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Dee Dee Bridgewater interview

The confident and sparkling world-class jazz vocalist talks about new projects before her next appearance in Switzerland

Dee Dee Bridgewater

Few are those who didn’t grow up with the velvet, sophisticated voice of Dee Dee Bridgewater coming across the airwaves. The three-times Grammy Award winning soulstress from Tennessee is a legend in soul and jazz, having captured the hearts of audiences worldwide with her rendition of If you Believe in the Broadway musical, The Wiz, for which she pocketed a coveted Tony Award. Ms. Bridgewater has been described as a force of nature when performing live, a lauded actress with a magnetic stage persona, whose voice at the same time croons and beguiles.

A mother of three, Ms. Bridgewater spent 24 years building a successful career in France, often making forays into Switzerland for the likes of Montreux Jazz Festival. On Sunday June 28, she makes an appearance at Stand d’Eté in the Jurassic Arc, a two-week festival that brings top-billing artists to a former shooting range in the unpretentious municipality of Moutier. Having just released her latest album Dee Dee’s Feathers, the artist talks with Time Out Switzerland from her home in Los Angeles.

In April you were in Geneva with your daughter China Moses, and you’ve performed at the celebrated Montreux Jazz Festival over the years. What enticed you up this way?
I’ve been to Moutier before when I lived in France. That was in the 1990s. I came to Switzerland a lot while I was living there, going mainly to Geneva, Zurich, Basel, and to a lot of the smaller cities as well. I’ve been all over the country.

China and I did nine concerts in April; that was our first tour together. We’ve done isolated dates, but we don’t usually work together a lot. She has her career and I have mine.

How has it been to see China Moses develop her own career, through the eyes of a mother?
It’s been fantastic to work with my daughter, and I’ve worked with her often over the years. She’s asked me to be a part of her recording projects, or asked my advice on projects that she does. I love that she’s made a foray into acting, and she’s been doing that off and on over the years. She was the face of MTV France for about 10 years. It’s wonderful to work with my daughter. It’s incredible to be on the stage with her, to look over and realize that the person that you’re standing next to is one of your own children that you brought into the world, and to know that they’ve been able to carve a career out for themselves – on their own merits. Not on mine. It’s a blessing!

Many people think that you’d be great at singing opera - a lyrical repertoire other than jazz. Have you ever thought about it?
How interesting. I’m not well enough versed in classical music to know much about it, but I’ve had some forays into singing opera music and have played the role of Carmen in Georges Bizet’s version of Carmen. It’s a jazzy version so he just dropped the entire opera down one-third for me to do it. But I’ve had invitations from classical booking agents claiming that they could find bookings for me all over Europe.

Your recent album Dee Dee’s Feathers is a jaunt down the historic New Orleans neighborhood of Treme. Can you tell us about it?
I recorded Dee Dee’s Feathers in New Orleans, with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra (NOJO) and Irvin Mayfield, the jazz bandleader and trumpeter. It’s all about New Orleans – a modern vision of it - and celebrates the city as a kind of phoenix rising out of the ashes after the devastation that was Katrina. The album has both traditional and new songs. Everyone involved in the CD project is either from New Orleans or lives in New Orleans. The album has been released in countries across Europe, but won’t be out in the US until August.

What’s left to do that you haven’t already done?
Girl, that’s a wide open question! I have some things that I’m interested in doing after this that are different musical styles. I’m not going to talk about them, I’m just going to be doing them. But suffice it to say that I’ve really been on an exploration of my past and knowing where I come from. I did a studio album in 2007 to that end called ‘Red Earth: A Malian Journey’. I’ve been trying to find my African and Malian ancestry. I recorded that in the country of Mali, in the capital city Bamako. I am now looking at my genealogy in the United States as far as where the first people in my family came from – the beginning.  I am really wanting to highlight that and the musical drive that I was given at such an early age, you know, by being in cities where music was really appreciated, and where an artist was very highly respected. So I just want to do more interesting projects, a series of projects. I get requests to do them all the time. It’s lovely. 

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