Dee Dee Bridgewater – Dear Ella

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Today Dee Dee is a sparkling ambassador for jazz, but she bathed in its music before she could walk. Her mother played the greatest albums of Ella Fitzgerald, whose artistry provided an inspiration for Dee Dee throughout her career, culminated in her stunning new release, her tribute to Ella called DEAR ELLA Verve). Her father was a trumpeter who taught music – to Booker Little, Charles Lloyd, and George Coleman, amongst others. It’s the kind of background that leaves its mark on an adolescent, especially one who appeared solo and with a trio as soon as she was able. Dee Deeds other vocation, that of a globetrotter, reared its head when she toured the Soviet Union, in 1969 with the university of lilinois big band. A year later, she followed her then husband, Cecil Bridgewater, to New York. Cecil was playing with pianist Horace Silver, and Dee Deeds dream was to sing Horace~s compositions one day … LOVE AND PEACE, (verve), her irresistible ‘iGrammy” nominated 1994 album, was that same dream come true.

Dee Dee made her phenomenal New York debut in 1970 as the lead vocalist for the band led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, one of the premier jazz orchestras of the time. These New York years marked an early career in concerts and on recordings with Such authentic giants as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach, and Roland Kirk, and rich experiences with Norman Connors, Stanley Clarke, and Frank Fosters ”Loud Minority.”

Dee Dee doesn’t care much for labels, and 1974 she jumped at the chance to act and sing on Broadway where her voice, beauty, and stage presence won her great success and a `’Tonyt, Award for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in THE WiZ, and began a long line of awards and accolades. Opportunities led to work in Tokyo, LOs Angeles, Paris and in London where she garnered the coveted `,Laurence Olivier” Award nomination as ‘Best Actressi, for her tour de force portrayal of jazz legend elide Holiday in LADY DAY. Performing the lead in equally demanding acting/singing roles such as SOPHISTICATED LADIES, COSMOPOLITAN GREETINGS, BLACK BALLAD, CARMEN and the musical CABARET secured her reputation as a consummate entertainer.

Dee Dee returned to the jazz scene, igniting audiences with her trio, from small clubs to major concert halls in Europe and then the U.S. Her `iGrammy” nominated LIVE IN PARIS album, recorded in 1987, and the Polvdor release VICTIMS OF LOVE, featuring a hit duet with Ray Charles, caught the attention of a new young audience; this was confirmed by the album IN MONTREUX, which she recorded live at the 1990 Montreux Jazz Festival. The three self-produced albums that followed sealed her reputation as a singer of immense class and producer of painstaking care with a strong, demanding body of work.

The first, KEEPING TRADITION (verve), recorded in December 1992, was devoted to the reinterpretation of classic standards, with a superb new approach that showed tremendous creativity, imagination, and passion on the part of Dee Dee and her trio: Thierry Eliez (piano), Hein van De Geyn (bass), and Andre Ceccarelli (drums). The album was rewarded in 1994 with the ”mango d’Or” Award and a second `’Grammy” nomination.

The second, LOVE AND PEACE: A TRIBUTE TO HORACE SILVER (verve)’ recorded in December, 1994, contained compositions by Silver, with lyrics he wrote especially for Dee Dee. Featured her trio, Dee Dee performed with the Belmonclo Brothers on (trumpet and saxophone, organist Jimmy Smith several tunes, and the maestro Horace Silver in person. It was a milestone celebrated in performance night after night on stages around the world, from Carnegie Hall in New York to the Olympia Theatre in Paris, where Dee Dee brought audiences to their feet in thunderous applause. The album was crowned by a third ‘iGrammy” nomination, and the awarding of the 1995 “Billie Holidays Prize by France’s Academie de Jazz.

Dee Dee’s third Verve CD, DEAR ELLA, is, Ms. Bridgewaters a tribute to her illustrious elder, twelve songs with the profound imprint of the “First Lady of Jazz” and, as a conclusion, the Kenny Burrell composition that gives the recording its title. This song, Dear Ella, features Dee Dee in a duet with Kenny Burrell on guitar, a structure Ella especially enjoyed and used, particularly during the seventies, with guitarist Joe Pass. Incidentally, most of accompaniments Ella chose during her career are represented here. Ella debuted with the big band sound, first in drummer Chick Webb’s ban d, and later on tour and record with Duke Ellington’s and Count Basters bands. Then in the same manner as the beautiful songbooks, Dee Dee recorded four songs with an orchestra of woodwinds, brass and strings. Eventually in the trio format that Ella traveled withmost often, for the freedom and flexibility it gave her, Dee Dee undoubtedly enjoys blending her voice with the instruments on HOW High The Moon, singing or scatting with strong improvisers: Milt Jackson (vibraphone), Slide Hampton (trombone), Cecil Bridgewater (trumpet), and Antonio Hart (alto saxophone). Each song, according to its musical accompaniment, enabled Dee Dee to show every facet of her art; in turn playful tA-Tislret, A-Tasket), charming IMidnight Sun), luscious (My Heart Belongs To Daddy), vivacious (Mr. Paganin/l, tender and grave (Dear Ella), a ‘~jazzwoman” actress, and musician all at once (Mack The Knife).

With her usual intelligence and artistry, Dee Dee gave each song a perfectly personal interpretation. Chosen by Dee Dee, the arrangers John Clayton, Slide Hampton, Cecil Bridgewater, and Lou Lever escaped nostalgia and rejected temptation to exploit cliches, as they began afresh to write music suited to the themes and performer. When you remember that Andre Ceccarelli has been accompanying Dee Dee for a decade, that Lou Levy was Ella~s pianist in the great years of her career, but also accompanied Peggy Lee, Frank Sinatra, Lena Home, Tony Bennett and others, and that Ray Brown, unrivaled as a bassist, was also married to Ella Fitzgerald, no doubt remains that the result is equal to the importance of both the project and its participants.