INTERVIEWS DEE DEE BRIDGEWATER|
JAZZ CHANTEUSE DEE
LIFE IN JAZZ
HERSELF IN FRANCE
HER GRAMMY NOMINATED CD
BY BRIAN LUSH
the past year, there had been a great deal of talk in the media
regarding the quality of life and “the culture of
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.
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
(Born DENISE GARRETT in Memphis, Tennessee) has made making the world
a better place, her life's work.
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.
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
DEUX AMOURS was ten years in the making. Why was that?
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)
the album everything that you intended or hoped for in the beginning
or has anything changed?
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
my project before J'AI DEUX AMOURS plays a combination of a
regular drum kit with some other percussive instruments. That was what
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.
like it would've taken ten years anyway.
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.
had quite a career. How did it all begin for you?
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
in 1969 you toured the SOVIET UNION.
That was when I was in college. I went to Russia with the University
of Illinois Jazz Band. It was a cultural exchange tour.
was that experience like?
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
am a little too young but I know about it.
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
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.
had albums released in the seventies as well.
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?
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.
music something that was encouraged in your household?
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.
seen quite a few MICHAEL MOORE documentaries on the city. How do you
feel about all thats happened to Flint now?
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.
can't stay away from them trumpet players.
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.
prompted your move to FRANCE?
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-
you won the LAWRENCE OLIVIER AWARD for?
didn't win, I was nominated.
are the differences, if there are any between a European audience and
an American audience?
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.
in radio yourself, as the host of JAZZ SET on NPR.
I am although we are a little confused about how long now.
the funding like for NPR now?
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.
on your GRAMMY nomination for Best Jazz Vocal for J'AI DEUX AMOURS.
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
won a GRAMMY for the DEAR ELLA album back in 1997 right?
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.
is home for you?
live between Henderson and Las Vegas, Nevada. I moved here because my
mom is retired here. And I also live in Paris France.
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?
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
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
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
were named Ambassador to the UNITED NATION's FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL
ORGANIZATION back in 1999.
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.
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.
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.
you think that artists don't take that much of a stance anymore?
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
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.
going to Mali this year.
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.
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.