on the train by herself. She later transferred to public school where teachers' aides helped her keep up in class.[17]

Musical beginnings[edit]

Schuur started singing when she was about three years old. Her mother, who died when Schuur was 13, loved jazz and had a Duke Ellington record collection. Her father, a police captain, was an amateur musician who often played piano with his daughter sitting by his side.[18][19] Schuur stated, "As far back as I can remember, singing was in my blood. My parents loved music, and I loved to sing. I was scatting at an early age".[13] She has absolute pitch memory. Unlike the average person, in Schuur's mind every sound — musical or not – has a note value; for example, if she hears a humming motor, she knows the name that note has on a musical instrument.[4][20] Schuur listened to the radio avidly in her youth; her early musical idols were Sarah Vaughan and Dinah Washington.[20][21] She said that as a small child she would often retreat to a closet to sing.[22]

Schuur first learned to play the piano by ear. Though she later learned to read braille-written music, she found its use frustrating and impractical since it took away use of one of her hands while playing the piano; however, she frequently used braille-transcribed lyrics in performances and during recording sessions.[20] One of her first public performances was at age ten, singing country music at Tacoma's Holiday Inn; a booking arranged by her aunt.[17] Even when she was a student at the Washington School for the Blind, she would come home on weekends, perform on Friday and Saturday nights and take a train back to school for Monday classes.[22]

At age 15 she was taken by her father to Lake Tahoe to audition for Harrah's. She got the job, but her father, by then a widower, found it impossible to leave his job at the police force to chaperone her, and the offer had to be declined.[5] Schuur was noticed by country music singer/actor Jimmy Wakely, who met her in an Elks Club in 1971 when she was eighteen. After auditioning for him, Wakely arranged a recording session and made a 45 rpm record of a song called "Dear Mommy and Daddy".[13] Schuur performed locally a great deal in her late teens, and had started to develop a distinctive musical voice. Entertainment writer Stewart Weiner called it a "crystal-clear vocal tone hitting every note in the center of the bull's eye."[4]

Discovery[edit]

In 1975, at age 22, Schuur auditioned for drummer/bandleader Ed Shaughnessy. Escorted by her twin brother, she went backstage to seek out Shaughnessy after he had finished a concert in Seattle with bandleader Doc Severinsen.[11] Shaughnessy said, "Doc's concert was over and this young blind girl comes in and sits down at the Fender Rhodes keyboard and starts singing the blues. Well, my hair stood on end!"[5] He hired her to be the vocalist in his orchestra, "Energy Force".[23] Jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie heard her and, in 1979, invited her to sit in on a set at the Monterey Jazz Festival. According to Dave Gelly in his 2002 book, Stan Getz: Nobody Else But Me, Schuur's performance created "a minor sensation".[24]

Despite this success, the Shaughnessy connection was not the breakthrough she had hoped for. Schuur failed to impress bandleader Doc Severinsen, who turned her down when she auditioned for a guest spot on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. Some people in the industry dubbed her "Lady Overkill" because she had a tendency to oversing or tried to put everything she knew into a brief space.[5][25] For the next three years, Shuur performed in clubs and sharpened her skills. Jazz saxophonist Stan Getz who had been impressed when he heard her sing "Amazing Grace" at Monterey in 1979, did not give up on her. He became her advisor and coach. Discussing Getz in this role, Schuur stated, "he really was a mentor of mine. He taught me that less is more."[26]

Schuur recorded her first album, Pilot of my Destiny in 1981 in Seattle on an independent label, Great American Records.[27] It included some of her original compositions and Getz performed on it; however, the album did not do very well because of poor production and distribution.[25] The album has become a collectors' item since the original masters were lost.[28] It was re-released on the MIM Label in 1982, on vinyl only.[29]

Big break[edit]

In the early 1980s, Stan Getz remained a behind-the-scenes mover who arranged a second appearance for Schuur at the Monterey Jazz Festival. In 1982, he invited her to perform with him in a music showcase at the White House during the Reagan administration.[13] The performance at the White House was part of a series designed to encourage established jazz musicians to introduce young artists whom they believe have exceptional potential.[30] Schuur, then 29 years old, was the only vocalist on the bill, appearing and performing with eminent instrumentalists Itzhak Perlman, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Corea, and Stan Getz. After the performance, Nancy Reagan rushed to embrace Schuur.[30] Mrs. Reagan had invited George H.W. Bush and Barbara Bush to attend this performance. President Reagan was not there but wrote Schuur a personal letter afterwards.[13]

The White House performance was televised, giving Schuur a much broader audience. Producer Larry Rosen happened to see the broadcast and was impressed by her performance. Rosen and his business partner, musician Dave Grusin, set out to find Schuur by contacting Stan Getz.[5] This led to a recording contract with GRP Records.[31]

Nancy Reagan invited Schuur to perform at the White House a second time for a "Ladies of the Senate" luncheon in 1987, where she performed as a vocalist with the Count Basie Orchestra.[5] She returned to the White House a third time to perform for President Clinton in 1995.[13][32]

Career[edit]

When she signed with the GRP label, Schuur tapped into the upper echelon of record making know-how. Supervised by veteran producer/arranger Dave Grusin, the recordings were digitally mastered, and the first three albums benefited from the cachet brought by Stan Getz performing on them. Her first album under this label, Deedles, met with significant success reaching number 35 on the Billboard jazz charts.[33][34] It was her first record to be released nationally and abroad.[25]

Her next album was called Schuur Thing. It was released in 1985, and featured guest artist José Feliciano among other veteran jazz players.[35] The album reached number ten on the Bilboard jazz charts.[36] In that same year, Schuur was invited to perform on the 28th Annual Grammy Awards Show, broadcast on the CBS Network from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.[37]

Timeless was her fourth album, for which she received her first Grammy, winning best female jazz vocal performance for 1986. Four noted arrangers contributed in writing the charts for this recording — Billy May, Johnny Mandel, Jeremy Lubbock and Patrick Williams.[38] The album featured the work of 87 musicians, including its writers, producers, composers, strings, brass, keyboard players and others.[39]

The following year she repeated at the Grammys, again winning for best jazz vocal, this time for Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra. The album was one of her most successful, remaining at the top of Billboard's Traditional Jazz Charts for 33 weeks.[18] The Basie Band on the album was led by Frank Foster. Foster himself won a Grammy for his work on this same recording — best arrangement accompanying a vocal, Jazz category, 1987.[40] The session included Freddie Green, Basie's long time guitarist. Then 76 years old, Green's guitar work on the recording was the final performance of his career.[31]

Occasionally while on tour, Schuur would subtly demonstrate her pitch memory to the audience. According to a reviewer for the The Arizona Daily Star, Schuur "picked out of thin air the key for Amazing Grace" — meaning she began the song on the correct note with no musical instrument to guide her.[41] This is always risky for a singer; the technique can fail, as it did for Schuur when she started a song in the wrong key in a concert in Tucson in 2011.[42]

In 1985, while on tour in the Far East, Schuur met B.B. King when they both played at a music festival in Tokyo. Schuur and King hit it off musically, and later made an album together called Heart to Heart. Released in May 1994, Heart to Heart entered the Billboard Jazz Charts at number one.[10][43]

Schuur continued making albums through the 1990s and into the 2000s, sometimes experimenting with essences of other genres. An example is "Schuur Fire" (2005), on which she was accompanied by the Caribbean Jazz Project musicians, with arrangements featuring Brazilian guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves.[44] Another is Talkin' 'Bout You – an album titled after the Ray Charles song by that name – which had more of a pop orientation than her usual fare. Jazz purists were not always happy with her straying into other genres, saying she was on the periphery of jazz.[31][45]

From 1991 on, she made an album almost every year, including In Tribute (1992), Love Songs (1993), Heart to Heart (1994), Love Walked In (1995), Blues for Schuur (1997), Music Is My Life (1999), Friends for Schuur (2000) and Swinging' for Schuur (2001).

In 1996, Schuur appeared as a guest performer on Sesame Street. In an interview by Elmo, she answered questions about how a blind person learns to use their other senses.[22] In 1998, she performed as a special guest on "Ray Charles in Concert". Schuur and Charles sat at an angle from each other but close enough where their shoulders nearly touched. She played the grand piano and he played synthesizer.[46] The program was held at the James L. Knight Center in Miami and was a benefit for the Miami Lighthouse for the Blind.[47]

She performed at Carnegie Hall in a tribute to Irving Berlin in 1998, and again in 1993 in a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald.[48]

Late in 2003, Schuur released Midnight, featuring original songs written by Barry Manilow for the album. Manilow's long-time songwriting team, which included co-producer Eddie Arkin, and lyricists Marty Panzer, Bruce Sussman, and Adrienne Anderson, contributed to the project.[48] Manilow produced the album and also performed on it. The project included guest artists Brian McKnight and Karrin Allyson. It was backed by Tony-winner Bill Elliott and the Bill Elliott Swing Orchestra.[49][50]

The twentieth album of her career was the live album, Diane Schuur: Live In London, which was released in June 2006. It was her first release on the GR2 Classics label, and was recorded at Ronnie Scott's, a historic jazz club located in London's Soho District.

Schuur released The Gathering in 2011, a country album recorded in Nashville and produced by Steve Buckingham.[51] She said that the album was prompted by thoughts of her father, who loved country music, and also by the success of Ray Charles in the country genre.[26] Allmusic reviewer Thom Jurek said about The Gathering that while Shuur maintained her signature singing style, "It's clear that while she wanted to be reverent toward the material, she was also interested in omitting the twang".[51] As an homage to her then late friends Stan Getz and Frank Sinatra, in 2014 Shuur released I Remember You: Love to Stan and Frank.[26]

As of 2016, Shuur has made 24 albums. She maintains an aggressive tour schedule, and, as of 2016 and 2017, has booked dates to perform in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Rome, Palermo, Guanajuato (Mexico), and multiple cities across the United States.[52]

Personal life[edit]

In 1996, at age 43, Schuur married Les Crockett, a retired space engineer whom she affectionately called "Rocket". Years later he developed Parkinson's disease, prostate cancer, and other health issues; they eventually divorced, but not for the "usual" reasons. He developed dementia and hallucinations requiring institutional care – with her blindness, she simply could not take care of him.[53][54]

Schuur is a voracious reader and also a cat fancier.[26] She is an ardent fan of the American daytime television series The Young and the Restless, to the extent of personally visiting the set on at least three occasions.[55] Her Grammy awards, one inscribed in braille, sit on a Baldwin piano given to her by the manufacturer.[4]

She has experienced skydiving, attached in tandem to an instructor, and said, "I don't know if I'd ever do that again."[53]

Schuur was called "Deedle-Babes", "Deeds" and other variations this name by her mother, who died of cancer at age 31.[56] "Deedles" is the nickname which stuck and became the title of one of Schuur's early albums.[1]

She received a financial settlement from her birth hospital for her loss of vision.[5] Prematurity itself is associated with blindness, but it was not universally known at the time of her birth that high levels of oxygen in a neonatal incubator can have a negative effect on the developing retinas of the eyes, thereby increasing the incidence of blindness.[57][58] The settlement money helped her to buy a house in later years.[5]

In a 2011 interview on PBS in Houston with Ernie Manouse, Schuur stated that she had chronically struggled with her weight. She had a drug and alcohol addiction in the late 1980s, and had attempted suicide in the past. At one point, she was stopped from jumping from a third story window by her brother-in-law.[1] She benefitted from twelve-step programs and, as of 2016, has been sober for several decades. Schuur has dedicated songs to the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous in her shows. She stated that her life has grown much more spiritual as she has matured.[1][59]

Selective discography[edit]

Year Title Genre Label
1982 Pilot of My Destiny Jazz Music is Medicine
1984 Deedles Jazz GRP
1985 Schuur Thing Jazz GRP
1986 Timeless Jazz GRP
1987 Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra Jazz GRP
1988 Talkin' 'bout You Jazz. Pop GRP
1988 A GRP Christmas Collection Jazz, Holiday GRP
1989 Diane Schuur Collection Jazz GRP
1991 Pure Schuur Jazz GRP
1992 In Tribute Jazz GRP
1993 Love Songs Jazz GRP
1993 A GRP Christmas Collection, Vol. III Jazz, Holiday GRP
1994 Heart to Heart w/B. B. King Jazz GRP
1996 Love Walked In Jazz GRP
1997 Blues for Schuur Blues, Jazz GRP
1997 The Best of Diane Schuur Jazz GRP
1999 Music Is My Life Jazz Atlantic / Wea
2000 Friends for Schuur Jazz Concord
2001 Swingin' for Schuur with Maynard Ferguson Jazz Concord
2003 Midnight Jazz, Pop Concord
2005 Schuur Fire with Caribbean Jazz Project Jazz, Latin Concord
2006 Diane Schuur: Live in London Jazz GR2 Classics
2008 Some Other Time Jazz Concord
2011 The Gathering Jazz Vanguard Records
2014 I Remember You:Love to Stan and Frank Jazz Jazzheads Inc./Planetworks

Grammy history[edit]

  • Career Nominations: 5[3]
  • Career Wins: 2[2]
Diane Schuur Grammy Awards History
Year Category Title Genre Label Result
1986 Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female Timeless Jazz GRP Won
1987 Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra Jazz GRP Won
1989 Best Jazz Vocal Performance – Female The Christmas Song Jazz GRP Nominated
1991 Traditional Pop Performance Pure Schuur Pop GRP Nominated
1993 Traditional Pop Performance Love Songs Pop GRP Nominated

References[edit]

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External links[edit]