Over the course of a multifaceted career that has spanned four decades, Dee Dee Bridgewater has risen to the top tier of today’s jazz vocalists, putting her own unique spin on standards as well as taking intrepid leaps of faith in re-envisioning jazz classics. For her latest recording, Eleanora Fagan (1917-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee, Bridgewater honors an iconic jazz figure, Billie Holiday, who died tragically at the age of 44 a half-century ago.
“This album is my way of paying my respect to a vocalist who made it possible for singers like me to carve out a career for ourselves,” says Bridgewater, who performed the role of Holiday in the triumphant theatrical production, Lady Day—based on the singer’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues—staged in Paris and London in 1986 and 1987. “I wanted Eleanora Fagan to be something different: more modern and a celebration, not a [recording] that goes dark and sullen and maudlin. I wanted the album to be joyful.”
Bridgewater adds that Eleanora Fagan goes far deeper than being a tribute album of retreaded Holiday tunes. “Billie deserves to have her music heard in another light,” she says, “and I definitely didn’t set out to imitate her.”
Key to the fresh approach is pianist Edsel Gomez, Bridgewater’s longtime band mate who wrote new arrangements for the 12 songs on the album, including the African polyrhythmic-charged interpretation of “Lady Sings the Blues, “ a reharmonized version of “All of Me” and the gospel-tinged “God Bless the Child.” Says Bridgewater: “Edsel is an extremely gifted, talented arranger with very modern ideas. Edsel has the ability to be modern and work in a tasteful fashion.”