Barely five minutes into our increasingly intimate phone conversation, jazz great Diane Schuur broke into tears. Twice. The first time was when she discussed the death of her 31-year old mother in 1967, about three years the singer, then 11-years old, went professional. [The entire interview will eventually appear on this website].
“I kept on going,” says the woman whom everyone addresses as Deedles. “Mama was no longer around, and I had to be one of the breadwinners. I was blind at birth, and my twin brother overcame a hearing deficit that might have also been part of the birth thing. I had a choice. I could have just stayed in Puyallup, Washington – one of the places I lived after my brother and his wife got married – or gone on to do the things I’ve done. I made the choice, and never looked back.”
Deedles’ “amazing journey” includes 18 years as a recovered alcoholic, “very scary” potentially voice impairing neck surgery for degenerative disc disease, and her current work “from the inside out” to master a lifelong eating disorder. Nonetheless, she has come back in a major way. Her latest album, Some Other Time, has been receiving glowing reviews, and for good reason. It’s wonderful.
A collection of standards she learned from jazz recordings her parents played during her childhood and adolescence, Some Other Time features songs by the Gershwins, Irving Berlin, Sammy Cahn, Rogers and Hammerstein, Vernon Duke, and others. The penultimate track, “September in the Rain,” was recorded by an instantly recognizable, surprisingly deep voiced babe at the Holiday Inn in Tacoma in 1964 when Deedles was all of ten-years old. The tribute CD ends with “Danny Boy,” fulfilling a promise she made to her mom to record the song.
For an artist whose last Billboard chart topper was a 1994 collaborative recording with B.B. King, the disc represents the triumph of an indomitable spirit. The voice seems untouched by age, the ballads quite moving, the break into irresistible swing in parts of some songs – catch the ending to “Blue Skies” and the middle of “Without a Song” – positively ecstatic. If you’re wondering why this disc is receiving so many great reviews, listen to the soulful, instant classic rendition of the title song, “Some Other Time.”
David and I attended Deedles’ April 1 opening night in the Rrazz Room in San Francisco’s Nikko Hotel. For me, it was a curious transition from a meeting with Oakland’s Public Safety Director in Oakland City Hall to the darkened ambience of the Rrazz Room. As we were asking for our press tickets, Diane made her understated entrance through the lobby, holding the arm of her tour companion, Owen. When I introduced myself as Owen exited from Diane’s little pre-show “dressing room,” he immediately welcomed us to meet Diane.
All of a sudden, there we were, hanging with Deedles in her dressing room. Amazingly relaxed, she chatted away, cracking us up no end. What a joy this woman is! As soon as space allowed, I gave her the gift of the round hairbrush she had told me during our phone interview that she needed to buy now that she was letting her hair grow long. I also gave her my whistling CD, which I hope she likes.
After playing with the brush for several minutes, saying hello to a few more visitors, and chatting away as though making an impression on opening night was no more challenging than brushing one’s teeth, Deedles invited the two men she could not see to join her for post-concert dinner in her hotel room. How could we resist?
Then, glancing at my watch, I said that we would give her a few minutes to settle in before the show began. Maybe five minutes after we were seated, we sat amazed as she, at the tail end of three weeks of deep bronchitis, began a non-stop 80 minute set. Her band, which travels with her, was excellent, and the sound system was surprisingly good. There was a tremendous amount of respect and, dare I say, love in the room for this legendary trouper who is again making a name for herself.
Deedles concluded the last number, “Blue Skies,” with some very high improv scat singing that, although a bit masked by the otherwise excellent sound system, went pretty far toward raising the roof. She later told us that she used to do far more of that kind of singing, until some critics claimed that it was shrill. No way, José. These ears know shrill when they hear it, and Deedles’ voice is in no way shrill in her extended head range. Here’s hoping she’ll grace us with more of her spirited improvs in the coming years.
Afterwards, we joined Diane in her hotel room. Soon after we were left alone with her, David and I were giving her an extended two-man massage. The trust, vulnerability, and (dare I say) innocence of this woman as we were crawling all over her bed and body touched me in ways words cannot describe. Then we shared chicken soup over a video feed of a show she had taped at home in S. CA and relayed from the DeedleRocket pad directly to her computer. (I was in my non-TV watching 20s and 30s when the show was in its heyday, but David knew all the characters and was trading tidbits with Deedles throughout the episode).
We are going to stay in touch with Deedles, of course. What a wonderful, dear human being! And what truth there is in her voice. By all means check out her new CD. And don’t miss her show when she gets to a venue near you. She closes at the Rrazz Room tonight at 8 and 10:30.