Dee Dee Bridgewater on women in jazz and British audiences

BY Sammy Stein

2nd Apr 2024 Celebrities

4 min read

Dee Dee Bridgewater on women in jazz and British audiences
Dee Dee Bridgewater looks back on performing for jazz greats Miles Davis, Blossom Dearie and Sarah Vaughan, and shares what she loves about singing in the UK
You are a frequent visitor to the UK. What is it you like about it?
Are you kidding? There is so much I love. I have been visiting since the 1970s. I used to play at Ronnie Scott’s and remember Ronnie doing his stand-up routine by the pillar.
I love your royal family—in fact, I had a brief fling with a member of the family, who shall remain nameless of course (laughs). 
"I used to think British audiences were cool and polite but since the 2000s things have changed"
I love the countryside and the audiences. I used to think British audiences were cool and polite but since the 2000s things have changed and I have a sense of being able to be completely free as an artist.
I remember one time when some women threw their panties on stage for a male artist and this guy threw his boxers for me. I put them on over my pants (trousers) and the whole audience lost it. 
Is there a difference in audience wherever you play?
If an audience likes what they see, and appreciate it, the reactions are the same. This is part of your craft as a performer—to connect with the audience on an intimate level. 
Why did you decide to play at Cheltenham this year?
I heard the line-up and as soon as I heard the name Dionne Warwick, I was in. She and I used to hang out—we even had the same hairdresser at one time. She is incredible.
Your daughter, China Moses, told me she was in a restaurant in Japan and Benny Golson came up and told her to keep doing what she did because she did it well. Have you had seminal moments like that?
I have had so many “moments”. I am one of the last jazz performers to start with a big band (Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra) and many of the musicians were like fathers to me. The women too were incredibly supportive. 
People like Carmen McRae and Nancy Wilson would hand me the mic and go and sit down. Sarah Vaughan acknowledged me and that meant a lot.
"I felt he was like a god, and he came to see me"
I remember seeing Blossom Dearie when I was about 23, and when I entered the room, she told everyone, in that beautiful voice of hers, “We have a young rising star who just walked in.”
Miles Davis came to see me—I mean, I felt he was like a god, and he came to see me!
Do you feel music is open to all on an equal basis?
It has never been level. It is still a fight and there are issues. For example, I know I am not paid the same as my male counterparts and there are still things to deal with. The key thing is there is more awareness now, and things are improving. 
What would be your perfect day off?
I’m having one now. Being in one of my daughters’ homes, seeing my grandchild get ready for school. We just mastered my album—this is a wonderful day. 
Also gardening. I love pruning and pulling out weeds. In my home in New Orleans, there were these old dying bushes.
Recently, the guy who runs the firm that cuts and mows the grounds asked me, “What happened, did you get new bushes?” but I had just decided to bring them back to life by pruning out the dead wood—and they look great.
During lockdown, my garden was my delight.
You founded the Woodshed Network to support women in jazz. Can you tell us a little about it?
There were many incidents and I decided, “Not on my watch”. I founded the Woodshed Network.
We teach that it is your job to deliver and acknowledge your public because it is they who will make your career. We guide on the career side more than the music because many had no idea about this.
One of the programme’s participants, Lakecia Benjamin, is also playing at Cheltenham. How do you feel seeing the success of this rising star and others who are Woodshed Network alumni?
It feels wonderful. My daughters and I are a big part of Lakecia’s life, and love walking this journey with her and trying to keep her grounded. 
What would you like someone who has just seen you perform to take away?
I want them to feel loved, connected, seen and cared for. That they have experienced something that takes them away from their issues and that there are infinite possibilities.
Can you sum up how you feel about performing?
I feel anointed, I have a gift to share. When I am onstage I am naked, and I think making myself vulnerable like that helps people connect with me on an intimate level. I have learned how to look into an audience and to make every person feel cared for.
I try to connect with people. The other day, I passed a woman with a baby. She had a cute coat on, so I stopped her and said, “I love that coat, you look fabulous.”
"I feel anointed, I have a gift to share. When I am onstage I am naked"
She cried because no one had said this to her. We hugged and went our separate ways, but I know she felt uplifted.
I am blessed. I never studied music but even in my brief time at university, I was part of the university jazz band, and we toured the Soviet Union. Everything I do comes from the spirit.
Cheltenham Jazz Festival is being held on May 1-6. The line-up includes Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sam Eastmond’s band playing John Zorn’s Bagatelles, Charlotte Keefe, Nikki Yeoh, Dionne Warwick, Courtney Pine, Brad Mehldau, and many others
Banner credit: Photo by Niccolo Bruna
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