By Ron Wynn
NASHVILLE, TN — Dee Dee Bridgewater has earned numerous honors and awards for her brilliance as both a jazz and theatrical singer in a career dating back to the 70s. From her early days with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra to a role in “The Wiz,” which won her a Tony, and a tribute album to Ella Fitzgerald that earned a Grammy, Bridgewater’s mastery of tempo and timing, lyric articulation, and storytelling acumen have made her a jazz and show tune giant.
But after being a 2017 NEA Jazz Masters Award recipient Bridgewater decided to try something new. Born in Memphis but raised in Michigan, Bridgewater decided to pay homage to the music of Stax. The resultant LP “Memphis ..Yes, I’m Ready” peaked at number 10 on the jazz charts and won Bridgewater a lot of attention and fans in different circles.
Yet Bridgewater, who’s coming to town Friday night in a duet setting with pianist Bill Charlap, says the initial response she got from the jazz community to the Memphis LP was less than enthusiastic, at least at first. “They really weren’t that thrilled about it,” Bridgewater told the Tribune this week in a phone interview. But then the promoters started getting all kinds of requests for it, and they changed their attitude. It’s also influenced others in the jazz world to look at the Black popular music of the 50s, 60s and 70s with more respect.”
However she’s not abandoning the classic jazz tunes that have made her a contemporary legend. “Bill is letting me pick the songs for what we’re doing in Nashville, and it will be more traditional jazz material, but done my way.”
“I’ve always admired and tried to model what I do professionally like Miles Davis. He always talked about exploring new things and not getting in a rut. That’s always been what I’ve thrived on doing as a performer and plan to keep on doing.”
Dee Dee Bridgewater and Bill Charlap Friday night at the Schermerhorn. Symphony Center, 1 Symphony Place, 8 pm