Some of you may remember Dee Dee Bridgewater from the 70’s. Little gal, with a powerful voice – thought to be the successor to the Great ladies of Jazz, Ellah and Sarah…
Dee Dee’s voice is comparable to many of the great ladies of Jazz
Their first joint appearance was an awfully long time ago. China Moses was not even born when a heavily pregnant Dee Dee Bridgewater struck a tastefully naked Earth Mother pose on the cover of her album Just Family. Thirty-two years later mother and daughter — both beautiful, both charismatic — have been living on different continents, yet their bond seems as strong as ever.
They come together tonight for what promises to be a captivating double bill, Bridgewater presenting her celebration of Billie Holiday, while Moses opens with her tribute to Dinah Washington. The hard-living Washington was only 39 when she succumbed to an accidental overdose. Holiday was only 44 when she died, four years earlier, in 1959.
Bridgewater herself is no stranger to emotional turmoil. Though she is one of the most effervescent performers in jazz, she has spent the past decade struggling with severe bouts of depression. To make matters worse, her elderly mother has fallen prey to dementia: as a result, Bridgewater — who had been living in France for two decades — moved back to the US to care for her. Not surprisingly, when we meet in Paris, she admits to feeling the strain. With her 60th birthday only weeks away, she looks terrific, yet she says that touring has become an ordeal. “One effect of my depression is that I don’t want to work. For this tour I cancelled three flights. The fourth one I took, and landed in Zurich in the middle of the afternoon, drove an hour to Lucerne, took a shower and went to work.”
This one during her “pop” music stage
Meanwhile, Moses — who has built a successful career in Paris as an R&B singer and MTV presenter — has grown used to keeping in touch on the phone. “Of course, it’s hard not to hug and not to be able to see each other,” she says, “but in some ways it brings us closer. Besides, even when she’s going through one of her spells she’ll still listen and then ask about you.”
For this project Bridgewater has come full circle. In the mid-1980s she starred in an acclaimed musical play about “Lady Day’s” final years, receiving an Olivier nomination during the London run. But when the show closed, Bridgewater found that she had lost the ability to sing in her own voice. Months passed before it returned. Even now she cannot bring herself to listen to Holiday’s recordings.
Plans to revive the show on Broadway foundered last year, but Bridgewater went ahead with an album that had been conceived as a companion piece. At about the same time, Moses, the product of Bridgewater’s marriage to the late American stage and screen director Gilbert Moses, had belatedly discovered Washington’s pop-jazz records and had set about putting together a live show that brings the diva’s thigh-slapping persona vividly to life.
Self-possessed and articulate, Moses is a winning combination of American grit and Parisian chic. She loves the music of Édith Piaf, Georges Brassens and Léo Ferré, but she is a hip-hop girl too. Whenever she goes back to the US she realises that she is home, yet feels that she could not live there. “I like Europe too much. I love being able to take a plane and be in another culture in two hours. And you are more free to be yourself in Europe, as a black person.”
This is China Moses – Dee Dee’s Girl
As for her mother, Bridgewater’s love affair with France seems to be over. She and her French husband have seen little of each other in the past two years. As a left-winger in the Michael Moore mould, she says that she loathes Nicolas Sarkozy. Moreover, she feels underappreciated by the country’s jazz critics — that Diana Krall has replaced her in their affections rankles no end.
The Krall phenomenon, in fact, leads her into a disquisition on racism in the music industry in France and America. Is it true, as she claims, that the Canadian won more corporate backing because of her blonde looks? Bridgewater has no doubts, though Krall’s popularity surely owes a lot to a canny fusion of mellow vocals and incisive piano playing that will always appeal more to the mainstream audience than Bridgewater’s mercurial approach. Whatever the truth, Bridgewater at least has the satisfaction of knowing that her last recording, the ambitious West African odyssey Red Earth, makes Krall’s recent work seem almost run-of-the-mill.
She may be a woman of firm,even strident, views but when it came to offering guidance to her three children she held back. “I never even gave China a voice lesson,” she says. “I told her that if she wanted to go into the business she’d have to make it on her own.”
“Mom actually liked silence,” Moses says. “She didn’t try to shelter us, but she left us kind of to our own curiosity. Which is cool.”
Never thought of Krall as a great vocalist – more in terms of a very good stylist who select material which fits her range.