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Schuur shows a country side

Posted: July 6, 2011 - 4:04pm

Jazz musicians have notoriously looked down their noses at country music as simplistic and sentimental, but even Charlie Parker was attracted to its down-to-earth storytelling.

No surprise, then, that another down-to-earth jazz artist, vocalist and pianist Diane Schuur, has a jones for Nashville, too.

What is astonishing, however, is that after nearly 20 jazz albums, the diva has released an entire disc of classic country songs.

“A few months ago I was watching the Country Music Awards and I thought, ‘Hey, let’s change direction, even at the risk of having the jazz police a little bit irritated,” explained Schuur by phone this week from her home near Los Angeles.

“The Gathering” (Vanguard) — with heartbreakers such as “Why Can’t He Be You” and “Nobody Wins”—is one of the finest albums the 57-year-old singer has ever made.

The veteran jazzer said all 10 tracks were put down in one day, with Schuur’s piano at times inspired by the twinkling grace notes of the great Floyd Cramer, whom she used to listen to as a kid. That the album was finished so quickly speaks to its appealingly plain, spring-water style. Though Schuur is a born swinger with blues in her shoes, she has always had a Patti Page, girl-next-door side. It’s not a big leap from there to Patsy Cline, whom Schuur also loved as a kid.

In fact, the first record Schuur ever made was a country single.

“When I did ‘Mommy and Daddy,’ “ Schuur recalled, “the producer, Jimmy Wakely, said, ‘Don’t sound so much like Dinah Washington.’ So I thought, ‘How can I get around this?’ Patti Page!”

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