Bridgewater hits the road with Monterey jazz

The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour Band (l to r): Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire. (Photo by R.R. Jones /Special to the Commercial Appeal)

The Monterey Jazz Festival on Tour Band (l to r): Chris Potter, Christian McBride, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Lewis Nash, Benny Green, Ambrose Akinmusire. (Photo by R.R. Jones /Special to the Commercial Appeal)

Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour 55th Anniversary Celebration

7 p.m. Sunday, Germantown Performing Arts Centre, 1801 Exeter. Tickets $25, $35, $45 available at the box office, by phone at 901-751-7500, and online at

Dee Dee Bridgewater remembers little about the first time she took the stage at the renowned Monterey Jazz Festival. It was 1973, she was 23 and beginning her professional career with the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra.

“I think I did one song. I know I did ‘All of Me,’” says Bridgewater, admitting most of the day was a blur. “What I remember most about it is walking around the fairgrounds and running into Ray Brown the bassist (who played with Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald) and him saying to me that one day we’re going to work together. And it happened. I worked with Ray from 1996 until he passed in 2002.”

Forty years later, Bridgewater is still forging bonds through the Monterey Jazz Festival. Currently the Grammy and Tony Award winner, who was born in Memphis, is part of “The Monterey Jazz Festival On Tour,” featuring an all-star band put together to help mark the festival’s 55th anniversary.

The tour stops at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre on Sunday.

Founded in 1958 in the scenic Northern California coastal community that lends it its name, the Monterey Jazz Festival is the longest consecutively held jazz festival in the world. (It’s East Coast rival, the Newport Jazz Festival, was founded four years earlier but has gone through name and location changes through the years.) Over the decades almost every major figure in jazz has graced Monterey’s stages, including Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Wynton Marsalis.

That uninterrupted track record gives Monterey a cachet that is unique among festivals.

“I think we are seen as one of the most historically significant jazz festivals,” says Monterey’s artistic director, Tim Jackson. “While there’s no question that there are lot of festivals that are larger — Montreal, North Sea, New Orleans — ours has a certain pedigree, a certain sense of history, a certain legacy. And being on the Monterey peninsula, one of the most geographically beautiful places, creates an ambience and sense of specialness that’s hard to re-create anywhere else.”

The Monterey Jazz Festival Tour was one of a series of projects that also included a record label and a book designed to celebrate the festival’s 50th anniversary in 2008.

“The initial motivation was using a 50th anniversary as a jumping off point to help leverage the Monterey Festival brand to a larger audience,” says Jackson. “With these tours we’re able to get some really out of the way parts of the country where people might not have ever been to Monterey.”

For the current third iteration of the Monterey Jazz Tour, Jackson turned to three-time Grammy-winning jazz bassist and band leader Christian McBride — himself an eight time Monterey performer and former artist-in-residence — to put together a group that could ably represent the history of the festival.

“He reminds me of Ray Brown,” says Bridgewater of McBride, whose long resume includes stints with Chick Corea, Chris Botti, Diana Krall and McCoy Tyner. “He’s so versatile, and he’s extraordinary. His role in this band, I just love it. This is the first time I’ve worked with him as part of a band, so to get to hear him every night and hear how generous he is and how solid he is when he plays behind people. He’s just like an anchor.”

Besides Bridgewater, who has played Monterey three times under her own name, McBride recruited his frequent collaborator and eight-time Monterey performer Benny Green on piano, drummer Lewis Nash (two Monterey appearances), saxophonist Chris Potter (eight), and trumpet player Ambrose Akinmusire (four), the festival’s artist-in-residence for 2012.

Together the group has worked up a program that highlights the festival’s long history, including songs made famous by Gillespie, Horace Silver and Thad Jones. For her part, Bridgewater gets to revisit that first song she performed at Monterey 40 years ago, “All of Me,” as well as a gospel-flavored version of “God Bless the Child,” a number connected with the first vocalist to perform at Monterey back in 1958, Billie Holiday.

“The whole idea behind this is to give audience a taste of what the festival is about,” says Bridgewater, who last visited Holiday’s oeuvre on her Grammy-winning 2010 album Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love from Dee Dee Bridgewater; she will return to it when the stage play which inspired it, Stephen Stahl’s “Lady Day” makes its New York debut in September.

“I love that festival. And last year when I did it with these amazing gentlemen that I’m touring with I had a day off, so I was able to actually got to listen to some artists. I just had a blast, and I can’t wait to go back.”

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