shuur thing

diane schuur.

diane schuur.

One point of order is established within the first few minutes of a conversation with Diane Schuur.

“You can call me Deedles,” said the veteran singer and pianist, who performs tonight with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

It’s not an exclusive club, mind you. An entire jazz generation knows the nickname. Aside from referencing the bright and exact tone of her singing and scatting, the moniker was also used as the title to her 1984 debut album. Throughout the three decades that followed, the name on her recordings – as well as the two Grammys she picked up – is Diane Schuur. But to the friends and fans she has made along the way, she is simply Deedles.

“I’m always Deedles and always evolving,” Schuur said by phone from her California home near Palm Springs. “Just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean my music won’t still evolve. And I’m not ashamed to say my age. I’m 61. I’ll be 62 on Dec. 10 and I am in a very good artistic place. But I think there is a lot more to do.”

Blind since birth, Schuur developed an early fondness for country music as a child growing up in suburban Seattle. But the vocal stylist who influenced her bold and remarkably clear singing style was a jazz titan, an artist Schuur is still regularly compared to – the preeminent ‘50s-era vocalist/pianist Dinah Washington.

“Oh, she was a great influence on me,” Schuur said. “She was the first influence, really. There is such a strident, joyful sound that came across in the way she delivered a song. Even with the blues there was a joyful kind of passion. It was just wonderful. I think people pick up on the fact that I have the same kind of thing.”

If Washington’s music helped guide Schuur’s sense of vocal passion and songcraft, two very different artists helped set her career in motion. The first was the genre-breaking jazz saxophonist stylist Stan Getz. The other was a vocal star who knew a sharp singer when he heard one – Frank Sinatra.

Schuur honors both artists on her most recent recording, 2014’s I Remember You (With Love to Stan and Frank).

“Stan was a very interesting individual. He could be the sweetest person in the world or he could be a curmudgeon. He used to tell me that less is more – in other words, try to bring simplicity, have the performance be understated, like he was in his playing.

“Frank and I performed in 1988 at a benefit his wife put on. Liza Minnelli wasn’t going to be able to make the date, so they asked me. So I went to Palm Springs – traveled there, I think, from somewhere in Oklahoma. It was my first trip to Palm Springs. Little did I know that I was going to wind up living there. We did the gig, Quincy Jones conducted the orchestra and it was a lot of fun.”

But the orchestra that brings Schuur to Danville tonight has maintained a longstanding partnership with the singer. The 1987 album Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra won Schuur her second Grammy. It teamed her with saxophonist, arranger and Basie alumnus Frank Foster (who took over the Basie Orchestra from Thad Jones in 1986) and the sublime Basie swing jazz guitarist Freddie Green, who died a week after the sessions with Schuur were completed.

“I was in Columbus, Ohio doing a gig that night at the Major Chord (a short lived jazz club that closed in 1989). A friend of mine called and said, ‘You just won the Grammy for Best (Jazz) Female Vocalist, second time in a row.’ Of course, I was just really thrilled. That night at Major Chord, Joe Williams happened to be in town and sat in. It was a very interesting time.

“I’ve worked with the Basie Orchestra through the years for the last couple of decades. Now we’ve got an opportunity to do so again in Kentucky. I’m pretty excited about it, too.”

The Count Basie Orchestra featuring Diane Schuur perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut Street in Danville. Tickets: $39-$55. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to

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