Born Denise Garrett, May 27, 1950, in Memphis, TN; daughter of Matthew Garrett (a musician and teacher) and Marion Hudspeth; married Cecil Bridgewater, 1970; daughter: Tulani; married Gilbert Moses, c. 1975. Education: Attended Michigan State University, 1968, and University of Illinois, 1969; studied with pianist Roland Hanna. Addresses: Home-- Paris, France. Record company-- Verve Records (Polygram), 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019.
Dee Dee Bridgewater's lives, personal and professional, have taken a lot of unexpected turns since she first emerged as a top jazz diva in the early 1970s. Her quest to create a life satisfying on both levels has included stops on both coasts of the U.S., a return to her childhood hometown in Flint, Michigan, and finally a flight across the ocean to Paris, where she has lived for the last several years. Along the way, Bridgewater has established herself as one of the best and most versatile vocalists of her generation, as well as a skilled actress. Her career entered as new phase in the 1990s, as she took over creative and financial control of her own work. The result has been a couple of Grammy Award nominations and a degree of international recognition that had eluded her in the past.
Bridgewater was born Denise Garrett on May 27, 1950, in Memphis, Tennessee. Her father, Matthew Garrett, was a prominent trumpet player in the Memphis jazz scene, and had worked as a sideman with the likes of Nat (King) Cole. When Dee Dee--Denise's nickname since infancy--was three years old, the family moved to Flint, Michigan, where Matthew opted for the security of a teaching job. The Bridgewaters remained in Flint for the rest of Dee Dee's childhood.
While her friends listened to the pop hits of the day, Garrett immersed herself in jazz at home. Among the many vocalists she admired, Garrett's favorite was Nancy Wilson. She plastered her room with photographs of Wilson and taught herself to mimic Wilson's style. Garrett formed a vocal trio called the Irridescents while she was still in high school, but that group was shortlived. After her graduation in 1968, she enrolled at Michigan State University. It was there that Garrett began to bloom as a performer, working college clubs and jazz festivals with a quintet led by saxophonist Andy Goodrich.
In 1969 the Goodrich group performed at a festival at the University of Illinois in Champaign, where Garrett caught the eye and ears of John Garvey, director of the U. of I. jazz band. A few months later, Garvey invited Garrett to join his ensemble for a six-week tour of the Soviet Union. The band included trumpet player Cecil Bridgewater. Garrett and Bridgewater married in 1970, and shortly thereafter moved to New York, together in search of a successful career in jazz.
Cecil caught on first in New York, working initially with noted pianist Horace Silver and then landing a steady job with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, the de facto house band at the legendary Village Vanguard jazz club. When Jones and Lewis discovered that Dee Dee could sing, she joined the group as well, and remained its featured vocalist from 1972 through 1974. During this period, she returned to the U.S.S.R., this time with the Jones-Lewis orchestra, and also performed in Japan. Her steady gig at the Village Vanguard put Bridgewater at the center of the New York jazz scene, and she became much sought after for session work by some of jazz's biggest names, including Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, and Roland Kirk. In 1974 she was named best new vocalist in Down Beat magazine's annual poll.
In 1974 Bridgewater decided to audition for the Broadway musical The Wiz, an updated African-American version of the classic The Wizard of Oz. She landed the part of Glenda, the good witch of the South. The part was relatively small, but included several featured songs. Bridgewater's performance earned her the 1975 Tony Award for best supporting actress in a musical. Having divorced Cecil Bridgewater by this time, she also landed her second husband, Wiz director Gilbert Moses.
Bridgewater grew tired of Broadway by 1976. She quit The Wiz that year and moved to Los Angeles, with an eye toward trying her hand at film acting and pop singing. Although she remained primarily a jazz singer, Bridgewater sought to stretch her talents in more commercially viable directions. The next several years were frustrating ones. Caught between the worlds of jazz and pop, Bridgewater was unable to find a comfortable spot in the hearts of either audience. She was especially bothered by the mediocre "Black muzak" that record producers tried to make her sing. By the mid- 1980s, Bridgewater was ready to abandon her musical career entirely. In 1985 she moved back to Flint to live with her mother, who was in poor health.
The following year, Bridgewater moved to Paris, where, like so many jazz artists before her, she found a public far more appreciative of her talents than American listeners had ever been. In 1986 and 1987 she starred in the one-woman show Lady Day, a musical about the life of Billie Holiday. She performed in other musicals as well, including a revival of Cabaret. Meanwhile, Bridgewater resumed her singing career. She toured the Far East with a band that ncluded such notable players as Clark Terry, James Moody, and Jimmy McGriff. By the end of the 1980s, Bridgewater had established herself as one of the top jazz vocalists in Europe.
In 1990 Bridgewater released In Montreaux, her first album on the Verve label. By this time she had managed to regain creative and financial control over her projects, a fact reflected in her choice of material for the album, notably a medley of Horace Silver compositions. In Montreaux served notice to the jazz world that Bridgewater was once again a force to be reckoned with. Her next recording, Keeping Tradition, was nominated for a 1993 Grammy award. The Bridgewater-Silver connection became even more concrete in 1994, when Bridgewater got the idea for her next album while performing the Silver tune "Love Vibrations." The resulting recording, Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, was released the following year. It earned Bridgewater another Grammy nomination, and brisk crossover sales in Europe landed the album on the pop charts on that continent.
Bridgewater performed to an enthusiastic audience at the Village Vanguard in 1996, more than 20 years after her earlier brush with fame at that venue. Although she has remained based in Paris, her successful return to the U.S. was music to the ears of audiences on the side of the Atlantic where jazz was born.
by Robert R. Jacobson
Dee Dee Bridgewater's Career
Began professional singing career with saxophonist Andy Goodrich, 1968; performed with Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, 1972-74; recorded with many top jazz artists during this period; performed in Broadway musical The Wiz, 1974-76; performed in a variety of pop and jazz venues, with occasional television and film appearances, 1976-1985; resumed singing career in Paris, 1985; starred in stage musical Lady Day (tribute to Billy Holiday), 1986-1987; resumed recording career on Verve label, 1990--.
Dee Dee Bridgewater's Awards
Tony Award for best supporting actress in a musical for The Wiz, 1975; Grammy Award nominations for Keeping Tradition (Verve, 1993), and Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver (Verve, 1995).
- Selective Works
- (With Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra) Suite for Pops, 1972.
- Live in Paris '87, Affinity, 1987.
- In Montreaux, Verve, 1990.
- Keeping Tradition, Verve, 1993.
- Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver, Verve, 1995.
- (With Heiner Stadler) Ecstasy, Labor, 1996.
- Down Beat, October 21, 1976; December 1995.
- Emerge, April 1996.
- New York Times, April 21, 1975.