The Stanford campus is a hot spot for jazz vocalists this week, when Dianne Reeves and Gregory Porter will each offer programs of Christmas music and more on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 14 and 15, at Bing Concert Hall and Memorial Auditorium, respectively.
Both jazz musicians are among the very top vocalists of their generations (Baby Boomer for her and Generation X for him). Porter sings on Reeves' latest album, the Grammy-winning “Beautiful Life” from 2014, and they were programmed on a double bill in New Jersey early last month. So their being presented by Stanford Live over consecutive nights makes for the perfect de facto mini-jazz festival.
For those wanting to do some last-minute listening prep, Reeves released "Christmas Time is Here" in 2004. The album offered swinging interpretations of familiar favorites such as "Little Drummer Boy," "I'll Be Home for Christmas" and "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" as well as less obvious candidates including the traditional "Christ Child's Lullaby," Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne's "Christmas Waltz" and the title track, composed in 1964 by the late Bay Area resident Vince Guaraldi for the now-classic "A Charlie Brown Christmas."
Porter hasn't recorded a Christmas album yet. (Fans will know that his "One Night Only — Live at the Royal Albert Hall" album and concert film came out digitally on November 30 and is set for CD/DVD release on December 21.) But his latest studio album, "Nat King Cole & Me," from last year does feature a preview of Saturday night's concert with the Mel Tormé-penned "The Christmas Song" featured as its final track.
When asked about whether she has favorite Christmas albums, Reeves replied: "Oh my God, Ella's (Fitzgerald) 'A Swinging Christmas'! I love The Temptations' Christmas record. Luther Vandross', too.
"And that was kind of like the impetus for me to do a Christmas record because everybody had their own Christmas record," she continued with a warm laugh, by phone from her home in Denver. "So I was, like 'I've got to have one!'"
Reflecting her broad tastes and many talents, Reeves' concerts are never just one style or mood. So Friday's Bing Concert Hall repertoire won't be limited to Christmas songs, though it will definitely still be a seasonal affair, she reassured.
"You'll know that it's a Christmas show," she remarked. "But it should be a whole bunch of different things. It'll be in the spirit of what I look at Christmas at being: It's a time for families to come together. And in my case, the greatest gifts we gave one another were stories. So it'll be full of stories, too."
"At this time of year I think of childhood, of family, of the church," Porter conveyed via his manager, Paul Ewing. "I think of Nat and his song, 'A Cradle in Bethlehem.'"
"He's just so soulful," Reeves said of Porter. "The thing that I love about him is he just has this ability with his voice and music choices and the way that he writes and the songs that he picks to bring generations of people together."
Generations coming together is a theme for both artists. Reeves' trumpeter mother and vocalist father were early inspirations, as was her maternal uncle, Charles Burrell. A double bassist, he was the first African-American member of the San Francisco Symphony. Reeves' second cousin was the late pianist/keyboardist producer George Duke, with whom she collaborated frequently.
Burrell introduced her to his musical friends, including the legendary trumpeter Clark Terry, an alumnus of big bands led by Duke Ellington and Count Basie who was an early inspiration for Miles Davis. Terry became a mentor, and both he and Reeves would eventually become NEA Jazz Masters.
Though it's a spiritual familial connection, Porter and Cole enjoy a deep relationship, too. "I wrote a love song when I was five or six and sung it to my mother," Porter said in the email from Ewing. "'Boy, you sound like Nat King Cole,' that's what she said. And so Nat's music came into my life at an early age.
"It was, it is very important to me. My father wasn't in my life. In his absence, Nat's songs really spoke to me, directly, like words of fatherly advice," he added.
As in a jazz festival setting, those attending both (separately ticketed) nights will be able to hear the supremely talented vocalists in very different settings. Reeves will feature her longtime quartet with guitarist Romero Lubambo (Trio de Paz, Sharon Ibsin), pianist/Music Director Peter Martin (Joshua Redman, Chris Botti), bassist Reginald Veal (Wynton Marsalis, Amhad Jamal) and drummer Terreon Gully (John Beasley, Kurt Elling).
Porter's show will reflect the orchestral nature of his recently Grammy-nominated (for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album) "Nat King Cole and Me" with a bevy of locally based all-star musicians under the baton of trumpeter Mike Galisatus, who is Miles Ahead Big Band Director for the Stanford Jazz Workshop and Director of Bands at the College of San Mateo. Galisatus will be conducting from a score by orchestral master Vince Mendoza, who also arranged all the songs for the album.
"Sometimes you attract the thing you're looking for," Reeves explained, when asked about her penchant for assembling great bands. "This group is really, really based on strong personalities, and the music is open enough to invite each members to express themselves.
"So we become co-creators on stage, and that's really freeing and a lot of fun."
Freelance writer Yoshi Kato can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What: Dianne Reeves.
Where: Bing Concert Hall, 327 Lasuen Mall, Stanford.
When: Friday, Dec. 14, 7:30 p.m.
What: Gregory Porter.
Where: Memorial Auditorium, 551 Serra Mall, Stanford.
When: Saturday, Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.
Info: Go to Stanford Live or call 650-724-2464.