Dee Dee Bridgewater talks about all that jazz

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By Darlene Donloe

Contributing Writer

When singer Dee Dee Bridgewater takes the stage, she does it with fervor and intent to give the audience her all.

At 72, this stylish, witty, veteran vocalist who has been entertaining audiences for 50 years, shows no signs of slowing down and waves off any talk of retirement.

“Why would I stop,” said Bridgewater, who just recently returned from a tour in Armenia. “I’m a fortunate individual. I do my music all around the world. It’s a culturally educational experience for me. I love what I do.”

That voice. There’s something about the way this torch singer bends a note and melodically manipulates a song’s phrasing, making it her own.

Bridgewater, whose discography dates back to 1974’s “Afro Blue,” said her goal is to always give the best product she can to people— musically.

“That’s the most important thing to me and I do the best job with it,” said the jazz legend. “My focus is on the music. The point is the music that you do. You have to create a legacy. It’s your work that’s going to carry you.”

Bridgewater’s luscious vocals and sophisticated style will be front and center during the Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour, currently celebrating 65 years with a performance at the Walt Disney Concert Hall Jan. 20. The tour includes 25 concerts in 12 states that runs through April 23.

Since 1958, the Monterey Jazz Festival has been showcasing America’s creativity and cultural heritage through music.

Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour is the festival’s latest national outing of jazz superstars and up-and-comers to present the artistry, spirit and fun of the Monterey Jazz Festival to audiences everywhere with musicians who perform the music, both historic and new, that reflects the values and legacy of the esteemed festival.

The Monterey Jazz Festival, one of the jazz world’s longest-running and most-iconic events, has a lineup starring Bridgewater that is described as “a must-hear, once-in-a-lifetime ensemble.”

The 90-minute show, which is similar to the hour-long show done at the Monterey Jazz Festival last September, will also include a selection between Bridgewater and Grammy-award-winning vocalist Kurt Elling.

The bill also includes musical director and pianist Christian Sands, bassist Yasushi Nakamura, saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and drummer Clarence Penn.

“Everyone will do things that are relevant to them,” Bridgewater said. “This is a wonderful festival with a rich history. It’s part of our jazz history. This particular group is the most recent iteration.”

Bridgewater said when she takes the Walt Disney Concert Hall stage, she wants to “commune with the audience and make them happy for two hours.”

“It’s a large, impressive hall,” she said. “When it’s full, it’s special. I can be affected by the energy I feel in a hall. It can alter the performance. When I perform, I try to bring good positive energy. This is a great venue for this tour.”

During her set, Bridgewater, who first played the Monterey Jazz Festival in 1973, said she will pay homage to some music legends including Thad Jones of the Thad Jones/Mel Louis Band of which she is a former member.

“I’m also going to honor Chick Corea,” she said. “He was important in my life. He died in 2021. I want to honor him. I’ll also do something from Billie Holiday.”

In 2013, Bridgewater starred as Holiday in the musical biography, “Lady Day,” at the Little Shubert Theater in New York.

“I love to entertain and make people happy and share jazz music,” said Bridgewater, who was born in Memphis and raised in Flint, Michigan from age 3 to 18. “I try to be as good a rep of music as I can. I do it from a joyful place. I have been blessed with my voice. 

“I don’t read or write jazz. It’s a gift. Never studied. I could scat. I didn’t know why. My mom said she listened to Ella [Fitzgerald] when she was pregnant with me. I stand on the shoulders of Ella, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, and others. I couldn’t exist if it hadn’t been for them.”

A complex performer, Bridgewater has been in the music business long enough to see it go through several incarnations. But jazz, she said, is a constant.

“It’s an important genre,” said the Memphis Music Hall of Famer. “It’s music with a historical background. It’s original American music. Everything came from jazz. It’s universal. Listening to jazz is like having a passport.”

Bridgewater believes jazz is still relevant, and that people still appreciate the sound.

“The interesting thing with jazz is, it will pick up on whatever the current trends are,” said the Tony and triple Grammy-winner. “Musicians have always done that. I’m about keeping the tradition and the knowledge of those aforementioned singers. 

“Recent musicians are about themselves. It’s about what each artist is called. I try to listen to my spirit. I record when there is something I want to talk about specifically.”

Bridgewater keeps her enthusiasm for the business by working with young musicians.

“I’m 72 and I’m still relevant,” she said. “Young people want to work with me. They’ve got their pulse on what’s going on. I’ve done a lot of different styles. I can become insular. 

“I started listening to young musicians and checking out what was going on. I had gotten into my routine. Sometimes in my downtime, I don’t want to listen to music in my ears.”

Surprisingly, when Bridgewater is at home, the last thing she wants to hear is the genre she’s best known for — jazz.

“When I’m in the house and I put on music, it won’t be jazz,” she said. “I gotta listen to my men. They turn me on and some of the women turn me on. I’m always encouraged by music. As long as it’s being made, it’s encouraging. 

I just downloaded Prince’s ‘When Eye Lay My Hands On U.’ I love Prince,” she added. “When I need my spirit boosted, I listen to Silk Sonic. I feel like I’m 17 when I have them on.”

Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at ddonloe@gmail.com.

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