Celebrating the 55th anniversary of the longest consecutively running jazz festival in the world, The Monterey Jazz Festival arrives in Philadelphia at the Merriam Theater Feb. 2 at 8 p.m.
Featured artists include Christian McBride, Benny Green, Lewis Nash, Chris Potter, Ambrose Akinmusire, and the multi-talented Dee Dee Bridgewater.
Born Denise Eileen Garrett in Memphis, Tenn., her father was a jazz trumpeter and a school teacher who exposed his young daughter to jazz early on. At the age of sixteen, she was a member of a rock and rhythm ‘n’ blues trio before she eventually took off on her own.
“After winning some talent shows, my dad got me jobs in local clubs, which is where I started to learn my craft,” she says. “In 1970, I met and married Cecil (Bridgewater) and we moved to New York City where Cecil played in Horace Silver’s band, and I eventually joined the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra as the lead vocalist, which I think was my major professional breakthrough.”
Since then, Bridgewater has enjoyed a multifaceted career spanning more than four decades, earning three Grammy awards while pursuing a parallel career in musical theater and winning a Tony Award for her role as Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in ”The Wiz.”
Other theatrical credits include “Sophisticated Ladies,” “Black Ballad,” “Carmen” and “Lady Day,” a Billie Holiday tribute for which Bridgewater received the British Laurence Oliver Nomination for Best Actress in a Musical.
Bridgewater also has the distinction of being the first African-American actress to play the role of Sally Bowles in “Cabaret,” a production mounted in Paris.
“I love both facets of my career,“ she offers, “and I wouldn’t mind doing more theater work but I never seem to be able to find the time to make it happen.”
That’s probably because she is so busy doing so many other things. Among her other work, Bridgewater acts as a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) while continuing to fight against world hunger.
Additionally, she continues hosting NPR’s award-winning weekly syndicated show, “JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater,” now in its second decade on the air.
She’s also continuing additional work on her album “Red Earth,” released in 2008, and featuring African-inspired themes and contributions by numerous musicians from the West African nation of Mali, while digging into her own ancestry there.
And while she describes herself as primarily a jazz singer, she admits to loving all genres of music. “So I would say I am a jazz singer who can do just about everything else.”
And it would seem that every day Bridgewater seeks to add new meaning to her life with various projects. “I love everything I do and I have no regrets, none at all,” she insists. “I believe that we gain from every experience we have in life. We learn from the bad things and profit from the good. I choose to have a positive outlook about it all.”
Her main goal, she concludes, “is to fondly embrace my past as well as my present while looking happily into my future.”
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