Winnipeg's Jazz Magazine


May/June 2009: Jimmy Cobb

Dee Dee Bridgewater:
From the Heart

Written by:

Music knows no real boundaries, only those imposed by genre and convention. When you follow inspiration rather than expectation, you’re free to create in a genuine and unlimited way. At least that is how singer Dee Dee Bridgewater seems to approach it. From Broadway tunes to Mali’s folk songs, music is her idiom and the world her theatre.

Born in Memphis Tennessee, Dee Dee was surrounded by music at an early age. The voice of Ella Fitzgerald ushered her into jazz (one of her most successful recordings is Dear Ella), and as young as sixteen she was fronting a rhythm-and-blues trio in Memphis night clubs. Though music was her focus early on, it was only upon moving to New York that she came into focus on the international music scene. She joined the Thad Jones and Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra in the early 1970s, and through New York’s jazz circuit, met and worked with such jazz greats as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Max Roach among others. In 1974, she recorded her first album Afro-Blue and performed at the renowned Monterey Jazz Festival.

Having just established such an impressive jazz career, Dee Dee leapt into the world of musical theatre in 1974, wowing audiences in the role of Glinda in The Wiz, and winning Broadway’s prestigious Tony Award for Best Actress. Over the next decade, she took on a variety of roles in stage shows, including Billie Holiday in Lady Day which earned her a nomination for Britain’s Laurence Olivier Award. By the early 1990s, she was again devoting herself to jazz, producing an impressive string of recordings, including Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, Prelude to a Kiss: The Duke Ellington Album, and her double Grammy award-winning album, Dear Ella.

Dee Dee’s more recent projects reach out to new influences. Her 2005 album J’ai deux amours showcases French love songs. Paris was a second home for Dee Dee, where she says she grew as a woman and an artist. Her most recent album takes her into the music of Africa. For her, Red Earth: A Malian Journey is about “embracing my ‘self,’ finding my ‘roots,’ seeking out my heritage.”

Whether as a shining Glinda or a sultry opposite to Ray Charles in “Precious Thing,” Dee Dee Bridgewater delivers each story with a stunning sincerity. Every note she shares with her audience is full of intent and experience, an offering from the heart. With the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra behind her, her performance at this year’s Groove-FM Jazz Winnipeg Festival will leave us all filled up but wishing for more.

Rayannah Kroeker is a vocalist in the U of M Jazz Studies Program and the mastermind behind the Jazz for Humanity project.

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