Dianne Reeves is a genuine jazz diva with five Grammy Awards to prove it but she's totally in tune with today's leading pop artists.

"Too many people judge a singer like Beyonce by what they see on the surface," Reeves, 60, says. "Knowing the musicians she's worked with and how she works, I have a lot of respect for her.

"Singers like Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar are very conscious of what's going on around them and they're waking up lot of young people with that knowledge. They bring their enlightenment to the world; the world that is buying their records."

Reeves appears at the capital's June jazz festival, between dates in Tallinn (Estonia), Washington, Beijing and Seoul. She says her favourite venue is anywhere she gets to perform because she loves what she does and, on this visit to New Zealand, she'll be bringing her own music.


In 2010, she shared the Michael Fowler Centre stage in a tribute concert to the late Nina Simone with Patti Austin, Lizz Wright and Simone's daughter.

Her most recent Grammy was for her 2014 Beautiful Life album and Reeves intends performing material from this. "There'll be some new things and some older things."

Reeves has a lot of time for the great standards, by composers such as Gershwin, Kern and others, that singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan immortalised; pop songs of the day, with lyrics that are still relevant but given a new jazz sensibility.

On the other hand, she also grew up with the songs of Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen, leading to memorable takes on River and Suzanne on her 1999 Bridges album. Some 15 years later, Beautiful Life found her responding to the new voices of Ani DiFranco and inspirational bass player Esperanza Spalding.

Reeves describes DiFranco as an incredible wordsmith, saying a lot of the things she talks about reach out, grab you and resonate. She's proud of how the song 32 Flavours, by DiFranco, "blossomed into a big old funk piece".

Another highlight from Beautiful Life is Wild Rose by Spalding, a talent that's "so daring, wonderfully fresh and innovative".

"I love the lyrics and the movement of the song," she says. "Esperanza's got this way of writing rhythms and rhythm has always played a very important part in my career."

This is my cue to check out Reeves' long association with South American music that started in the mid-1970s when she sang with the jazz-fusion group Caldera. This led to work with legends such as Eduardo del Barrio and Sergio Mendes, forging strong spiritual and personal connections for her.

"A lot of these rhythms had originally come from Africa," she says. "And when I started to deal with African musicians, it helped me understand what was going on."

But she's always been very aware of the great singers who have gone before her, particularly this year - the one in which Ella Fitzgerald would have reached 100.

Fitzgerald, says Reeves, was the quintessential jazz singer, who trusted her own ability to jump off the edge every night and create something new. "That's the spirit of jazz".

As for young hopefuls in the music business, Reeves advises them their voices must always be a conduit from their heart so people want to hear what they say. It's a matter of "defining yourself, refining your ability and respecting what you have to do".

What: Wellington Jazz Festival - Dianne Reeves
Where and when: Opera House, Wellington, Friday, June 9, at 8pm