Las Vegas Sun

July 26, 2014

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Jazz great Bridgewater is finally at home in Henderson

Who: Dee Dee Bridgewater & Trio.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Government Center Amphitheater.

Admission: Free.

Information: (702) 455-8200.

If you didn't realize Dee Dee Bridgewater lives in Southern Nevada, don't feel badly. You're not alone.

The world-renowned jazz vocalist has kept an extremely low profile since moving to Henderson in 1999.

In fact, Bridgewater's 8 p.m. concert Saturday at the Government Center Amphitheater part of Clark County's free "Jazz in the Park" series will be the Grammy Award-winner's first headlining gig as a Nevadan.

"I feel very excited, like I'm really going to become a local resident," Bridgewater, 53, said in a phone interview from her home Tuesday.

"I'm on the road a lot, and we're a very private family, so I feel like people here have not understood what I do. This is going to be an opportunity to dispel any myths, any thoughts that maybe I'm just an exaggerator."

Bridgewater's only other recent local performance was in April, when she participated in the "Joe Williams Music Scholarship Concert," which benefited the Community College of Southern Nevada, at The Orleans. Before that, she most recently played Las Vegas in 1998 at the Riviera, before she lived here.

Bridgewater will be backed by a trio comprised of pianist/organist Shedrick Mitchell, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Hans Van Oosterhout. The singer has planned a set that will highlight several phases of her acclaimed career.

"I'm going to do things across the board," Bridgewater said. "I'll throw in a couple of blues, and I'm going to do some tunes from my Live at Yoshi's' album that are a little more funk oriented and maybe throw in a couple of Horace Silver pieces that are funky, so I can get the crowd into it.

"And maybe I'll do one ballad. I've found when you do outdoor concerts like this, people need to be moved constantly. You can't slow them down for ballads or they lose interest."

Bridgewater's performance will also feature several cuts off her latest album, last year's "This is New," a tribute to German composer Kurt Weill.

Bridgewater, who had long included Weill-penned songs "Mack the Knife" and "My Ship" in her repertoire, became entranced with some of his other material during a concert celebrating his music in Wroclaw, Poland, in March 2000.

"It was a very eclectic show. The music was treated in every style imaginable, from opera to punk rock to rock opera to cabaret to straight-up pop to jazzy pop," Bridgewater said. "I found myself in this Weill-wonderland, so to speak, and I was just mesmerized."

Upon returning to the States, Bridgewater immediately began tracking down as many renditions of Weill's compositions as possible.

"I began to select the songs that spoke to me. And as it turned out, they were all songs from his U.S. period, from 1935 until 1950 when he died," Bridgewater said. "I wanted to concentrate on a more positive image of Kurt Weill, not this dark and brooding image that I think most people have of him."

Bridgewater, who won 1997's Best Jazz Vocal Performance Grammy for her Ella Fitzgerald tribute, "Dear Ella," is also an accomplished actress. She picked up a Tony Award in 1975 for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her role as Glinda the Good Witch in "The Wiz."

That background in theater served Bridgewater well on the 12 cuts on "This is New" ("Mack the Knife" is included as an unlisted bonus track).

Listening to the disc, it's easy to imagine the vocalist sauntering around a stage while demonstrating her range on the bouncy "Alabama Song" (made famous by the Doors) and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself," the Spanish-flavored "Bilbao Song" and the seductive "Speak Low."

"It's the first music I have done where the critics finally get, 'Oh that's right, she is an actress,' " Bridgewater said. "All of a sudden, my interpretive manner, the way that I can dramatize a song, made sense for the first time.

"It's the first music that has allowed me to bridge my two careers, and that's been wonderful."

Before tackling Weill's catalog, Bridgewater spent 4 1/2 years performing material from "Dear Ella" all over the world. That meant her scat-singing took center stage, something she wanted to move away from on her next project.

"With those standards, which were the pop songs of the '20s, '30s and '40s, the stories were very light, very naive. There was nothing to bite into lyrically, so I concentrated more on my musicianship and improvisational skills," Bridgewater said.

So much so that her audiences eventually started requesting less scat-oriented material.

"My fans began to say, 'Can't you just sing the songs? Do you have to scat on every song?' Bridgewater said. "So with the Kurt Weill music, all of a sudden I have these amazing stories, a million words and I can really just play the role of the singer now. And when I do improvisation, it's refreshing to the listener and it has more impact."

Before moving to Las Vegas, Bridgewater spent 17 years living in France, the country that originally embraced her music. Her husband is French, and their son was born in France, giving her a unique perspective on the recent tensions between the U.S. and its longtime ally.

"When there was all the dissension at the U.N., you couldn't help but take it personally," Bridgewater said. "At the same time, trying to be objective, I have to understand the whole nature of the situation. It was a kind of hysteria that was created. American people are especially patriotic since 9-11, so anyone that the president says we should not deal with, everyone is just going to follow."

Bridgewater and her family even felt recent anti-French sentiment firsthand here in Las Vegas.

"My husband had some run-ins with people, and people at my son's school decided that they couldn't be friends with him anymore," Bridgewater said. "So I told my husband to go home to France and cool off for a few weeks."

Bridgewater also experienced anti-Americanism in Europe, when a sold-out concert in Dusseldorf, Germany, was half-full in an apparent political statement.

"A lot of people felt this was the only way they could voice their approval of what the United States was doing," Bridgewater said. "But I don't take things like that personally anymore. Life is just too short."

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