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ROCKWIRED INTERVIEWS DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER

JOIE DE VIVRE

LEGENDARY JAZZ CHANTEUSE DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER
TALKS TO ROCKWIRED

ABOUT
A LIFE IN JAZZ
FINDING HERSELF IN FRANCE
AND HER GRAMMY NOMINATED CD

J'AI DEUX AMOURS

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WRITTEN BY BRIAN LUSH

In the past year, there had been a great deal of talk in the media regarding the quality of life and “the culture of life”. The culture, as well as politicians, threw themselves into a discussion over what was living and what wasn't. At the time of this intense debate, DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER, a legendary GRAMMY winning jazz vocalist released her latest CD J'AI DEUX AMOURS to critical hosannas and another GRAMMY nomination for best jazz vocal performance.

One side of this debate on the quality of life had argued that simply staring into space was a sign of being alive. There was all of this talk about life and at the same time, no one was really celebrating it. As a matter of fact, a life such as DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER's is a life of traveling the world and the seven seas, bringing people together through the sound her lovely instrument; that unmistakable honey-alto voice, and using that voice to bring awareness to famine, world hunger and human rights as a UNITED NATIONS ambassador for the FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATION. In a culture where making the world a better place is viewed as a“special interest”, DEE DEE (Born DENISE GARRETT in Memphis, Tennessee) has made making the world a better place, her life's work.

Let's not forget that it was the music that brought DEE DEE here in the first place. Born in Tennessee, but raised in Flint, Michigan, DEE DEE sought a life beyond the gridiron, smokestacks and steel of that once booming factory town. She left Flint for school at the UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN, met her husband, legendary jazz trumpeter CECIL BRIDGEWATER, toured Russia with the UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS JAZZ BAND, fronted the THAD JONES / MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA, won a TONY AWARD for her portrayal of GLINDA THE GOOD WITCH OF THE SOUTH in the original Broadway production of THE WIZ, found herself in Paris (spiritually and artistically) and was named a Goodwill Ambassador for the UNITED NATIONS. Somewhere in all of this she found the time to work with such legendary jazz artists such as DIZZIE GILLESPIE, ELLA FITZGERALD, DEXTER GORDON and CHIC CORREA.

This isn't a life you measure by how many times you blink. This is a life that's measured by being true to yourself. DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER was gracious enough to speak to ROCKWIRED about everything. This is how it went.

J'AI DEUX AMOURS was ten years in the making. Why was that?
It was simply because at the time I had the idea to do it, which originally was in '95, ELLA FITZGERALD had passed away. So I decided that I would do a tribute to ELLA and the idea for J'AI DEUX AMOURS just went into a drawer and I never got back to it until last year. I was asked to do these concerts at THE KENNEDY CENTER for Valentines Day so it was there that I got the material out of the drawer and made some selections. I wanted to do a selection of French songs that were successful in their English versions. We had a huge success with the two concerts we did at THE KENNEDY CENTER and it was at that moment that I decided that now was the time (to work on the album)

Is the album everything that you intended or hoped for in the beginning or has anything changed?
You know what? I didn't have a concrete musical idea about what I wanted to do back in 1995. I thought that since I was living in France full time and having a successful career there as a jazz artist, I thought that it would be nice to do a kind of tribute to this country and to say thank you for all the wonderful things that had happened to me since I was there. The idea for the instrumentation didn't come to me until after we had been asked to perform at THE KENNEDY CENTER for Valentines Day. I decided at the time that I didn't want to have the traditional piano, bass and drums format so I thought that I should have an accordion because that's the instrument that I associate with the French songbooks. After that, I thought that if I have an accordion, I don't need a piano. I wanted another string instrument so I thought that I'd add a guitar. I eliminated the traditional drum set all together. The percussionist that I was working with, who also worked on my project before J'AI DEUX AMOURS plays a combination of a regular drum kit with some other percussive instruments. That was what I decided I was going to work with. And the arrangements, we created all together, the musicians and myself, because I didn't have a clear idea on what I wanted to do for arrangements and I knew that i didn't want to hire a regular arranger. We created the arrangements our selves and what we have is what you hear.

Sounds like it would've taken ten years anyway.
It took us three days to put it together . Actually, we came up with them in about two and a half days. And after the first presentation of the material, we came back together in October and worked another three days to change some of the things that I didn't like in the arrangements and then we did a concert tour of eight dates. Four of those dates were in France and four of those dates were outside of France. We did this to get the public's reaction. We fine tuned some more and went into the studio and did some more changes. We actually changed some of the arrangements up until the day we were recording. It was a work-in-progress. It was a very gratifying way of recording. I have produced all of my albums since my first contract with UNIVERSAL, which used to be VERVE, back in 1993. This album J'AI DEUX AMOURS is the first album of mine to be released on my own label DDB RECORDS. It's being distributed in the States through the label SOVEREIGN ARTISTS RECORDS. Out side of the United States, the album is being distributed by UNIVERSAL MUSIC INTERNATIONAL which is based out of London.

You've had quite a career. How did it all begin for you?
I started professionally with the THAD JONES/ MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA. They were a big band based out of New York City. The band itself started in the late 1960's . I became a member in 1970 or 71. I was the singer for the band for four years and during that time I began to get a reputation as a jazz singer and was taken under the wing of many jazz greats that we call our legends today. I had an affection for the trumpet. I think it stems from the fact that my father was a trumpet player. THAD JONES was really like my mentor. Then I was taken under the wings of CLARK TERRY another jazz trumpeter who is still living and DIZZY GILLESPIE who has left us in the nineties. I became the singer to call when musicians wanted to have a singer. I worked with SONNY RAWLINS a lot , DEXTER GORDON, MAX ROACH. I worked a few times with DARRYL SAUNDERS. On the more contemporary side of jazz musicians, STANLEY CLARK and I came up around the same time so I worked a lot with him. Then I worked for CHIC COREA . Now I can say that I've worked with just about everybody that's got a big name in jazz.

Back in 1969 you toured the SOVIET UNION.
Yes. That was when I was in college. I went to Russia with the University of Illinois Jazz Band. It was a cultural exchange tour.

What was that experience like?
It was actually in 1968. It was at the time of all of the college uprisings like KENT STATE. I don't know. Maybe you're too young to remember.

I am a little too young but I know about it.
There were also a lot riots in Europe that had happened the same year. As we were a college big band, we were followed everywhere by the KGB. The KGB was still in existence at that time. It was a very paranoid kind of experience. You could see young people coming toward you walking down the streets in major cities like Moscow, St. Petersburg and Leningrad and then they would disappear into little alleys. It was very strange. I remember having a very clandestine jazz session with Russian musicians in Moscow where the American Embassy was in charge of it and we were on a bus and they had turned the lights out several blocks before the place where we were to be having this jam session. Then, we were taken off the bus two by two , and were sent walking down this dark alley way. It was just like the movies. We were rushed inside this doorway with a peep window and the door got shut behind us very quickly but very silently. It was quite intriguing. All of our luggage was gone through. We would never get our bags at the hotel. We toured six different cities and we'd never get our bags for three hours. There would also be these bugging devices that we wold find in our rooms. It was different. It's something that I've never forgotten.

You've had albums released in the seventies as well.
Yes. I was first signed to ATLANTIC RECORDS in 1975 when I had done THE WIZ. I was one the original members of the original production of THE WIZ. JERRY WEXLER was my first producer and he was the man responsible for most of ARETHA FRANKLIN's hit albums. That album that i recorded with ATLANTIC is still in the can. They will not sell it to me. HAROLD WHEELER and STEVE SHAEFFER, who were the producers of THE WIZ album also helped me out with that album. After that, I signed on for a 3 album deal with ELECTRA RECORDS and after that, that was it until I started recording in France.

How did Broadway start for you? Getting the role GLINDA in THE WIZ?
That was my first Broadway involvement. I used to listen and watch a lot of the old ZIEGFIELD FOLLIES movies from the 30's and 40's when I was young and used to dream of being an entertainer; a singer, dancer and actress. I did an open casting call for THE WIZ. I had a girlfriend who knew the woman who was doing the booking. I did two auditions and I thought that I didn't get the role so I went on to do a tour through Europe with the THAD JONES / MEL LEWIS ORCHESTRA. When I came back to the States, I was asked to come back in and audition again. I auditioned two more times and I was cast as GLINDA THE GOOD WITCH OF THE SOUTH. I had never acted before. I've never had any formal acting training or music training. I don't read music. I just have big ears and basically I'm a very instinctive person.

Was music something that was encouraged in your household?
Well my father was a trumpet player and we listened to a lot of jazz and I think the fact that I grew up in Flint Michigan, which is a very industrial town , helped to develop my artistic side because I had nothing to do so I fantasized a lot. I love to say that Flint is a good city to be from.

I've seen quite a few MICHAEL MOORE documentaries on the city. How do you feel about all thats happened to Flint now?
It's very sad what's happened to Flint,Michigan now. GENERAL MOTORS was basically the backbone of that city. It was factory town. Most of the blacks in Flint moved there from the south because GENERAL MOTORS was employing blacks in the factories. My father was a school teacher and my mother was a secretary and later became a junior executive with GENERAL MOTORS. Most of my friends families worked in the factories and then a lot of my friends who stayed in Flint also worked in the factories. I remember I even went over to GM to one the factories to get a job but they told me I was over-qualified and they didn't hire me. So that was a blessing! When I was 18 I decided that I had to get out of there. Actually it was my mother who tried to get me to go away for school and I wanted to take a year off after high school and just chill. My way out of Flint was through MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY. Thats where I met my first husband CECIL BRIDGEWATER. I was in a lot of collegiate festivals and competitions with a quintet that was headed by man that my father was good friends with. His name was Andy Goodwrich, an alto saxophone player outside of Chicago who was working on his doctorate. We started doing these collegiate festivals and I started winning a lot of vocal competitions at this time. One of the universities we went to was UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS. The man that headed up the jazz department and there very famous UNIVERSITY OF ILLINOIS JAZZ BAND was a man buy the name of JOHN GARVEY and he asked me if I would be interested in doing this State Department Tour in Russia. I moved to Champagne Urbana, went on tour in Russia and came back and married my first husband CECIL BRIDGEWATER, who is a trumpet player.

You can't stay away from them trumpet players.
No, I couldn't.(Laughs) I leave them alone now but I certainly couldn't back then. I'm on my third husband now. My second husband was the original director of THE WIZ, GILBERT MOSES.

What prompted your move to FRANCE?
I went to France, the first time, with the musical review SOPHISTICATED LADIES based on the music of DUKE ELLINGTON. I was one of the stars of the production. When we got to France, I decided that I was going to stay. I had met some people involved in the jazz community in Paris and one of them was a woman named SIMONE GINIVRE. She is the person responsible for starting up my jazz career in France. She was the co-producer of the NICE JAZZ FESTIVAL with GEORGE WEEN who has been very influential in the jazz world and has had jazz festivals around the world. He has a company called FESTIVAL PRODUCTIONS based out of New York City. FESTIVAL PRODUCTIONS still exists today but GEORGE WEEN is no longer in charge of it and SIMONE GINIVRE is now retired. SIMONE was my mentor. She was how I got started in France. I stayed there for almost a year after SOPHISTICATED LADIES, then I went home to Flint Michigan for almost a year and then I went back to France in 1986 to do a beautiful play with music. It wasn't a musical. There was a lot of dialogue. It was a one woman show based on the life of BILLIE HOLIDAY called-

LADY DAY
Yeah.

Which you won the LAWRENCE OLIVIER AWARD for?
I didn't win, I was nominated.

What are the differences, if there are any between a European audience and an American audience?
You know, I would say that the difference is that the European audience seems to be a lot more knowledgeable about the actual history of jazz music in terms of classic jazz. In terms of an actual public, I find today, now that I work on both sides of the Atlantic, that the audiences are basically the same. If they like the music they are very appreciative. If they don't like the music, they don't like the music and that's anywhere around the world.(laughs) If they don't like it, they'll let you know. I've got quite a good reputation as a performer. I think I'm one of those rare artists who has the luxury to tour without any record company support.

You're in radio yourself, as the host of JAZZ SET on NPR.
Yes I am although we are a little confused about how long now.

What's the funding like for NPR now?
JAZZ SET is one of the programs that is still on the air. NANCY WILSON's program JAZZ PROFILES has ended because of a lack of funding. We're still getting good funding and I'm very grateful for that. JAZZ AT LINCOLN CENTER is another program that's still going. We're hanging in there. Almost by the skin of our teeth. I think the way that the music industry is going to today is that there seems to be less sponsorship for music artists and for artists in general. People are leaning more towards being independent and doing things on there own. That's how it looks to me and I think it's a good thing.

Congratulations on your GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal for J'AI DEUX AMOURS.
Thank you. I was actually flabbergasted. It was such a risky project. I couldn't have picked a worse time to do a French project. I'm amazed with the radio airplay that I'm getting. The GRAMMY's never entered my mind.

You won a GRAMMY for the DEAR ELLA album back in 1997 right?
Yes. That album actually won two but one of them was for Best Jazz Vocal and the other was for Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal. But the nomination for J'AI DEUX AMOURS was out of the blue. I was stunned. I consider myself the dark horse here.

Where is home for you?
I live between Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada. I moved here because my mom is retired here. And I also live in Paris France.

What are the challenges of going back and forth? Are there any challenges to going back and forth or are you just an old pro at this?
I'm an old pro at this. It does get tiring but I do what I have to do. I like to say that I'm an artist who records. I am not a recording artist because recording artists can live off of their royalties and little ol' me has to get out there and put my feet to the pavement and do tours. I'm all over
the world. I live out of a suitcase. I ended my European tour on the 30th of November and I will start back up in January. In January I'll be doing a lot of television shows in Italy and I'm recording on an album for a jazz violinist named REGINA CARTER. There's a big international celebration coming up for the 200 years of MOZART and I'll be apart of that. They're doing a huge satellite television recording and going from different cities all around Europe. It's supposed to be broadcast in the U.S. as well. I've got a MOZART piece that I have to learn.

Oh wow!
Oh Wow is right! It's a duet that I'll be doing with an opera singer. I've worked with JESSE NORMAN and a soprano by the name of BARBARA HENDRIX. I've done a jazzy version of GEORGE BIZETTE's CARMEN and I had to drop the opera down by a third because I do not have the voice of MARIA CALLAS, although I learned the opera by listening to her version. Boy, did she have a voice! She improvised. She'd bend and hold notes. I bought four different versions of CARMEN and it drove me crazy because they all sounded the same. And that is one of my qualms that I have with opera and the singers. It's that you can't distinguish them.

You were named Ambassador to the UNITED NATION's FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATION back in 1999.
Yes. The FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL ORGANIZATION (FAO) is a UNITED NATIONS program that encourages self-sufficiency in combating hunger in third world countries and I'm proud to be a part of it. They've set up a project where they bring in one or two people from another impoverished country that have learned techniques to make their area self sufficient. They bring them in to live in these villages and actually teach the women to become self sufficient; how to better manage their crops, how to design a better irrigation system, how to dig for wells so they can get their own water supply, and how to build silos for grain and rice storage. The women are also taught how to take better care of their livestock and they learn how to recognize different diseases. This program encourages self sufficiency rather than dropping care packages and have the food taken away by the powers-that-be for personal purposes. I like this program very much. I like that it's run by women. The women of these villages create co-operatives so they can teach the women how to better handle whatever their mainstay is. It's amazing to see the sense of self pride that the people have. The chiefs for example, in the villages that I went to in Senegal are only interested in money and promoting themselves. They would come to me and ask me to speak to the general director of the program about getting money for them to get cars or things for their own personal use. The FAO found that when they first initiated this program, the chiefs would squander the money. These are projects that can be done anywhere from 3,000 to 5,000 dollars. Because the FAO is more of an agricultural program, it doesn't have the world-wide notoriety of other programs such as UNESCO or UNICEF. I've also worked with the political refugee program through UNESCO and I've also worked with AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL. I've worked with a lot of different programs but the FAO was the first time I was ever asked to be a goodwill ambassador. I think we are now close to 50 goodwill ambassadors now. Our job as ambassadors is to talk about the project. If anyone wants to find out more or if they want to donate, the website is
www.fao.org. I've also got a direct link on my official website at www.deedeebridgewater.com. They have WORLD FOOD DAY every year on October 16th. I've been to four of them and the seat of the FAO is in Rome, Italy. I've met with many heads of state regarding the work the FAO has done and it's been very interesting. The general director of the program is from Senegal. His name is JACQUES DIOUF and we're now speaking about me becoming an actual diplomat for the FAO because I feel that if you get to a certain age, if you have a certain degree of notoriety, you should lend your voice. Your voice is important.

I've been a fighter for human rights since I was able to save my voice. (laughs) When the BLACK PANTHER PARTY started, even though it was distorted by the government, I worked with the BLACK PANTHER's BREAKFAST PROGRAM while I was at MICHIGAN STATE UNIVERSITY and was blacklisted for my involvement. I've been followed by the FBI and CIA, so I've led quite an interesting life.

Do you think that artists don't take that much of a stance anymore?
Artists, in my opinion are becoming more and more egocentric. I think that the world is moving more towards a ME-society and certainly, in the United States,it's all about money. Although when you have natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina the outpouring of the American people was exceptional. Even at 9-11, the outpouring and show of support by the people was exceptional. What happens after we have given our money, we have no control over and that is where the problems lie. I hope that I'm going to have some time in the coming year to go down to New Orleans and work with HABITAT FOR HUMANITY and build some houses. New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz and I have a strong affinity for that city. Building houses is the right thing to do. I've made donations to HABITAT FOR HUMANITY. I'm very leery of the RED CROSS and these other organizations. Many of us donated to the RED CROSS after 9-11 and a lot of those people still have not gotten their money and it's terrible. It's really bad. So if feel that anyone who can lend there voice should do so. Some people are afraid to make any kind of a stand that will single them out. I have to admit that since this government came into affect, I was speaking out against the war in Iraq and at the time I was still with UNIVERSAL in the United States and I was told to shut up and not say anything “...you could jeopardize your career.” I think that more and more people are finding their voices and what I have done is find a way to voice my opinion without saying anything direct. You have to be very creative now. I'm from the last era where people made any kind of a stand for anything. This new generation, the X-Generation is lost and the age of my son who is 13 now, these kids are lost. Unless it's personally instilled in them, they don't have a sense of caring and morality. We're living in a now society and we're living in a society where people don't investigate and they don't question. It's frightening.

You're going to Mali this year.
Yes. I'll be going there in August 2006 because my next recording project is going to be mixture of Malian music and jazz. It'll be a meeting of the two worlds because I have decided to embrace my African heritage, which for much of my life I have denied but now I feel that my roots are in the country of Mali. I've taken one trip last year and I fell in love with the country and the people. When I go back this coming year, I'm going to try to take some medicines with me. I'm going to speak with this organization called DOCTORS WITHOUT FRONTIERS to see if I could get them involved because I went to a city in Mali, it was a fishing village where they don't have medicines for diseases like malaria and malnutrition. What I've found is that outside of a lot major African cities, there are no treatments and that medicines never go outside of these major cities. My dream is to do the music and also do a documentary, so I can show the country to people so they can learn who these people are and how they live. I think this is the most dignified race of people I've ever met. The main religion of Mali is Muslim. I think that the only way we are going to take away the fear about the Arab people is to show other sides of the culture and the religion. This is a very peaceful people and a very dignified people. Even in there poverty. I was absolutely flabbergasted. My album deal with UNVERSAL MUSIC INTERNATIONAL is for specific projects which is a first for me. One of them was the French project, the second one is the African project and the third one will be based on music from South America. I want to explore other areas outside of traditional jazz. As an artist I need to explore. I've done so much to keep traditional jazz alive and I've walked with ELLA FITZGERALD for five years and I'll probably be connected to ELLA for the rest of my life. But as DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER, I want to understand as much as I can about rhythm. The drum and rhythm. That came out of doing my HORACE SILVER album, because HORACE SILVER's music is so syncopated and so rhythmic. I became so intrigued. I want to learn more about different time signatures and the complexities of having multiple signatures at the same time. I have to challenge myself BRIAN. Otherwise I think I'll go crazy and I think it's so easy to repeat and to do the same thing over and over again with just a little variation. It's much more risky and much more challenging to explore uncharted areas. I feel more like a musician like MILES DAVIS or HERBIE HANCOCK or JOHN COLTRANE who was allowed to do musical exploration. It's considered the norm for them. For singers this is not allowed and I've actually been ridiculed for this, especially in France.

Really?
Yes. Because I'm not doing the same music anymore. I've actually had debates with the main jazz journalists in France because they haven't appreciated my last two albums. The album before J'AI DEUX AMOURS was KURT WEILL tribute called THIS IS NEW. That album was my best critically acclaimed album. I want to be known for my daring. I want to be known for giving other points of view and other musical ideas to the jazz singers of today. I want to be a leader. I don't follow. I'm an individual and I'm not afraid to stand alone.