It should be no great surprise that on her newest album, “The Gathering,” Diane Schuur chose to sing a collection of 10 classic country songs in her own, inimitable style.
After all, her long and illustrious career has been a study in diversity of sound and a dedication to doing things her way.
A Tacoma, Wash., native and prodigiously talented vocalist, Schuur has walked a blurry line between pop and jazz for more than three decades, dipping her toes into those and other genres as deeply and frequently as she likes.
“It's a great thing to have the freedom that I have,” Schuur said last week in a telephone interview from her home in California. “I certainly love it.”
Over the years, Schuur has collaborated with blues legend B.B. King and shapeshifting trumpeter Maynard Ferguson. She cut an album of songs penned by pop icon Barry Manilow and another with a strong Latin flavor.
Along the way, she often returned to her strength: powerful, passionate vocals set to a contemporary blend of pop and jazz. It's a sound that has won her two Grammy awards and three other nominations, and it's a sound she'll showcase this weekend in Bend as she kicks off the second season of Jazz at the Oxford (see “If you go”).
This weekend's shows will be “all over the map,” Schuur said, incorporating both old favorites and selections from “The Gathering,” on which she applies her own twist to Merle Haggard's “Today I Started Loving You Again,” Kris Kristofferson's “Nobody Wins” and a couple of Tammy Wynette faves.
“She brought such a haunting quality to (those songs),” she said. “I hope I could at least come a little bit close to what she'd done.”
Schuur said she ran into no resistance when she decided to cover country songs.
“I think the consensus is that people have confidence enough in me and in my direction to give me their blessing and say ... ‘If this is what you want, girlfriend, go for it,'” she said. “I'm glad I've got the versatility and the voice to be able to do that because a lot of people unfortunately get stuck in a rut where they've got one style and that's basically what they've got. I consider myself very fortunate.”
Even with dozens of albums under her belt, the “Gathering” session was the quickest in Schuur's career, she said. It took one day to record and another day to polish up with overdubs and other tweaks. That was it.
“Once I got going, I just kept going, like the Energizer Bunny,” she said with a laugh. “(These songs) just really got into my soul.”
Again, no surprise there, considering Schuur's very first single was a country song called “Dear Mommy and Daddy,” released in 1971 when she was 17 years old. It was that single, in fact, that provided at least some of the motivation for “The Gathering,” Schuur said.
“My father loved country music at that time (and) I wanted to go back to it,” she said. “I was just drawn to do this kind of work. Besides, when you go into a studio, you become an interpreter. An actress, if you will. You try to step into another person's shoes (and convey) what they're talking about.”