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Dee Dee Bridgewater: Dee Dee on Billie

By Published: February 22, 2010

AAJ: So it's almost like an accident of an album, a serendipity album.

DDB: It is serendipitous, it totally is. All of the musicians that are on the album—who are Edsel Gomez at the piano and arrangements, Christian McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on drums and James Carter on sax—they were all available to do this album the first ten days of June. The sound engineer that I have for this album is my sound guru, as I call him, Al Schmitt—very famous sound engineer that I'd done my first album with, and then more recently I had used him as a sound engineer in France. So he was only free the first two weeks of June, and he suggested a recording studio, which was Avatar, and the only days they had available were these four days in June. So I recorded the album. Everything was like...weird. Everybody was free, the studio was free. So I said, "Let's get to work, and hurry up on those arrangements!"

AAJ: That was absolutely meant to be.

DDB: Yeah [laughs]. It's how I make my life. If I want to do something, I need a sign, I need a clear sign that I'm supposed to do that thing. Otherwise, just like with this option for the play—it was just like all kinds of stuff happened, and I thought, "Well, maybe I'm not supposed to do the play." I let it go in August. And it was when I let it go that Universal International in London said, "Well, since you got that CD that you've done, what about releasing that?" And I was, like, "Ooookay," and I've been running ever since, to get it ready for the release date.

AAJ: Well, it's a gorgeous album. Sometimes when people record tributes, you never know what you're going to find, but it's gorgeous.

DDB: Oh, thank you. It's a celebration of Billie, which is something people don't usually do when they do a tribute to Billie Holiday. You know, it's kind of predictable, and very typical—the tragic side of her. And not very many people know that she was a funny woman, and she was just one of the fellows when she was out on the road, and she could crack a joke just like the rest of them, and could talk like a sailor, you know? And then she would be this gorgeous, mysterious creature on stage. And it is almost like she had a double identity. When I researched for the play, it's when I discovered all of that information. So I decided, just like with most of the things I do, that I wanted to do a different take on it, especially if it's something other people have done, or a similar idea, even though it might be different music. I try and bring out some other quality to that project that hasn't been explored by others in some of the projects. So with this one, I said, "Well, let me make it a celebration."

Because it was a celebration for me, in many levels. It was a celebration because of the musicians that I had; working again with Al Schmitt; a celebration because this was really going to be a live album, because I had decided that I had to be in the studio with these gentlemen, I had to. Because in order for us to connect, I had to sing, so it was the whole unit—so we had interaction and reaction. All the songs in the album are a first or second take; there's maybe one, I think, that is a third take. No vocal over-dubbed, nothing! I had to correct two words on one song, because I sang the wrong words [laughs]. So it's really a live album, and I think that makes it stand out. We recorded that album in three days, between the 1st and 5th of June. We did four songs a day. And it was the most intense experience I've had in a long time, and certainly my most intense short-term recording experience. It was something else. And then I had all these guys that I love. These are my babies, I love these men! I love the musicianship, and you know, there were no egos.

Dee Dee BridgewaterEverybody came ready to celebrate Billie, and we were all very happy to finally have the opportunity to work together. So it was just a wonderful thing. And I didn't know, for example, that Christian and Lewis Nash are kind of like a recording duo— they've done 70 albums together. Mine makes 71, I guess. And I had done a project with Lewis on February last year, a tribute to Max Roach

Max Roach
Max Roach
1925 - 2007
, that had been commissioned by the Symphony Hall of Chicago. And it was incredible, and from that experience, we kind of bonded musically. We rehearsed to get a feel of each other for that experience, but it ended up being something we improvised. But what we did was incredible, oh my gosh! So I asked him if he'd be interested in recording with me at some point in time, and he said, "Heck yes, Dee Dee!" So I called.

AAJ: And how did you decide on James Carter?

DDB: I couldn't think of anybody else. I love James Carter. These are all guys that I always wanted to work with. And Christian and James are my little flirts—every time I see them, I flirt with them. We just got this whole thing going, this history [laughs]. I think I've known Christian now for 15 years, and James about the same time, and I just think they're extraordinary musicians.

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