She’s all that jazz

Boris Barabanov,
newspaper “Kommersant”,
April 12, 2011

In the year of her anniversary American jazz diva Dee Dee Bridgewater visited Russia within the scope of tour dedicated to the album of songs from the repertory of Billie Holiday. BORIS BARABANOV reports from Svetlanovsky hall of Moscow International Performing Arts Center. 

Even before Dee Dee Bridgewater appeared on the stage, it was clear that the event won’t be boring as Igor Butman jazzorchestra, who was to accompany the singer, had already warmed up the audience. Not only were the musicians at their best, the leader of the orchestra, being the master of the ceremony, communicated with public in so characteristic of him provocative manner: “Let’s welcome the heroine of the evening in the right, St. Petersburg, way! Oops, in Moscow way…”. 

In spite of the fact that in May Dee Dee Bridgewater will celebrate her 60th anniversary, when she appeared on the stage, many people, probably, wanted to verify it in Wikipedia. She was wearing a daring knee dress with open shoulders and an impressive necklace. What really stroke was the fact that instead of having her traditional dreadlocks the singer was absolutely bald. “The hair-do takes too much time”, - Ms. Bridgewater confessed in one of the recent interviews.

The visit of Dee Dee Bridgewater was dedicated to the album of songs from the catalogue of Billie Holiday “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee”, which came out last year. Throughout her whole career Dee Dee Bridgewater was accompanied by the repertory of Billie Holiday. Once Ms. Bridgewater even made a musical telling about life of the great predecessor. The heroine of the evening mentioned that Billie Holiday’s birthday was right before the concert in Moscow. Therefore, obeying the conductor passes of Dee Dee Bridgewater the audience of MIPAC started singing “Happy birthday, Billie!” The programme also contained the songs from the repertory of Ella Fitzgerald, for which in 1997 she received one of her Grammies. 

Ms. Bridgewater commented on her elder colleagues’ songs briefly and capaciously. Her speech, contrasting with endless friendly slanging match with Igor Butman, sounded as if it were a serious educational programme. Sometimes Dee Dee Bridgewater deliberately exaggerated teacher’s intonation intensifying it with a midamerican accent. Nevertheless, when she gave free rein to her histrionic talent, it was easy to remember that there is not only a jazz singer on the stage but also a titled musical actress. In 1975 Dee Dee Bridgewater received “Tony” for the role in “the Wizard of Oz” on the Broadway and later, after her move to France, she played in “Cabaret” and became the first black singer, who receiver the role of Sally Bowls. 

Before performing Billie Holiday’s “Lover Man” mother of three children and wife of three husbands Dee Dee Bridgewater, stroking her shining scull, informed the public that she is still searching for “her” man what caused some excited exclamations from the audience. The singer, in her turn, sent tender question somewhere in the balcony area “Honey, where are you?” but it seemed that she was really worked up only by the people on the stage. That chemistry between the singer and the orchestra had nothing in common with standard lame compliments, which are so preferred by other foreign artists, performing in Russia. Dee Dee Bridgewater has been coming to Moscow since 1969 and she called Igor Butman’s orchestra one of the two best orchestras in the world. “This orchestra really kicks butt” – announced the singer from the stage of MIPAC and in a spectacular way stoke out that part of the body that was kicked by Mr. Butman and his colleagues. For that evening Dee Dee Bridgewater transformed the surname of the saxophonist and conductor of the orchestra into Buttmen and in every possible way made puns on its musical sounding. 

The orchestra replied in a traditional feverish solos but the most excelled was the drummer Eduard Zizak. Dee Dee was generous to ardent praise gestures and words addressed to all her companions on the stage. In the beginning of the second part, while Dee Dee was having rest behind the scene, Igor Butman big band played its own version of “Caravan” by Duke Ellington. This number, according to Mr. Butman, is usually performed in the end of the evening when both the audience and the orchestra “are ready”. When Dee Dee Bridgewater walked out on the stage, first of all she asked the audience to applaud to Nikolay Levinovsky, the author of the arrangement who was in the hall that evening. Later she made a special mention of the playing of Alexander Dolgopoly: “not everyday one can hear such a baritone-sax. He reminded me of Pepper Adams”. 

The vocal of Dee Dee Bridgewater stroke the public with not only the range of voice and its abundant passion. The singer gave a priceless example of cooperation with partners, solo musicians and with the orchestra as a whole. She was not a diva on the proscenium in the ray of a spotlight. She was an instrument of an orchestra with which she played not everyday. The singer, that worked with Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and other classics of genre, managed to fit in with the Russian orchestra so, as if in reality, like on the stage, she usually walks up and down arm in arm with Igor Butman, dropping equivocal hints.