Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dee Dee Bridgewater: consumate jazz vocalist and ambassador

Born Denise Grant in Memphis on May 27, 1950 to father Matthew, a trumpeteer and teacher, few entertainers have ever commanded such depth of artistry in every medium as Dee Dee Bridgewater. And, even fewer still have been rewarded with Broadway’s coveted Tony Award (Best Featured Actress in a Musical The Wiz), nominated for the London theater’s West End equivalent, the Laurence Oliver Award (Best Actress in a Musical Lady Day), won two Grammy Awards (1998’s Best Jazz Vocal Performance and Best Arrangement Accompanying a Vocal for “Cottontail” Slide Hampton, arranger “Dear Ella “), and France’s 1998 top honor Victoire de la Musique (Best Jazz Vocal Album).

Matthew Grant exposed young Denise to his love of jazz at an early age. The youngster enjoyed the many records her father played her, especially those of Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley. By the age of 16 she was in a vocal trio that specialized in R&B and rock cover versions.

Dee Dee made her phenomenal New York debut in 1970 as the lead vocalist for the band led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, one of the premier jazz orchestras of the time. These New York years marked an early career in concerts and on recordings with such giants as Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and rich experiences with Norman Connors, Stanley Clarke and Frank Foster’s “Loud Minority.”

In 1976 she landed her first recording contract with Atlantic Records. Her first release was simply entitled “Dee Dee Bridgewater.” Her 2007 release of “Red Earth,” is her ode to Mali and Africa, and singing in the spirit that calls on her African ancestry and with reverence for jazz tradition at its best.

Dee Dee Bridgewater was named ambassador to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 1999 joining the battle against world hunger.

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