Jazz vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater let the spirit of Billie Holiday appear with her raucous tribute concert To Billie, With Love at the Annenberg Center. The show was a make up appearance for a Feb 11 date that was snowed out, but this week a sold out crowd was back for the Lady Day tribute.
The jazz legend was after all born here. Actually, her mother was visiting from Baltimore, so it’s a technicality.
Making up the current DBQntet is Craig Handy on saxes and flute, Edsel Gomez on piano, Ira Coleman on one meaty bass and Cuban drummer Ignacio Berroa. Bridgewater did much more than cover well-trod Holiday territory in melding her instinctively perfect phrasing with the jazz titan who influenced everybody.
Edsel‘s dynamic orchestrations paid tribute by representing all aspects of her career, but avoided archival arrangements of Billie‘s most famous songs, instead the band opened these songs up to more blues punch, basa ballade and most potently, era traveling riffs.
Dee Dee, tres elegant in an iridescent pinkish wrap over a black ensemble, announced that she refuses to look at Billie as a tragic figure. Her life as a woman and an artist was cause for celebration. Bridgewater’s tone and intonations show her complete understanding to what Holiday’s artistry gave to jazz.
Bridgewater vocally just opened up all of the songs to valid and often times joyous interpretation. On early Billie novelty tunes like Miss Brown to You and My Mother’s Son-in-Law she vamped, on Billie’s signatures Lover Man and Don’t Explain, she laced Billie’s wily phrasing into her own. Fine and Mellow (famously aired on CBS with Holiday in late career top form reunited with Lester Young and a stellar group) was played like a low down, hot house blues and Dee Dee was all belter.
Gomez punctuated with dense virtuosic keyboard runs on several numbers and Gomez’s lag tempo brushes simmering. Handy’s alternately blue fire and blistering progressive horn lines that never obliterate the melody. On Strange Fruit Billie’s voice floats illuminating the song historical, personal and musical importance. Dee Dee is transcendent.