‘When it is time to turn it on, you turn it on’: Dee Dee Bridgewater set to captivate the Norfolk and Norwich Festival
- Credit: Mark Higashino
Whether producing award-winning work, capturing the hearts of audiences or highlighting humanitarian projects, the Grammy-Award winner has proved to be one of the globe's top jazz vocalists. Now she is set to bring her distinctive style to Norwich.
The list of awards that grace Dee Dee Bridgewater's mantelpiece almost speak for themselves. A Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical, an Olivier Award nomination, three Grammys and top French honour the Victorie de la Musique.
The plaudits go on and on — and that is before you add in a devoted fan-base across the world bewitched by her phenomenal voice that has made her a must-see and a must-listen.
Local audiences will get to see the phenomenon that is Dee Dee this weekend when she bring her distinctive style to the Norfolk and Norwich Festival.
But how did she get to this lofty position with a devoted fan-base and a strong international reputation? Well that determination to succeed began at a young age.
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At the age of seven, she told her parents she was going to become a well-known and respected jazz singer so she could buy them a house and car.
Decades later, she has certainly achieved enough success to do that and it was those early years that helped shape her love of the jazz genre. Her father was a trumpeter who taught music to a host of greats like Booker Little, Charles Lloyd and George Coleman, while her mother was a huge Ella Fitzgerald fan constantly playing her albums.
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She thought jazz was a part of everyone's childhood and admits she was astonished when her school-friends had no idea who Miles Davis was.
As she got older and her friends found their love-lives were a priority, Dee Dee decided to put music first. This led to her making her professional debut in 1970 as lead vocalist with a band led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis which was one of the top jazz orchestras of the time. It also saw her lending her vocal skill to recordings by the likes of Sonny Rollins and Dizzy Gillespie.
Always on the look-out for a new professional challenge, Dee Dee made her Broadway debut in 1974 playing Glinda The Good Witch in the musical The Wiz, the soul-music urbanized retelling of L. Frank Baum's classic The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which broke new ground with its all-black cast.
This led to her Tony Award and helped her move into a parallel performing career on stage. The plaudits continued with her gaining an Olivier Award nomination for her role as Billie Holliday in Lady Day, and she also became the first black actress to take on the part of Sally Bowles in Cabaret.
And Dee Dee says this stage experience helped her to adjust her performances depending on the space she was using as well as 'projecting an emotion to the farthest rafters. I think these theatrical lessons are part of the reason why I have the longevity that I do. People who come to see me know they are going to get a good show.'
She also helped champion her music — and that of many others — by becoming the presenter of JazzSet, an audio series which became the jazz-lovers international eyes and ears on the music scene.
Importantly, she also threw her weight behind the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation joining the battle against world hunger. Dee Dee played a leading role in highlighting the need for nations and organisations to work together to create and develop sustainable resources for many communities.
Musically, she has become a big name but she admits being in the spotlight for so many years has also changed her as a person. She was painfully shy as a child and although she still likes her personal down-time, Dee Dee has also come to understand that being in the public eye is a key part of her career. 'When I'm on stage and when I have to be on, I am. Being a performer and an entertainer, you do have people look at you and expect things of you. When it is time to turn it on, you turn it on.'
For her appearance at Norwich Theatre Royal, she will be reimagining a lot of American blues and R&B classics. This blues link has been cemented through her latest album Memphis chosen to reflect the music and highlight her hometown.
She admits: 'I have wanted to do a blues project for a long time. I'm quite excited about it.'
And it will also help to build on her international career. Europe has played an important part in her story as she worked with Verve Records and even put together an all-French album. She said: 'I've lived half my adult life in France and I think there is a bit of a deeper anticipation among the people who come to a jazz concert than I feel at home. There is a different kind of respect for the fact that the music originated in the United States with black people.'
With the world facing political and economic turmoil and change, her ultimate view is that music has become more important than ever.
'At least it has been important for me to have music to fall back on, to relieve myself and heal myself, and calm myself. It has been a blessing because things have been traumatic,' she said.
• Dee Dee Bridgewater, Norwich Theatre Royal, May 20, 8pm, £28-£8-£58, 01603 766400, www.nnfestival.org.uk