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Diane Schuur — The Hot Lady of Cool Jazz

As a young girl growing up outside of Seattle, the musically precocious Diane Schuur loved to listen to Dinah Washington, a singer who earned the sobriquet Queen of the Blues for her evocative and often emotionally wrenching vocal renditions. And in many ways, Schuur's life would play out for a while like one of those blues songs. Born six weeks premature, she lost her sight in infancy when the oxygen treatment she needed damaged her retinas. At two, she barely held on to life through a severe bout of pneumonia. And as a young adult, she struggled with alcoholism and an eating disorder, conditions that left her so depleted that she contemplated suicide.

But if life is a long road, then the decorated jazz singer has come out "On the Sunny Side of the Street," as the tune goes. A friendly and spirited woman, Schuur long ago vanquished her personal demons. Clean and sober for almost two decades, these days she has health, happiness, a vibrant career and a great love in her life. She's been happily married to her soulmate, fellow jazz lover Les Crockett, for 10 years now, and during a leisurely day with ABILITY Magazine's editor-in-chief Chet Cooper and managing health editor Dr. Gillian Friedman at the couple's home in Dana Point, California, the two tenderly dote on each other.

Schuur also performs and tours on a constant basis--to the tune of about 200 shows a year. Despite the perpetual jet lag, it's a routine the spunky redhead relishes. A talented pianist as well as vocalist, she plays all over the world, with a concert schedule that takes her everywhere from Boston, Miami and Iowa to Spain, Switzerland and Poland.

"I still enjoy the traveling--it's a lot of fun," says the 52-year-old performer, who has twice received the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocalist. "I just love to do jazz," she adds. "I love to work."

And she began working very early. Schuur started singing when she was a tot of two-and-a-half, and by age nine was getting professional gigs. She recalls that as a small child she would often retreat to the closet to be alone with herself and sing. "If there was nothing rhythmically going on around me," she says, "then I would do it for myself. I would just rock back and forth, doing the two and four."

She developed an independent spirit quickly and by age four was living away from home, attending the state school for the blind in Vancouver, Washington, where she would study until age 11, a couple hours from home.

"When I did gigs at home," she explains, "I would go Friday night on the train from Vancouver to Tacoma, where my family lived. My folks would pick me up, I would do a gig Friday night and Saturday night, and then I would go back to the school on Sunday."

Traveling so often by herself at such an early age, Schuur quickly learned to be self-sufficient--and to bear a lot of responsibility. Because she was getting paying gigs, even as an adolescent she became a bread-winner in a family struggling hard to make ends meet. Her father was a police officer and worked two part-time jobs as well, and her mother--who died of cancer at 31--also worked part-time in addition to taking care of Schuur and her two siblings. But the singer says that despite their other responsibilities, her parents always did everything they could to encourage her musical ambition. A favorite aunt was also particularly helpful, driving her to many of her local shows.

Along with Dinah Washington, the young vocalist found herself listening to Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Patty Page and Tony Bennett, among others. "I followed all sorts of people who were popular within that period of time," she says. "I just absorbed as much music as I could."

Schuur made her first splash on the jazz scene when she performed at the 1975 Monterey Jazz Festival. Catching her act there, legendary saxophonist Stan Getz became her biggest advocate--and mentor--and Schuur has been a jazz luminary ever since. For the ensuing three decades she has been winning fans over with her stylistic versatility and her powerful vocal range, which spans three-and-a-half octaves.

She adds that George Shearing, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles--all blind as well--have also been huge inspirations to her. In fact, one of her fondest memories is of performing with Charles in a 1998 concert for PBS.

Running the gamut in her public television appearances, Schuur also took the opportunity to charm a new generation of young fans when she teamed up with a fellow redhead--Elmo--for a 1996 duet on the classic children's series Sesame Street.

The vocalist's latest CD is Diane Schuur: Live in London, recorded at the venerable Ronnie Scott's, a London club long regarded as one of the top jazz venues in the world. Her 20th album release, it tops a career that started with her 1984 major-label debut (on GRP Records) and has included such popular CDs along the way as Timeless (1986), Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra (1987), Love Songs (1993), Midnight (2003, produced by Barry Manilow) and Schuur Fire (2005).

And she's not losing any steam ....Continued in ABILITY Magazine

by Paul Sterman

For more information about Diane Schuur,
visit www.dianeschuur.com
www.myspace.com/dianeschuurlive

For more information about the Disability Rights Legal Center,
visit www.disabilityrightslegalcenter.org

ABILITY Magazine
Other articles in the Sally Field issue include Letter from the Editor — Uncovering Addiction; Senator Harkin — Mental Health Parity; Headlines — IBM, Marriott, AssistiveWare, Turboset; Humor Therapy— A Volunteer’s Lament; George Covington — High-Desert Hijinks; Book Excerpt — Leave No Nurse Behind; Casting Your Ballot — Making Voting Accessible; Community Studio — Verizon’s Video-on-Demand; A Lesson from Mackenzie— I Love My Little Self; Universal Design — NC State Leads the Way; Recipes — No-Sin Appetizers; ;Events and Conferences...subscribe

More excerpts from the Sally Field issue:

Sally Field — Promoting Healthy Habits

Osteoporosis -- Are You at Risk?

Jonathan Kuniholm -- A New World of Prosthetics

Diane Schuur -- The Hot Lady of Cool Jazz

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome -- Learning to Cope

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