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Two Tributes to Bille Holiday: Dee Dee Bridgewater and Stepanie Nakasian

Joel Roberts By

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Dee Dee Bridgewater
Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee
Emarcy
2010


Stephanie Nakasian
Billie Remembered: The Classic Songs of Billie Holiday
Inner City
2010


Dee Dee Bridgewater, one of the premier singers of her generation, as well as an acclaimed actress and radio personality, has had an extremely close relationship with the music of Billie Holiday, having starred in an acclaimed one-woman show about her in Europe in the '80s. But while she's recorded tributes to Ella Fitzgerald, Horace Silver and Kurt Weill, she's never made an album focused on Holiday—until now.

Bridgewater's new release, Eleanora Fagan, tackles 12 tunes associated with Holiday, all of which are given fresh, highly personal interpretations. While she says she sounded just like Holiday when she performed the role of the singer, here Bridgewater sounds nothing like her. Bridgewater is a bubbly, extroverted and unabashedly sexy singer, with little of the pathos and melancholy that informed so much of Holiday's work. What they share is a flair for drama and the ability to get deep inside a song.

Bridgewater is aided considerably by the bold, modern arrangements pianist Edsel Gomez provides for the old tunes and by a stellar quartet that also includes James Carter on multiple reeds, Christian McBride on bass and the veteran Lewis Nash on drums. The versatile Carter nearly steals the show with his searing soprano sax solo on the gospel-tinged "God Bless the Child," his raw, bluesy tenor on "Fine and Mellow" and his gorgeous alto flute turn on "Don't Explain." McBride's huge bass sound is heard to great effect throughout, most notably on a playful duet with Bridgewater on "Mother's Son in Law." Bridgewater teases and flirts shamelessly with the boys in the band every chance she gets and a fine time is clearly had by all involved. But while there's plenty of levity here, Bridgewater can also get to the heart of the saddest songs, like the poignant closer "Strange Fruit." Eleanora Fagan is a bravura performance that offers a new look at a cherished jazz icon.

Stephanie Nakasian takes a more swing-oriented approach to Holiday on her Billie Remembered: The Classic Songs of Billie Holiday, which focuses on Holiday's mid '30s recordings with the likes of Teddy Wilson, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw and Roy Eldridge. Holiday was a perkier, more energetic singer in this era than in her twilight years and Nakasian revels in the upbeat mood of tunes like "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Miss Brown to You" and "What a Night, What a Moon, What a Boy."

The 55-year-old Virginia-based vocalist is given excellent backing by a seven-piece band of top swing traditionalists, including trumpeter Randy Sandke, tenor saxophonist Harry Allen and guitarist Marty Grosz, who turns 80 this month. They swing hard on arrangements that sound as if they could have come straight from the '30s. Nakasian captures the spirit of these early Holiday sides without imitating her singing style, but she also doesn't stray too far from the source material, making this recording more a top-quality recital than a fresh musical statement.

Tracks and Personnel

Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee

Tracks: Lady Sings the Blues, All of Me, Good Morning Heartache, Lover Man, You've Changed, Miss Brown to Me, Don't Explain, Fine & Mellow, Mother's Son in Law, God Bless the Child, Foggy Day, Strange Fruit.

Personnel: Dee Dee Bridgewater: vocals; Edsel Gomez: piano; James Carter: tenor sax; Christian McBride: bass; Lewis Nash: drums.

Billie Remembered: The Classic Songs of Billie Holiday

Tracks: No Regrets, Did I Remember?, What a Night, What a Moon, What a Boy; I Wished On the Moon, I Cried For You, These Foolish Things, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Reaching For the Moon, Too Hot For Words, If You Were Mine, Miss Brown To You.

Personnel: Stephanie Nakasian: vocals; Hod O'Brien: piano; Randy Sandke: trumpet; Harry Allen: tenor sax; Dan Block: alto sax, clarinet; Mary Grosz: guitar; Chuck Riggs: drums; Neil Miner: bass.

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