An interview by Martina Knecht
Dee Dee Bridgewater in Ascona. On stage she showed a creation by local hat-maker Senta Nussberger Muanda. All photos in this article are by Gioele Pozzi, © 2022 JazzAscona.
I feel it is our duty to shift the culture to an environment that embraces, celebrates and supports women, who have and continue to contribute so much to this unique art form.
She is considered one of the greatest living jazz singers in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. To whom she has dedicated two albums: Dear Ella (1998) and Eleanora Fagan: To Billie with Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater (2009), which won her three Grammy Awards. The extraordinary career of this world-class vocalist has brought her to perform alongside artists such as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Dexter Gordon, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Sonny Rollins and Ray Charles, and to star in acclaimed musicals and theatre productions. Dee Dee Bridgewater has been collaborating with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra for many years now. On July 2, 2022, seven years after her first apparition, she held a memorable concert together with the Orchestra at the JazzAscona festival in southern Switzerland.
In conversation with Dee Dee Bridgewater I discover a refined personality who manages to transform her anger into creative power for a more just world, beginning with the music industry. Gender equality is a big issue.
Dee Dee Bridgewater and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra at JazzAscona 2022.
Dee Dee Bridgewater, you've already put Ascona under a spell in 2015. How was your experience and what are your expectations this year?
In Ascona I met many musicians. Projects and friendships were born that last to this day. The artistic exchange gave me a lot. The only regret is that I did not have time to see much of Ascona. Now hopefully I’ll have a chance to make up for it!
You’re touring with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. How did this collaboration come about?
It all started with Irvin Mayfield, the founder and former artistic director of the orchestra. I worked intensively alongside him over the past years, mostly to give visibility to the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. It even resulted in a record, before I parted ways with the project. (...) Now, with Adonis Rose as the new artistic director, I've decided to get back in the game, and here I am touring again with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra!
I have walked the stages for so many years, which is not easy in an industry, the music industry, that is profoundly male-dominated. I can’t stand injustice, and the truth is, I’m angry.
You have always been interested in musical exploration. It seems like no matter which musical context you find yourself in, you don’t want to be defined or confined by anything.
I don’t think anyone likes to be labeled, but by now I have made peace with the idea of being a jazz singer. I accept that, even though my interests are much broader and take me, indeed, further and further away from that definition. That even my latest record Memphis… Yes, I’m Ready, released in 2017, ended up in the jazz category makes me smile. I am currently working on a production of a musical for Broadway and considering whether to do a second one that has been proposed to me. I have walked the stages for so many years, which is not easy in an industry, the music industry, that is profoundly male-dominated. I can’t stand injustice, and the truth is, I’m angry. At this point in my career, I prefer to invest my energy on other fronts.
Are you referring to your mentoring program for women in Jazz?
Precisely. I feel it is our duty to shift the culture to an environment that embraces, celebrates and supports women, who have and continue to contribute so much to this unique art form. The Woodshed Network is a program that was launched three years ago without a lot of fanfare – because I don’t like to use my name to trumpet everything I do – and it is becoming something big. Mostly because of word of mouth. It’s a one-year capacitation course for female jazz musicians who want to act confidently in the music industry. A career driver, in fact, that has already allowed numerous jazz musicians to participate in great projects or find their place in a band.
We will not stop until seeing women on stages is the norm.
In this project you work alongside your daughter, Tulani Bridgewater-Kowalski. Can we safely say that you are building a legacy for future generations?
Yes, my daughter Tulani and I are both committed to making real change. We need to break the paradigm, and we will not stop until seeing women on stages is the norm.
When I go to a concert accompanied by an all-women quintet or sextet, the organizers often marvel and ask me why I hadn’t warned them sooner. And I go like: «Why sould I?»
In short, Martina, there is still a long way to go…
Martina Knecht's interview with Dee Dee Bridgewater was published on July 1st 2022 in the Ticino press.
Dee Dee Bridgewater and I in Ascona on the day of the concert, just before rehearsal with the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, in a lucky shot by Luca Martinelli. The JazzAscona press office where I was working in the semi-darkness of the storm-beaten shutters, was one floor above the rehearsal room. The sleepy corridors and classrooms of the Collegio Papio were pervaded by the most beautiful music for hours. What can I say? I love my work!