‘Love Moments’ with Dee Dee Bridgewater
20th August 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
From the onset of her illustrious career, Dee Dee Bridgewater sang with some of the most illustrious musicians in jazz. In 1970, she made her New York debut as the lead vocalist with the highly regarded Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. She soon went on to perform with greats like saxophonists Sonny Rollins, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Dexter Gordon, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach.
“All of those experiences have made me into the musician that I am today,” says Bridgewater who brings her expansive talents to Irvin Mayfield’s I Club for a five-night benefit series, August 25–29, dubbed “Love Moments.” For the show, the Grammy- and Tony-winning vocalist will be teamed with trumpeter Mayfield and a band of New Orleans aces including pianist David Torkanowsky, bassist Neal Caine, saxophonist Derek Douget, drummer Adonis Rose and trombonist Vincent Gardner.
“They gave me their joy of the music and a kind of peek at the sense of freedom they had with the music,” Bridgewater continues speaking of the legends who influenced her freewheeling style. “It helped me in formulating my musical opinions. I was very, very lucky —very fortunate.”
Bridgewater, whose father was a trumpeter and high school music teacher, was always surrounded by jazz at her home in Flint, Michigan “I thought everybody listened to jazz music when I was growing up,” she says with a laugh. “It wasn’t until I was a teenager and going over to girlfriends’ homes and was talking about all these great jazz records that my parents were playing that I found out that my girlfriends didn’t know what I was talking about. That’s when I realized, ‘Oh, things are a little different here.’ I always lived in both worlds,” she adds, explaining that in the early 1960s she sang soul music with a vocal trio called the Iridescents.
Considering Bridgewater’s status as one of the premier jazz vocalists whose career spans 40 years, it’s surprising to learn that she never took any singing lessons or had any music education. “I don’t read music so I just count on my ears,” she explains.
Bridgewater, a jazz artist through and through, is noted for the sense of drama and passion she brings to a performance. She attributes those inclinations to her work in the theater. In 1975 she won a Tony award for her performance as Glinda the Good Witch in the musical “The Wiz.” She arrived in New Orleans for the first time in 1983 as the star of the musical “Sophisticated Ladies” that was presented at the Saenger Theater.
“ I very much like being on a stage, I like performing for the public, and I love to entertain,” Bridgewater says enthusiastically. “I believe that when you do a concert, it should be a full show. There should be something to engage your audience so the audience feels like it’s really part of it. I love to interpret the songs and bring the stories that I’m telling to life. I also love movement. I love to move on the stage and I like to make people laugh.”
Beyond her talent for solid jazz chops, spontaneous improvisation, inventive scatting and playfulness, Bridgewater boasts a reputation for being a chameleon of sorts. For instance, when she appeared at the 2011 Grammys to accept the award for the Best Jazz Vocal Album for her stunning tribute to Billie Holiday, Eleanora Fagan (1917-1959) – To Billie with Love from Dee Dee, her head was shiny and shaved. Other times she’s worn her hair long, pulled tightly back or donned various hats and turbans. Her outfits are often equally colorful and dazzling.
“I’m constantly changing,” Bridgewater admits. “The way that I dress is the way I happen to be feeling at that particular moment. I like to surprise people and kind of be on the edge a little bit. I think it’s fun. I know the audience expects it.”
Naturally, Bridgewater fans also expect to hear her fresh approach to songs from the Billie Holiday tribute album. She is also called upon to sing tunes from her other Grammy-winning CD, 1998’s Dear Ella.
“The audience is always very responsive when I do the Billie material but I have an audience that is responsive as long as it’s really good music,” she notes. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be my latest CD to be appreciated. So that’s cool too.”
Folks across the country have become familiar with Bridgewater through the National Public Radio program JazzSet. She been acting as narrator for the show for the last 10 years, taking over the position formerly held by saxophonist Branford Marsalis. “I just love bringing live performances to audiences via National Public Radio. I think it gives the listener a chance to feel a little more up close and personal with the artist.”
Bridgewater has only performed in New Orleans a few times — at Jazz Fest in 1996 and Essence Festival in 1998 —which makes her shows at Irvin Mayfield’s I Club a rare treat. She does have a connection to the city, however, as she sits on the board of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz along with trumpeter Terence Blanchard. The two have done outreach programs for the Institute and have performed together in a variety of settings.
she’ll be in town for the five nights of performances, Bridgewater hopes to see a bit more of New Orleans than she has in the past. “I’m looking forward to coming down and I want to kind of hang and eat some good food, but that goes without saying. I’d like to see the Musicians Village and maybe Terence will be in town. That would be nice.”
This article was originally published in the August 20, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper