Review: Dee Dee Bridgewater warms up a chilly evening at Ottawa Jazz Fest

It was a cool, really cool, evening that greeted Dee Dee Bridgewater when she bounced onto the Ottawa Jazz Festival Main Stage at Marion Dewar Plaza Sunday night.

The 68 year old jazz icon was sporting a dress and bare legs but she was undeterred by the cold as she delivered a very warm set of soul and blues to an appreciative crowd.

The music comes from her latest album Memphis … Yes I’m Ready and it’s a real departure for Bridgewater professionally. She is a jazz singer, and a well-known one. But she comes from Memphis. It’s where she was born and where her father was a musician, a music teacher and a DJ on the important black radio station WDIA.

Bridgewater is steeped in the music of Memphis from the Blues of Beale Street to the slinky soul sound of the Rev. Al Green’s Can’t Get Next To You. And she showed she is a fine interpreter of Memphis music taking on songs like Elvis Presley’s Don’t Be Cruel and turning it into a jazzy number that the King himself would have applauded.

Bridgewater, sporting a large pair of scarlet glasses was a tiny tower of power as she worked with her very talented band the Memphis Soulphony, through an hour and 10 minutes of non-stop music. Perhaps one of the ironic numbers of the night was her rendition of Ann Peebles’ I Can’t Stand The Rain. For the Jazz Festival, even the hint of a rain shower must spark unpleasant flashbacks to last year’s event which was drenched by the monsoon that flooded the Ottawa area … literally. She also remembered B.B. King, another Memphis legend with a version of his The Thrill Is Gone.

Bridgewater is a great raconteur and she has the kind of family history that lends itself to legend.

Her father Matthew Garret taught many of Memphis’s great jazz musicians. He also worked with many different bands including one led by Rufus Thomas. 

Thomas’s daughter Carla would babysit Bridgewater. Carla Thomas would go on to her own musical career that Bridgewater honour with a performance of the hit song B-A-B-Y.

Bridgewater closed the evening with an encore performance of Prince’s Purple Rain.

Canadian guitar whiz Don Ross held court inside in the warm and welcome confines of the First Baptist Church, which is a busy venue this summer for the Jazz festival.

This was the first ever appearance at the Jazz fest for Ross but judging by the packed hall and the talent of his trio, hopefully it won’t be his last. 

There is no doubt about Ross’s ability on the guitar but he also proved he can hold a tune with his ode to winter called Anything But Blue.

The song A Million Brazilian Civilians (also the title of his laters album) was a showstopper. The title comes from a BBC reporter who said those words when describing a massive protest in Rio de Janeiro that Ross had caught on the radio.

Share Post
Written by

Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.