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Interview with Diane Schuur
By Tj Orlando, FemaleMusician
(more articles from this author)
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I nervously called upon Diane Schuur at her hotel in Huntington New York on August 25th 2000. Being a respected and admired vocalist in my house for years, it was a bit of a chore to place my excitement appropriately. The bell hop at the hotel informed Diane Schuur of my arrival. She requested I come up to her room. This came as a surprise for I was ready to drive her to FM Digital Studio for a recorded interview. At her door I was greeted by Marya, Dianes friend, assistant, and road manager. She graciously welcomed me in.

Tj & Deedles

My first vision of Ms. Schuur was her sitting at a laptop computer, waving headphones in the air, and calling my name to come and check out her Micro Hal Laptop (IBM HAL 9000 series)! She apparently knew me for years, for that's how she happily made me feel. She loves that Micro Hal! Diane pointed out to me the mini hard disk recorder on her bedside table that her dear friend Stevie Wonder gave her. She made me listen to the way she sees the internet. Speedy, voice activated, technology helps her surf the web making her blind ability even more enhanced. After Diane put on her shoes we were off to FM Digital Studio . In the car Marya, Deedles, (which Diane insists to be called) and I all cranked out a smokin' vocal version of BORN TO BE WILD! It was the hip scene, like something out of Waynes World.

Following is a transcript and full MP3 audio clips of the interview: If you are in a hurry, I recommend MP3 #3. It's an informative 9 minute clip.

MP3 Audio

[Tj] Ok, well we 're rolling? Here we are at FM Digital Studio with Diane Schuur.

[Deedles] ..and you can call me Deedles.

[Tj] We'll alright, we are honored! Two time Grammy winner! Just to name a few Diane has musically collaborated with many, many artists: Stan Getz, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder. She's released over 15 recording projects within the last 20 years.......

[Deedles] That's right..

[Tj] So thank you for being here so much.

[Deedles] You're welcome.

[Tj] With world wide touring, recording, and staying true to your art , your instrument and your voice, all major functions of being a successful artist, what is the most enjoyable part of your lifestyle?

[Deedles] Well, touring is really interesting cause you get to meet lots of people. Recording is interesting for the process sake, especially now that they've come out with digital. We don't do it on reel to reel anymore. It's not analog, it's all digital. It's fascinating, there's no rewinding to wait for. It's just fascinating. That's how the album FRIENDS FOR SCHUUR which will be released on CONCORD RECORDS on the 26th of September was actually done, was digital. All the way.

[Tj] Do you prefer the digital sound? Like some people who are really into audio say, it doesn't have that ( analog) warmth and that digital happens to have a harsh tone. Do you notice anything like that?

[Deedles] I don't notice a huge difference, really. I mean quality is quality whether you get it from analog or digital. That's the way I feel anyway.

[Tj] Yeah.. I agree

[Deedles] mmm good ,well you don't have to but ...

[Tj] No but I do (mutual laughter), meaning that we are recording straight to a Power Mac here , going digitally direct using Pro-Tools so..

[Deedles] Well alright! Very good.

[Tj] You also play the piano. I don't think many people who hear some of your records are aware of that, that you play piano! Can you tell us some of your background with that and how you prefer to approach the piano?

[Deedles] Well, I started playing when I was three. I played with three fingers, Jesus Loves Me, I remember playing that. thumbs..And then when I was about 6 years old I finally started getting a little bit better at technique. Then when I was in my early 20's I started finding out about actual voiceings, and how to incorporate them into my music instead of just using....Oh, I wish I had your piano on...

(Deedles kindly requests for FM Digital Studios' ENSONIQ KS-32 keyboard she was sitting by to be turned on to display an example.)

A triad is like this ladies,* cause this is for The Female Musician, right?
- And I learned like this*
- What I learned in my voicing is like this... *
- you know
- 13th's *
- 11th's*
*see audio MP3 to hear Deedles playing chord examples

A few laughs were exchanged....

You know that sort of thing I learned in my early 20's from a piano teacher, so that was really neat. When I play, I've gotten to be pretty good at comping. Now girls, I hope you don't mind ,girlfriends, that's even better. Girlfriends, the thing about those of you that play piano and accompany yourself on vocals , it's really cool, like what I try to do is stay out of my own way. I try not to get too busy so that the singing aspect can come through. On this record, especially on the tune where I do accompany myself on IT HAD TO BE YOU, the one that I did with Ray Charles, I did some comping, not only for the vocal track but also for when Ray was doing the synth work, as the solo. I just kind of comped a little bit here and there. I didn't try to get in his way. Cause he used to get after musicians, (putting on Rays voice she gasps) "Don't play so many notes!" you know he'd say. And Stan Getz, who was a real inspiration to me, would tell me less is more; which is kind of a little bit more understated. It's a way of interpreting a song where you don't just rrrraaaaaaaahhhhhh get everything out there all at once. I hope making sense....

[Tj] What I was getting out of this, is that you have to leave room for vocal performance when your accompanying yourself and not overplay.

[Deedles] Right. And not only that, when your working with musicians, you know like sidemen or women as the case may be at times, it's good to give them room to be able to expand and play, as opposed to being just journeymen and doing the deal. You know what I mean? It's nice to give a drummer some solos. It's nice to give a bass player a little bit of room to stretch.

MP3 Audio

[Tj] Are there certain foods or drinks that effect your voice in a negative of positive way?

[Deedles] Well, when I perform, on the day that I perform , I try to stay away from dairy products. That's hard to do sometimes cause I loooove my Deedle Caf Latte's you know, with the non fat milk. Well that's not quite as bad as the whole percent, but I try to keep that down to a minimum. Try to stay away from the peanut butter on the day I perform cause I looove peanut butter, but it can create mucus see?

[Tj] Right, right I see.

[Deedles] But when I'm not working, boy that ole finger get's into that jar!!! (laughter scans the room)

[Tj] What do you feel was your major break in the music business?

[Deedles] Well there was a couple. The first one occurred about 1975 when I did the Monteray Jazz Festival with Ed Schanacey who was the drummer for The Tonight Show with Doc Severensen for many years. Hehad a band called energy force and what we did is, I improvised beautiful, almost like an anthem, it was called The Gospel Sweet and Tommy Neusome, who was the musical director for The Tonight Show band made this wonderful big band thing and I went ahead and just improvised with it. And I know it's floating around somewhere, the tape is. That was really neat . And then in '79 I did the Monteray Jazz Festival again and that's where Stan Getz heard me and wanted to help me a little bit. Then in '82 I did the White house. Then in '84 the Deedles album came out. So there's been a few major breaks from people that really believed in my work and that's what really important is to have a mentor if you can or a guide, so to speak, to really pitch for you. It's really important. Representation from good management is extremely important. To get a good financial advisor, to get a good personal manager, to get a good attorney to represent you, those are the 3 elements that'll help in getting into this business and protect yourself from all sorts of weird crap that can go on.

[Tj] Is there an experience you can share with us, positive or negative that can help us understand that a little better?

[Deedles] I think so , I was, back in the mid seventies, I was trying to gain independence for one thing, from home. So what I did, for some of you who may understand, I made a geographic. In other words, I went from my home town of Seattle, Washington and went to Arizona and, got involved with a bit of drug use and that kind of thing. As a consequence of different things that went on, went into bankruptcy. I'm not trying to point the finger, you know what I mean, I'm not coming from a place of blame. I'm coming from a place of just how it happened. I had trouble getting back on my feet. It took about seven years to get credit . A lot of things happened, and it was a result of drinking and using and all of this. I've been in recovery for almost eleven years now. If I could give some unsolicited advice, I hate unsolicited advice, but if I may; it's really important for musicians to keep the feet on the ground because it can be pretty slippery out there. Especially for those who have a tendency to want to party a lot. There are partiers and then there's partiers you know. I just really do my very best. Drink a lot of water, get moderate exercise when I can, and just try to really keep a sense of balance.

[Tj] The music scene is a business. Trying to get a hold of that and staying true to your craft is a lot of responsibility.

[Deedles] It really is and it's best when one is really clear, when there's clarity involved .

[Tj] Well, I'm sure you were clear when you won your first Ella Fitzgerald award.

[Deedles] I was

[Tj] Yeah, tell us about that, that' exciting.

[Deedles] Well it was in Montreal and they gave me a microphone and old fashioned mic that Ella Fitzgerald; I don't know if it was that particular one that she used herself, but it was a facsimile of the mic that she used to use, and it was really cool. I played with Menards Fergusens big band that night and won the award and it was really just great.. (a melodic road manager cell phone funny, temporary, interview interruption)

MP3 Audio

[Tj] How do you determine what music you record? (referring to the new release Friends for Schuur)

[Deedles] Well, takes a lot of discussion , a lot of sifting through material. Hours and hours of sifting through and seeing who's available to do the project. Luckily Stevie Wonder was available and so was Ray Charles, Dave Grusin, Alan Bergman participated as well as a lot of wonderful musicians. Randy Waldman, arranged a bunch of stuff and Alan Broadbent is a fabulous pianist. There's Chuck Berghofer on bass and a couple of wonderful guitar players, Dean Parks & Michael Thompson, great, great guitar players. Stephen Bishop was also involved in a tune.

[Tj] You recorded in various places?

[Deedles] We recorded for the most part at Capitol Records in L.A. and then for overdubs I went to New York . This was very interesting because I was suffering from an pneumonia during part of this recording process. I was just at the tail end of it when I recorded the tune FINALLY that Stevie Wonder wrote for both of us.

[Tj] It's a great track. That track's beautiful. I mentioned to you earlier, it just flows. You were at a tribute for Stevie Wonder and you sang I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU.

[Deedles] And Stevie cried, I don't know if you saw that.

[Tj] The track can make anybody cry.

[Deedles] Yeah

[Tj] It really can .It's just an amazing track. How do you go about arranging something like I JUST CALLED TO SAY I LOVE YOU in that manner.

[Deedles] Well, what happened was, let me just give you a little bit of history on how this came about is that o.k.?

[Tj] Ofcourse

[Deedles] My husband and I, Les Crockett or Rocketman Crockett (chuckle) were on our way to Washington D.C. for a completely different deal. I was doing a gig there and we were on our way heading to Washington D.C. and I decided to get on the air phone and called my manager. He said " Hey Deeds , I just wanted to let you know that you've been invited to pay tribute to Stevie Wonder; can you do it?" and I said "Yeah, I don't have anything else to do.". We went in and rehearsed Saturday, December 4th and the telecast was taped on the 5th of December it was at Kennedy Center Honors. Herbie Hancock and a bunch of other musicians, we all cooperated in arranging this tune .It was just a wonderful, wonderful venture.

[Tj] It's a beautiful arrangement.

[Deedles] Thank you very much

[Tj] It, it just leaves you.

[Deedles] Yeah, and then go into FINALLY. Cause I was saying, remember, to Stevie "Maybe you'll write one for me some day" and I just kind of did a little bit of a Deedle laugh, you know, and then there it is.

[Tj] Exactly, so what was the next step with that. Did he just call you up and say ,hey I wrote something?

[Deedles] No, I've been waiting for 25 years for Stevie to write something, cause that's how long I know this dude off and on through that period of time. And, I was kidding him at dinner one night, you know the night before we taped this thing at the Kennedy Center Honors. He says "Well I got to write a song for you", and I said " Well, Stevie you told me that 25 years ago and I'm still waiting". And he got the funniest look on his face! Then of course at the Kennedy honors I was ,you know, kind of half chuckle, maybe you'll write one for me someday and so... Hey! You know millions, and millions, and millions of people heard that and so..... The pressure was on I guess...So Stevie and his wife, I think its his wife Stephanie (Andrews), wrote.....She wrote the lyrics and Stevie wrote the melody of it. A tune called FINALLY . It's very ,very moving.

[Tj] Yeah. It's a beautiful track, and it's funny how you're both emulating each others sounds. You got to really listen to say , o.k. who's singing now? Was that Diane or was that Stevie singing?

[Deedles] Yeah, that's what I've heard from folks. I guess it's .....we're just alike in the way that we deliver, you know?

[Tj] It's nice to see tracks going back to back in an order that really make a difference like that. It makes you get into the CD as a whole.

[Deedles] Well there's a particular phrase of the song that really gets to me, "Have I finally opened my heart to love or is love embracing me. Have I finally let go of all my pain or has pain just set me free." It reminds me a lot of recovering people like myself. Getting to the bottom of whatever it was that was driving us to do those things that were probably not all that cool to do. But it was the pain, as far as my alcoholism, that set me free from it. And of course it can apply, to a romantic situation. It can apply to a lot of different things...

[Tj] We can learn from pain.

[Deedles] Yeah, yeah, you learn that there's the point when you're tired of being sick and tired. What I try to do each day, and this is what I love about my computer stuff, it's really teaching me...,Don't live in the problem , live in the solution. And it's really neat, cause that's what I try to do. I'm not 100% there. There's an axiom , It's progress not perfection. That can apply to anything. What I learned through the years is that, I make mistakes but that I'm not a mistake. I really try to have a lot of self love, I don't mean in a narcissistic fashion but just love and self respect as well as love and respect for other people. And it begins with me.

[Tj] You turned to the piano, were you going to give us a little example or something?

[Deedles] Well I was thinking....You know, this is the phrase (Deedles breaks out on piano & vocal with a flawless chorus to FINALLY) Have I Finally opened my heart to love or is love embracing me. Have I finally let go of all my pain or has pain just set me free................. That's kind of the phrase that really gets to me when I hear it. (Deedles takes a big sigh) I really hope and pray that we can get clearance for the single to come out. Concord is still waiting for clearance from Motown to release it as a single. So send some positive energy there. When your dealing with different companies and everything, you know, they're protective of Stevie and they are interested in him and then you know, Concord of course, is interested in me. But I think it will get beyond all the political stuff and it's the friendship, and the collaboration, and the music's going to carry the day and it'll be ok.

[Tj] Yeah, I agree.

Deedles wrapped up our interview with a surprising treat . A breathtaking acoustic piano and vocal full version of "For The First Time", a fabulous song off of the new release FRIENDS FOR SCHUUR written by Gerry Gofin & Fred Hirsch. She dedicated that particular version to her husband, Les Crockett, who couldn't be with her in New York at the time. That evening we were able to bring Deedles a CD version of our afternoons recorded interview and present it to her backstage at the IMAC in Huntington New York. Diane was between her first and second performance and welcomed us graciously into her backstage world. Decked out in red for the evening she displayed the strength of a cool cat only a worldwide known jazz performer can possess. We were grateful she took the time to acknowledge and contribute to The Female Musicians educational mission.


Put on your best set of elephant ears! This pro caliber line up deserves them. A team of talented friends brings this Cd , produced by Phil Ramone , on a pleasant audio carpet ride. Ray Charles, Dave Grusin, Herbie Hancock plus other familiar gems jumped aboard, ensuring FRIENDS FOR SCHUUR to be a worthwhile Deedle diamond! Finally! Stevie Wonder pulls through with a 25 year old promise to the Deeds. Stevie pours out a concrete, melodic foundation in FINALLY, building a firm structure for this standout, landmark, track to perch on. FINALLY features Diane and Stevie sharing and intertwining voices, making it hard to depict their vocal difference. Every Schuur friend on this CD grooves with deep insight and sense of unity. Expect a Deedle display of complex, mature, vocal techniques shown through a massive prism and decorated with simplistic, strong, tonal qualities. ****

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