Della Reese, best known as the boss of a band of divine messengers on the 1990s TV series Touched By an Angel but started her career decades earlier as an earthy pop singer, died on Nov. 19. She was 86.
Reese's deep and often rousing gospel-fueled voice was powerful and rested somewhere between Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey and Eartha Kitt on the pop spectrum, depending on the song. Yet her talk-sing approach was an acquired taste. Only two of her albums charted high up in the rankings while most of her singles reached only double and triple digits—except for Don't You Know? in 1959, which reached #2 on the Billboard pop chart. Much of her failure to catch on was a result of the lackluster material served up by her producers, her tendency to roar while signing and the failure of her labels to craft an image for her.
Born in Detroit, Reese was a role model to many of Motown's female singers, who were being groomed to become super-club soul vocalists. When I interviewed Martha Reeves (center) of Martha and the Vandellas, she told me that Reese held a special place in her heart:
While I sang Dancing in the Street, I thought about Riopelle St., where I grew up on Detroit’s East Side. We had street-dance parties there all the time. I loved the East Side. When I came up with the Vandellas’ name, it combined Van—for Van Dyke St., the East Side’s main boulevard—and the first name of singer Della Reese, whose voice I admired."
For me, Reese was unbeatable when she sang ballads. Up-tempo numbers never quite fit, leaving her scorching songs instead of singing them seductively. However, on slower material (the slower the better), Reese's simmering vibrato curled around the lyric, and she often had a tight fix on the height of her flame.
My two favorite Della Reese albums are The Story of the Blues (1958), arranged by Sy Oliver; and Della (1960), arranged by Neal Hefti. Also wonderful are singles Reese recorded in the late 1950s, including Don't You Know, It's Magic, How Can You Not Believe Me and And That Reminds Me.
JazzWax tracks: You'll find Della Reese's The Story of the Blues here and Della here.
Many of her albums and singles are available at Spotify.
JazzWax clip: Here's Don't You Know?...
Here's You're Driving Me Crazy, arranged by Neal Hefti...
I was first exposed to Jazz when a couple of dear friends of mine turned me onto it around 1971. I was already into Progressive music, R n' B, Soul, Motown, Latin Rock and other styles that were a great ladder to Jazz
I was first exposed to Jazz when a couple of dear friends of mine turned me onto it around 1971. I was already into Progressive music, R n' B, Soul, Motown, Latin Rock and other styles that were a great ladder to Jazz.
Being a Musician myself, (Lead Guitar/Bass Guitar), I studied at the Dick Grove School of Music with Dick Grove, Jeff Richman and Lee Ritenour. This was around '84-'85. I started playing the Guitar in November 1967. Playing Guitar came quite naturally to me thank goodness. Though I spent hours upon hours practicing while my school buddies were doing Sports.
It was in the early '70s that I really got into Jazz, Jazz Rock, Jazz Fusion and World Music. Seeing Weather Report, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter, Larry Carlton, Steely Dan, John McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, RTF, Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters, VSOP, Freddie Hubbard and so many, many more amazing artists opened my eyes to the beauty and eloquent nature of Jazz. I really love the brilliant ensemble playing that is in Jazz!!
When I play and write music, it blends so many style together. Many fans ask me why my playing sounds so jazzy. It's because I understand Blue Notes, the phrasing, the tonality, time signatures and more. I can also play Rock, Folk, Soul, R n' B and other styles too. I seem to gravitate more and more as I get older to a jazzier style. Currently I'm 62 years old. I have released 2 CDs world-wide. Working on my 3rd.
I also teach Guitar/Bass/Music Theory to my students. They range from 6 years old to much, much older. (I was hired by the City of Aurora, CO to teach ages 6-13 specifically). Currently I teach 41 children in 5 classes. Additionally another 7 private students.
My wife, Meesh, and I love Jazz dearly. It was one of the things that we share together!
Most of the people that I know today do not get jazz. I try to explain what to listen for, but many times the music of Jazz is a bit much for them. So be it.
In a nutshell, I live, breath and listen to Music 24/7. No TV except the Food Channel and Weather.
I love John Kelman's articles. They are so insightful and well-constructed!
Thank you all for doing what you do.