Grammy Winner Dianne Reeves Performs at USVI Caribbean Music & Heritage Festival Friday

Freedom City, Frederiksted, will be celebrating all night long on Friday when the USVI Caribbean Music & Heritage Festival rolls out the welcome for jazz singer Dianne Reeves.

Dianne Reeves, vocalist (Submitted photo)

The five-time Grammy winner, jazz master Reeves will light up the stage on the promenade overlooking the waterfront with Marsvyn David’s Caribbean Jazz Players opening the evening and Calvin Johnson & Native Son closing after Miss Reeves’ performance.

This special evening was produced and curated by the United Jazz Foundation and Jazz at Lincoln Center and sponsored by the USVI Dept. of Tourism and the Dept. of Festivals as a free concert  – “a victory for the people.”  It will begin at 6:30 pm, with the opening act paving the way for Dianne Reeves in her 90-minute performance starting at 8:30 pm and ending after the closing act around midnight.

According to United Jazz Foundation CEO/Vice President Nicole Parson, this is the first of three concerts this year, with one in March and another in May, all in Frederiksted. Gov. Bryan is committed to building the series for the next three years, Parson said. “There will be concerts on St. Croix and on St. Thomas simultaneously for all of the people in the territory and all will be free.”

The collaboration between the USVI Dept of Tourism and the Dept of Festivals will attract other companies and EDC companies to help with the build in keeping the events free, Parson added. 

Reeves is the first performer in this series and it will also be the second performance for her on St. Croix. The first was in the 1980s, early in her career, when a jazz festival took place at the Paul E. Joseph Stadium in Frederiksted, and the audience was captivated by her in concert. With that in mind, Bryan’s idea is to bring this series back to its original source in Frederiksted and continue the build of the event from there, Parsons said. “The quality festivals worked previously in Frederiksted, so we’re going back there to take up where we left off. The energy was already established there. This will be a ‘homecoming’ for Dianne Reeves to the island of St. Croix.”

Reeves was born into a musical family. She started singing and playing piano as a teenager, was a member of her high-school band, and performed at a convention in Chicago when she was noticed by trumpeter Clark Terry. At his invitation, she began to sing with him and his “amazing all-star bands, and for a young singer, it was fertile soil.” 

Reeves studied classical voice at the University of Colorado. She moved to Los Angeles and sang and recorded with Stanley Turrentine, Lenny White, and Billy Childs, with whom she founded the band Night Flight. She moved to New York, toured with Harry Belafonte, signed with Blue Note, and went on to win five Grammy Awards.

Reeves was the 2018 Monterey Jazz Festival’s Showcase Artist. She is the first woman to receive the Jazz Legends Award and points out that she is merely the first of many and surely not the last. The National Endowment for the Arts bestowed the highest honor for jazz in the U.S. upon Dianne – Jazz Master. Dianne received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from the Juilliard School for her “breathtaking virtuosity, improvisational prowess, and unique jazz and R&B style.”

St. Croix is in for a magical night of celebrated music in multiple genres beginning with Marsvyn David’s Caribbean Players opening for Dianne Reeves.

MDCP is a musical ensemble comprising a horn and rhythm section and various vocalists. MDCP performs classic calypso music along with an eclectic blend of calypso-flavored jazz, pop, and Latin. MDCP was a featured act at the St.Croix Agricultural Fair for 10 consecutive years prior to the COVID pandemic. They also performed at the St.Thomas Carnival Village in 2015 and 2016 and is the band of choice for the calypso legend King Short Shirt of Antigua when he is performing on St. Croix. 

Featured on Friday are the smooth vocals of Tony Romano, the Cuban cool of Rivert Diaz and the Caribbean song stylist and twice St. Croix calypso monarch, Emogen “Blakness” Creese. David and Diaz collaborated on the words and music to  “En la VI.” David and Creese wrote the words and music to “No Place Like the Caribbean.” Both arrangements will be featured Friday evening. 

Also playing in the session are:

Marsvyn David – Bass/musical director; Elvis Pedro – Guitar; Malichi Maillard – Piano; Dimitri “Pikey” Copeman – Sax soloist; Ernel Edmond & Stan Joines – Trumpets; James Dissinger – Trombone; Loren Hughes & Shelly Shulterbrant – Saxophone; Tyrone Davis – Drums; Roberto Carmona & Wayne Clarke – Percussion

David was born and raised on St.Thomas and lived in California for many years, with music always in his life. His return to the territory 20 years ago brought him to St. Croix. “What we men do…we follow the women, right?” Yet, David considers himself a Virgin Islander – loving all three islands, he said.

Marsvyn David, bassist (Submitted photo)

Folks are encouraged to stay after Reeves’s performance and journey through the decades with the jazz of Calvin Johnson & Native Son – from his native New Orleans style to his New York groove, splitting his time between both cities.

Saxophonist Johnson is a fourth-generation New Orleans musician. According to Downbeat magazine, he and his quintet Native Son performed in December in Lincoln Center’s Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse and “prepared to deliver a dose of spiritual uplift.” Their audience was people who risked being marginalized, in this case, because of their dementia. 

Calvin Johnson, saxophonist (Submitted photo)

He and his quintet launched into a toe-tapping version of Fats Domino’s “I’m Walkin” – in the first set drawn from Johnson’s hometown canon. It exceeded Johnson’s expectations, he said.

The performance was part of Lincoln Center Moments, a program that presents world-class entertainment for free for people with dementia and certain other conditions – a larger effort by Lincoln Center to improve access to add diversity in its programming.

Johnson is a member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and is known for his personal spark and musical gifts. 

With Johnson and his quintet entertaining as the last act of the festival, the audience will be invited to a “shake-your-leg” and tap-your-feet pace that will keep folks moving and wanting more. Surprise! A tap dancer will join Johnson and his Quintet. 

Parson is a social engineer – someone who works on developing communities to make life liveable. She is focused on what makes the community thrive. “That’s why I have so much passion for this particular event. It’s important for me to keep it going – to make it and build it to five for next year – January through May – and build it simultaneously on St.Thomas. It’s not a one-time event – it’s meant to grow,” she said. 

That’s a real democracy – that we keep it growing for the people. “My profession is in the music world, so for me, high-end, free community concerts, which can be supported by enough companies on the islands to keep it free and not leave anybody out. This is not a one-shot idea,” Parson said.

Reeves is very excited to return to St.Croix and share her music, her team said. She feeds off the enthusiasm of the audience while she is performing, so there is definitely room for the audience to see her flexibility. The beauty in jazz musicians is that they can improvise…If there’s a song that’s special to you, her team said, “shout it out” and Reeves will deliver.  

This event is brought to the territory through the United Jazz Foundation’s  Production & Marketing Teams and the USVI Dept of Tourism. It is curated by United Jazz Foundation and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Bring blankets and chairs. There will be food and drink vendors.

For more information, connect with United Jazz Foundation on Facebook.