Interview: Lady of jazz speaks her mind

By SONIA KOLESNIKOV, UPI Correspondent  |  March 4, 2003 at 8:43 AM
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SINGAPORE, March 4 (UPI) -- She has been in the business for more than 30 years and she doesn't mince her words. At 53, Dee Dee Bridgewater knows what she wants and it isn't fame or selling million of records.

She is also quite outspoken about her former label, Verve Music (part of Universal Music Group), which did not renew her contract after her last record "This Is New."

Though she concedes that album, an homage to the music of German composer Kurt Weill, was a departure from her covering of standards like Ella Fitzgerald and was not as well received by the public as some of her previous records, the acclaimed vocalist also feels it did not get the support it should have.

"I cannot control whom they decide to market. I think this album could have sold better, but they've been busy with Diana Krall and that has been a big problem for me with Verve. I've always been second to Krall and now I'm no longer with the label," she told United Press International in an interview.

"I have finished my contract with Universal Music. I am now a free agent and I'm in discussion with a developing label to go in as a partner," she added, saying that the parting had been Verve's decision.

"I don't know why they didn't want to re-new. But I am a very vociferous person and I do express my dissatisfaction and say what I feel. I do think there were some political decisions about not wanting me to continue with the label, I do feel somewhere I got in the way," she said.

"They couldn't control me. Because I produce my own music, they could not dictate to me, they could not manipulate and shape me. I have very distinct ideas about what I want to do," the actress and jazz singer said.

"I'm 53, I'm not 30. I have daughters almost the age of Diana Krall, well not quite as old as her," she adds with a smile. "But I'm a grown woman and I know what I want to do."

Undeterred by the latest developments in her record career, the Grammy award winner plans to continue surprise her public, and would now like to explore world music with African and Brazilian rhythms

"My intention is to continue my own musical search and own creative development as an artist. Of course I'm aware of what one needs to do to try to sell," she said.

"But I'm also to continue my pursuit. I don't have the need to sell millions of records. That is not my objective. My objective is to try to take my artistry to the fullest capacity that I can, and that will remain my focal point," Bridgewater said.

Bridgewater is busy touring the world this year and has been booked for a good part of 2004. But the jazz singer is hopeful she will be able to start on a new record project toward the end of the year. "I intend to start contacting musicians and set up opportunities to go to the countries I'm interested into in. Because what I would like to do now is original things," she said.

Bridgewater said she would like to start writing down her own idea and talk about things that matter to her socially.

She admits she would also love to return to the stage. "But the problem is time. ... I can't seem to allow myself enough time to be free for the possible projects that are coming out. So I think I'll probably have to create my own project," she said.

In 1975, she won a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress in a Musical for her rendition of Glinda, the Good Witch of the South in the original Broadway production of "The Wiz." In the mid-1980s, she received a Laurence Olivier Award nomination for Best Actress for her rendition of Billie Holiday in Lady Day. She was last on a stage in Montreal in 1998.

Born Denise Garrett in Memphis, Tenn., her father was an educator who also played trumpet for Dinah Washington. Bridgewater often cites Nancy Wilson and Nina Simone as important early influences.

She defines a jazz singer as "a person that takes a song and the melody and do improvisation on the melody."

"For me it's all about improvisation. For me the epitome of a jazz singer would be a Betty Carter or an Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan. But Sarah is more about improvising on the melody as she sings the lyrics. Me, I'm a strong promoter of scat. (Jazz singing in which meaningless syllables are improvised, often in sounds of a musical instrument)," she said.

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