May 27, 2014
Both artists have personal significance for me. Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess was one of the first jazz records I listened to with any serious interest. It was a perfect mix of funk, electric jazz, and soul, presented by a longtime keyboard player with serious jazz credentials. Add to it the addition of Maurice White and Earth, Wind & Fire, just then becoming a commercial power, on the ubiquitous title track, and the album was bound to be a hit when it appeared in 1974.
Little did I know that White had been the drummer in Ramsey’s trio from 1966 to 1970, after which he left to form Earth, Wind & Fire, making Sun Goddess in effect a reunion for the pair. It was this sort of connection that drove me deeper into Ramsey’s jazz albums, as I soon grooved on “Wade in the Water” and “Hold It Right There”. From that point forward, jazz was no longer something old and staid to me, but something vibrant and living.
I met Dee Dee when she gave a stunning performanace at a small theatre in Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum. I had seen top singers before, but never a singer who put interaction with the audience so high on her list of goals. Dee Dee is a true actress on the stage, which is one of the reasons that her version of standards are always a cut above the crowd.
Those who are enjoying Audra McDonald's Broadway performance as Billie Holiday should check out Dee Dee's versions of the great singer's songbook. Ms. Bridgewater took on the challenge of singing the well known – and well loved - songs of “Lady Day” from a different perspective than many singers might when she went into the studio last year “I tried to take another look at her and make people understand that she was a full-fledged woman with a lot of emotion and talent, not just a melancholic person surrounded by all the drama and pathos that she has been stereotyped with,” she told me. The resulting CD, Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater, won a 2011 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album, her third such award.