Bridgewater, Dee Dee 1950–
Dee Dee Bridgewater 1950–
One of the many serious American jazz musicians who have found an environment hospitable for their talents in Europe, Dee Dee Bridgewater’s vocals, steeped in the traditions of jazz, have extended those traditions to form her own personal style. Bridgewater has sung jazz, performed on Broadway, and made forays into the pop world. During a 15-year stint in Paris, she combined all the elements of her long musical education into a new level of jazz mastery and gained wide recognition for the first time.
Bridgewater was born Denise Garrett on May 27, 1950, in Memphis, Tennessee; Dee Dee was her nickname from an early age. Her father was known as a jazz trumpeter around Memphis, but when Dee Dee was three the family moved to Flint, Michigan, so that her father could take a teaching job there. As a teenager in Michigan in the early 1960s Bridgewater’s peer group was interested in the growing Motown sound, and she formed a vocal trio, the Iridescents, in hopes of getting a recording contract.
But her two companions “became more interested in boys,” Bridgewater recalled for the New York Times, and left to her own devices she turned to jazz. “Nancy Wilson was my first big idol,” she told the Seattle Times. “I loved her stage performance, so classy. My walls in my room were covered with articles about Nancy Wilson.” While still in high school she performed with instrumental trios her father put together; underage, she had to sit in the kitchen between sets.
She attended Michigan State University briefly, but switched to the University of Illinois after meeting the director of the school’s jazz band in 1969 and finding herself interested in a trumpeter in the university’s jazz program, Cecil Bridgewater. Married within six months of meeting, the two toured the Soviet Union with the school’s jazz band. But they soon landed gigs off campus and resolved to move to New York to try their luck in the nation’s jazz center. Later divorced from Cecil Bridgewater (with whom she remained on good terms and in close musical cooperation) and married twice more, Dee Dee Bridgewater has performed under that name since the days of their marriage.
At a Glance…
Born Denise Garrett on May 27, 1950, in Memphis, TN; nicknamed Dee Dee from an early age; father a teacher and jazz trumpeter; married Cecil Bridgewater, a musician, 1969 or 1970 (divorced); married Gilbert Moses, a theatrical director (divorced); married Jean-Marie Durand, a bartender; children: Tulani Bridgewater, China Moses, Gabriel Durand. Education: Attended Michigan State University and the University of Illinois.
Career: Jazz vocalist. Performed at Village Vanguard with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, early 1970s; performed in Broadway musical The Wiz, early 1970s; worked toward pop career, late 1970s; toured with international company of jazz musical Sophisticated Ladies; moved to Paris, France, 1986; released debut solo album, Live in Paris, 1987; signed to Verve label, 1990; moved to Las Vegas, Nevada, 2000.
Awards: Tony Award, Best Supporting Actress in a Musical, for The Wiz; three Grammy nominations; Grammy award, Best Jazz Vocal Performance, for Dear Elia, 1998.
Addresses: Record Label—Verve Records, 825 Eighth Ave., 26th floor, New York, NY 10019.
about music today, I learned in that band,” she told the New York Times. Performing as far afield as the Soviet Union (for a second time) and Tokyo, she was named Best New Vocalist in Down Beat magazine’s annual poll. With her marriage breaking up, however, Bridge-water turned to more lucrative work—with Thad Jones, performing at one of the nation’s leading jazz venues, she was earning only &25 a night. In 1974 Bridgewater auditioned for The Wiz, the all-black version of The Wizard of Oz that captivated Broadway audiences in the 1970s. Playing the part of Glinda the Good Witch, she won a Tony award for Best Supporting Actress in a Musical.
Romantically involved with Wiz director Gilbert Moses, whom she later married, Bridgewater moved to Los Angeles in 1976 and tried to make a new career in pop music. Though she found moderate success with a few recordings that had jazz fusion elements, Bridgewater never warmed to much of the material she encountered. After nine long years, Bridgewater threw in the towel temporarily on her musical career, moving back to Flint to care for her ailing mother. At the same time, her second marriage went sour. “I needed an ocean between my second husband and me,” Bridgewater told the London Daily Telegraph. And she put one in place by joining the international touring company of the swing musical Sophisticated Ladies.
What drew her back to her musical roots was a backstage conversation with jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald, whom Bridgewater met in Tokyo as the Sophisticated Ladies company traveled to Japan. “I am a jazz singer, that’s in my blood …,” Bridgewater told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “I thought an art form was dying and chose to dedicate myself to it …” As the Sophisticated Ladies company moved on to France, Bridgewater was pleased to find that she was already well known among jazz lovers there, always closely attuned to high-quality American jazz. Bridgewater moved to Paris in 1986 and relaunched her jazz career.
Personally and professionally, the decision was the right one for the artist. “My daughters fell in love with the place,” she told the Seattle Times. “Three girls running around the place? Are you kidding?” Bridge-water met her third husband, Jean-Marie Durand, a French jazz club bartender, during the first year she was living in the city. And work began to come. Bridgewater starred in the one-woman musical Lady Day, a biographical stage rendering of the life of tragic jazz chanteuse Billie Holiday, and she was the first black performer to play the starring role of Sally Bowles in the musical Cabaret, set in Germany during the rise of Nazism. Bridgewater toured Europe and Asia, and was signed to a contract with the Verve label in 1990.
With full creative and financial control over her career, Bridgewater returned to the straight-ahead jazz she had performed as a young woman. After her first Verve album, In Montreux, Bridgewater served notice of her creative philosophy with the title of her next release, 1992’s Keeping Tradition. That album, featuring vocal standards, brought Bridgewater a Grammy nomination in 1993, and she followed it up with two tribute albums to jazz artists who had inspired her. The 1995 release Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, landed on European bestseller charts not only for jazz but for pop as well.
Bridgewater returned triumphantly to the stage of New York’s Village Vanguard in 1996, and the following year released the second of her two tribute albums, Dear Ella. Winning positive reviews from jazz journals such as Down Beat, which praised the CD as “exquisite and exuberant,” Dear Ella also served to introduce younger U.S. listeners to the music of Ella Fitzgerald, regarded by many as the greatest pure vocalist in jazz history. The album included three arrangements by Cecil Bridgewater, one of them of the signature Fitzgerald number “How High the Moon.”
In 2000 Bridgewater returned with Live at Yoshi’s, an album recorded at a jazz club in Oakland, California. The album, wrote the Seattle Times, “showcases all her strengths—the thrust of soul music, the chops of swashbuckling jazz improvisation and the inviting personality of an actress.” Live at Yoshi’s displayed Bridgewater’s virtuoso talent for “scat” singing—making instrumental sounds with the voice—more effectively than did her studio albums generally. That year Bridgewater moved back to the United States to be closer to her aging parents, bringing her French husband with her and settling in suburban Las Vegas, Nevada. She seemed to have brought together the many strands of her musical life and hit the peak of her career. Future projects under consideration for Bridge-water included a stage show based on the music of the satirical German-born song composer Kurt Weill.
Live in Paris, Affinity, 1987.
In Montreux, Verve, 1990.
Keeping Tradition, Verve, 1993.
Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, Verve, 1995.
(with Heiner Stadler) Ecstasy, Labor, 1996.
Dear Ella, Verve, 1998.
Live at Yoshi’s, Verve, 2000.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 18, Gale Research, 1997.
Daily Telegraph (London, England), June 3, 2000, p. 8.
Down Beat, November 1997, p. 60.
New York Times, September 22, 1998, p. E2.
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 10, 1998, p. D10.
Seattle Times, April 13, 2001, p. G17.
—James M. Manheim
Bridgewater, Dee Dee
Dee Dee Bridgewater’s lives, personal and professional, have taken a lot of unexpected turns since she first emerged as a top jazz diva in the early 1970s. Her quest to create a life satisfying on both levels has included stops on both coasts of the U.S., a return to her childhood hometown in Flint, Michigan, and finally a flight across the ocean to Paris, where she has lived for the last several years. Along the way, Bridgewater has established herself as one of the best and most versatile vocalists of her generation, as well as a skilled actress. Her career entered as new phase in the 1990s, as she took over creative and financial control of her own work. The result has been a couple of Grammy Award nominations and a degree of international recognition that had eluded her in the past.
Bridgewater was born Denise Garrett on May 27, 1950, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Matthew Garrett, was a prominent trumpet player in the Memphis jazz scene, and had worked as a sideman with the likes of Nat (King) Cole. When Dee Dee—Denise’s nickname since infancy—was three years old, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, where Matthew opted for the security of a teaching job. The Bridgewaters remained in Flint for the rest of Dee Dee’s childhood.
While her friends listened to the pop hits of the day, Garrett immersed herself in jazz at home. Among the many vocalists she admired, Garrett’s favorite was Nancy Wilson. She plastered her room with photographs of Wilson and taught herself to mimic Wilson’s style. Garrett formed a vocal trio called the Irridescents while she was still in high school, but that group was shortlived. After her graduation in 1968, she enrolled at Michigan State University. It was there that Garrett began to bloom as a performer, working college clubs and jazz festivals with a quintet led by saxophonist Andy Goodrich.
In 1969 the Goodrich group performed at a festival at the University of Illinois in Champaign, where Garrett caught the eye and ears of John Garvey, director of the U. of I. jazz band. A few months later, Garvey invited Garrett to join his ensemble for a six-week tour of the Soviet Union. The band included trumpet player Cecil Bridgewater. Garrett and Bridgewater married in 1970, and shortly thereafter moved to New York, together in search of a successful career in jazz.
For the Record…
Born Denise Garrett, May 27, 1950, in Memphis, TN; daughter of Matthew Garrett (a musician and teacher) and Marion Hudspeth; married Cecil Bridgewa-ter, 1970; daughter: Tulani; married Gilbert Moses, c. 1975. Education: Attended Michigan State University, 1968, and University of Illinois, 1969; studied with pianist Roland Hanna.
Began professional singing career with saxophonist Andy Goodrich, 1968; performed with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, 1972-74; recorded with many top jazz artists during this period; performed in Broadway musical The Wiz, 1974-76; performed in a variety of pop and jazz venues, with occasional television and film appearances, 1976-1985; resumed singing career in Paris, 1985; starred in stage musical Lady Day (tribute to Billy Holiday), 1986-1987; resumed recording career on Verve label, 1990—.
Awards: Tony Award for best supporting actress in a musical for The Wiz, 1975; Grammy Award nominations for Keeping Tradition (Verve, 1993), and Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver (Verve, 1995).
facto house band at the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club. When Jones and Lewis discovered that Dee Dee could sing, she joined the group as well, and remained its featured vocalist from 1972 through 1974. During this period, she returned to the U.S.S.R., this time with the Jones-Lewis orchestra, and also performed in Japan. Her steady gig at the Village Vanguard put Bridgewater at the center of the New York jazz scene, and she became much sought after for session work by some of jazz’s biggest names, including Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Roland Kirk. In 1974 she was named best new vocalist in Down Beat magazine’s annual poll.
In 1974 Bridgewater decided to audition for the Broadway musical The Wiz, an updated African-American version of the classic The Wizard of Oz. She landed the part of Glenda, the good witch of the South. The part was relatively small, but included several featured songs. Bridgewater’s performance earned her the 1975 Tony Award for best supporting actress in a musical. Having divorced Cecil Bridgewater by this time, she also landed her second husband, Wiz director Gilbert Moses.
Bridgewater grew tired of Broadway by 1976. She quit The Wiz that year and moved to Los Angeles, with an eye toward trying her hand at film acting and pop singing. Although she remained primarily a jazz singer, Bridgewater sought to stretch her talents in more commercially viable directions. The next several years were frustrating ones. Caught between the worlds of jazz and pop, Bridgewater was unable to find a comfortable spot in the hearts of either audience. She was especially bothered by the mediocre “Black muzak” that record producers tried to make her sing. By the mid-1980s, Bridgewater was ready to abandon her musical career entirely. In 1985 she moved back to Flint to live with her mother, who was in poor health.
The following year, Bridgewater moved to Paris, where, like so many jazz artists before her, she found a public far more appreciative of her talents than American listeners had ever been. In 1986 and 1987 she starred in the one-woman show Lady Day, a musical about the life of Billie Holiday. She performed in other musicals as well, including a revival of Cabaret. Meanwhile, Bridge-water resumed her singing career. She toured the Far East with a band that included such notable players as Clark Terry, James Moody, and Jimmy McGriff. By the end of the 1980s, Bridgewater had established herself as one of the top jazz vocalists in Europe.
In 1990 Bridgewater released In Montreaux, her first album on the Verve label. By this time she had managed to regain creative and financial control over her projects, a fact reflected in her choice of material for the album, notably a medley of Horace Silver compositions. In Montreaux served notice to the jazz world that Bridge-water was once again a force to be reckoned with. Her next recording, Keeping Tradition, was nominated for a 1993 Grammy award. The Bridgewater-Silver connection became even more concrete in 1994, when Bridge-water got the idea for her next album while performing the Silver tune “Love Vibrations.” The resulting recording, Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, was released the following year. It earned Bridgewater another Grammy nomination, and brisk crossover sales in Europe landed the album on the pop charts on that continent.
Bridgewater performed to an enthusiastic audience at the Village Vanguard in 1996, more than 20 years after her earlier brush with fame at that venue. Although she has remained based in Paris, her successful return to the U.S. was music to the ears of audiences on the side of the Atlantic where jazz was born.
(With Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra) Suite for Pops, 1972.
Live in Paris ‘87, Affinity, 1987.
In Montreaux, Verve, 1990.
Keeping Tradition, Verve, 1993.
Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, Verve, 1995.
(With Heiner Stadler) Ecstasy, Labor, 1996.
Down Beat, October 21, 1976; December 1995.
Emerge, April 1996.
New York Times, April 21, 1975.
—Robert R. Jacobson