The glittery, eclectic and mesmerising world of Dee Dee & Co.
Gig review @ Ronnie Scott’s and an incisive interview with the great Dee Dee Bridgewater
On the second and final date of her tour in London at Ronnie Scott’s, Ms Bridgewater delights the crowd by performing at her best with fun, bravura and even a “WTF” kind of story!
Line up: Dee Dee Bridgewater vox, Irvin Mayfield, Jr. trumpet, Ricardo Pascal sax, Michael Watson trombone, Victor Atkins piano, Adonis Rose drums, Jasen Weaver bass (the last 5 being the fabulous New Orleans 7)
The band comes on at precisely 19.30 for the start of the first set. Dressed to kill, Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans 7 strut onto stage to perform the opening track with such elegance, the audience is ready and willing, responsive. It is yet another full house at Ronnies, well, quelle surprise, so we watch and listen to Michael Watson’s support voice of an angel, Jasen Weaver’s melodramatic bass and Adonis Rose’s rhythmical bravura on drums.
Then Dee Dee steps onto stage with mesmerising panache, wearing a glittery frame and a stunning teal-coloured trilby style hat.
“One Fine Thing” (by Harry Connick Jr) is a stunner, slick sexy rendition of one of Connick’s great compositions. Dee Dee sings, performs, makes people laugh and then confesses as to why of her slight lateness on stage. “It was one of those “WTF” kinda moments, you know” – she explains, having been to Boots earlier to buy some hair colour (photo evidence is contained in this article). “I don’t like grey, I guess I am delusional, but I don’t like it” – she continues referring to her hair colour which she believes needs a change.
She is fantastic with the audience, she draws everyone in, ready I guess to listen to the next track (and my favourite) “Saint James Infirmary”, a slow and dirty kind of track, Dee Dee brings scatting to a new dimension with super long breathing staying power.
A voice so clear and resonating, Ricardo Pascal on clarinet and Irvin Mayfield’s penetrative trumpet playing bring the audience to its knees.
This is a superb performance by a diva with an amazing entourage of classy musicians.
A funk-fest, a journey into “how to do happy and stay there”.
So quite aptly, “Treme Song/ Do Whatcha Wanna” is closing the first set of the evening.
Dee Dee, Irvin followed by Ricardo and Michael step off the stage and start walking round the circumference of the room with an audience standing in rapture.
As the band prepares to exit, the crowd wants to keep them on for one more and so we are treated to an incredible rendition of The Animals’ “House of the Rising Sun”.
Rich, powerful and yet forlorn: astounding and hauntingly sung.
In conversation with Dee Dee Bridgewater
EY – Let’s talk about “Dee Dee’s Feathers” – an incredible project which you together with Irvin Mayfield, Jr. and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) are taking round the world at the moment. Tell me more from the moment the idea was conceived up to the final product!
DD – The original idea was born on the day the groundbreaking ceremony for the New Orleans Jazz Market was held. During dinner the same evening I suggested to Irvin that we record an album to be sold at the Jazz Market when it opened, to show to people visiting the new space that I was committed both to the Jazz Market and to NOJO (the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra). I thought that the album should be songs pertaining to New Orleans. As Irvin Mayfield is a child of The Crescent City, I thought he should be at the helm of the project, selecting the musical material for me to choose from. After songs were mutually chosen, Irvin was in charge of all production, from arrangements to recording studio and sound engineer. Exactly one month later I was back in NOLA in the studio with Irvin and NOJO, and recorded our chosen repertoire in 3 days. Upon completion, and after listening to the final track selection, playing it for friends, it was concluded that the material merited a commercial release. My daughter, Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski and I were able to secure a distribution deal with Sony/OKeh, additional songs were added to complete the album (“Congo Square” and title track “Dee Dee’s Feathers”, both with famed percussionist Bill Summers), the cover was shot in New Orleans, prepared by New Orleans locals and long-time residents. The legendary Dr. John consented to recording with me on “Big Chief”.
EY – I was touched, astounded and left speechless by your album. An artist like you must be used to work with names like Irvin Mayfield, Jr., Dr John and indeed sing pieces like “One Fine Thing” – an absolute gem of a piece by the great Harry Connick Jr. 6 minutes and 31 seconds of pure jazz bliss.
Tell me how you got to choose this track for the album and more specifically how is it to sing a song with a story line like that?
DD – “One Fine Thing” by Harry Connick, Jr. is the one song I contributed to the project. I’d already incorporated it into my personal repertoire in 2013 after hearing Harry perform it on a late night talk show, where he was promoting his latest CD which contained the title. It spoke to me instantly because of the story, and reminded me of a moment I’d experienced seeing a man while strolling to a Sunday brunch with my son. In singing the song, I’m reimagining that experience so the story is easy to tell. I also play the story forward onstage by suggesting the man I’m speaking about is perhaps Irvin Mayfield. It’s a fun story to reenact in performance.
EY – We must mention the fabulous “Treme Song/ Do Watcha Wanna” – amazing rendition, it just makes me want to jump with joy every time I listen to it. There are moments of intense joy and happiness on the album. What feelings arose in you when you were singing on “Dee Dee’s Feathers”, the album?
DD – All kinds of emotions arose in me when we were recording DEE DEE’S FEATHERS, depending on the song we were recording at the moment. I tried to create the appropriate emotional ambiance for each song, through my own personal and informed references.
EY – “Saint James Infirmary” – I am not too sure whether it is possible to describe a track of such stature. It is simply magical. Irvin Mayfield, Jr. is the magician on it. Tell me about your collaboration with him please.
DD – Working with Irvin Mayfield the musician and artist has been a joy. I have found in Irvin an artist of similar scenic sensibilities. He’s got a great sense of humour and excellent comedic timing. His musical approaches are similar to my own in that he uses his horn to create sounds that conjure up emotional reactions relative to the song’s story. He also has the uncanny ability to make has trumpet sound eerily like a human cry. It’s quite a wonderful experience for me as an artist.
EY – Bearing in mind the significance of the album, I want to ask you about the Esplanade Studios when the album was recorded. Can you tell me about this amazing place? It must have been a very special experience recording there?
DD – The Esplanade Studios were created in a badly damaged and abandoned church after Hurricane Katrina by owner Misha Kachkachishvili. You can check out the studios prior history as a church and Misha’s vision when creating the studio online at esplanadestudios.com. The ambiance in the main studio has a spiritual feel to it, as can be expected in the main hall of a church where positivity, love, fellowship, support was preached. Misha managed to create a space where artist feel relaxed, at home. I believe that is part of the energy that emanates from DEE DEE’S FEATHERS.
EY – “Dee Dee’s Feathers”: a mixture of “old time” jazz, trumpet, banjo galore aplenty, but with some incredible twists that make the music on the album fresh, innovative and yet very emotions tied. Can you describe what this whole project means to you?
DD – DEE DEE’S FEATHERS is a project that expresses the emotional kaleidoscope that New Orleans evokes. Irvin. NOJO, and I were trying to make these emotions palpable. We wanted you to feel the pride that is and has always been at the base of what the city is about. We wanted to honour the city, its history, its people, especially now, 10 years after the devastation of Katrina and the levee system collapse. The Crescent City is the birthplace of jazz music, we wanted to honour that history as well. The city has found its footing again, much has been rebuilt, displaced people are beginning to return. We wanted to honour the courage, strength, creativity of this magical urban gem.
EY – Singer, actress, diva, woman of the world…. Which one, Dee Dee, applies best to you? Or indeed all of them?
DD – These are all elements of my composite, but you must throw in mother, grandmother, friend.
EY – For the sake of all new fans around the globe, please tell me how you got in to the world of music and more particularly jazz music?
DD – Jazz music was played in my home growing up. My father was a trumpeter and taught many great jazz musicians who came out of Memphis’ famous Black High School, Manassas High School. I thought everyone listened to jazz music. I always could sing, never studied music. At the age of 7, I announced to my parents that I was going to be a famous, well-respected jazz singer, that I was going to live in Paris, France, and that I would buy them a house. I achieved all those things.
EY – You have worked with so many incredible artists and musicians, I am fascinated and rather envious to see you also worked with the amazing Horace Silver! Can you expand a bit on this. How was it working with Mr Silver and what did you learn from that experience?
DD – I always loved Horace Silver, from the moment I discovered his music in 1963 or ’64 with “Song for My Father”. When my first husband, trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater, joined his band in 1970 not long after our marriage, I accompanied Cecil on the first tour he did with Horace. He was very serious about his music, had clear ideas of what he expected each musician to play, did not tolerate musical disrespect. He set very clear boundaries for everyone, gave 100% and expected the same of his bad members. He was quite flattered when I honoured him through recording, agreeing to guest on my self-produced LOVE AND PEACE “A Tribute to Horace Silver” CD. He also wrote all the lyrics to the songs I selected for the CD as well as others I sang in live performance. In fact, every CD Horace released after my Grammy-nominated LOVE AND PEACE contained lyrics corresponding to each song.
EY – Of all the different festivals you have performed at, it is the Sanremo Music Festival (in Italy) I am intrigued by. I know this festival having Italian origin myself, but I am keen to ask you: do you remember performing at this event? If yes, what was it like compared to the likes of Monterey or Montreux?
DD – Sanremo is not to be confused with jazz festivals, it is an Italian Songwriting Competition created to honour the best Italian singing/performing artists. I was fortunate to have collaborated with The Pooh in 1990, where we won the songwriting competition for both the original and my American version of “Uomini Soli” / “Angel of the Night”. I presented the duet I did with Ray Charles “Precious Thing” at Sanremo in 1989. I performed again in 1992 as a guest alongside Amy Stewart where we performed in duet Annie Lennox’s song “Why”, then in 1993 placed 3rd with Marco Massini for his song “Perche’ Lo Fai” and my version “Just Tell Me Why”. Sanremo is far-reaching as it is televised as well as performed for a live audience so the consequences are of a different caliber.
EY – Do you have a favourite female jazz artist?
DD – No, I admire many jazz singers for various reasons, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Betty Carter (my personal hero), Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone.
EY – I believe your eldest daughter, Tulani Bridgewater, is also your manager. How do you ladies keep the work flowing? Is it easier to have a member of your family as your manager?
DD – Yes Tulani does handle my management since November 1999. We’ve grown as a team, and have been most fortunate in that our business relationship has not effected our personal relationship as mother & daughter. I can trust my daughter, she has my back and my best interests at heart. In our particular case it works, as Tulani came from personal management and 4 years of talent management at the TV network Nickelodeon.
EY – “To Billie with Love” (2010 DDB Records)– an amazing album – a tribute to the goddess that is Billie Holiday. So many songs, too little time to list them all, but which is YOUR favourite?
DD – I don’t have a favourite song, each song has its own power and prowess. I do love Edsel Gomez’s arrangements on “Good Morning Heartache”, “Don’t Explain”, “Lady Sings the Blues” in particular.
EY – You are playing at the iconic Ronnie Scott’s jazz club with a new line up: can you expand on the musicians that are with you this time and what’s going to be special about the “New Orleans” sound?
DD – I’m accompanied by Irvin Mayfield (trumpet/producer of DEE DEE’S FEATHERS), Victor Atkins (piano), Jasen Weaver (bass), Adonis Rose (drums), Michael Watson (trombone), Ricardo Pascale (tenor/soprano sax). Together we are the NO7 (New Orleans 7) and we are doing selections from the CD along with additional compositions pertaining to New Orleans. There will be freer improvisation and changes from the original album arrangements.
EY – Are you working on anything new at the moment?
DD – Nothing new at the present time as my touring is rather intensive.
EY – With such busy time in your life, how do you prefer to relax?
DD – Sitting at home in my apartment enjoying doing NOTHING!