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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  September 18, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PDT

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>> good evening from los angeles. i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with jazz legend dee dee bridgewater. known for her powerful vocals and scat singing, she's led a multifaceted career spanning multiple decades and will be honored with the ascap award honoring her humanitarian efforts. she joins us tonight to discuss her eagerly anticipated project "memphis ... yes, i'm ready," then a performance from blues quintet southern avenue. we're glad you've joined us. all of that in just a moment.
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♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ so pleased to welcome dee dee bridgewater back to this program. she has been at the forefront of jazz music for the past four decades now. she's won grammy awards, a tony award, and is one of this year's national endowment of the arts jazz masters. her latest album is called "memphis ... yes, i'm ready." and how could you not love that album cover? [ laughter ]
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i assume that's you a few years ago. >> yes, just a few. >> just a few? >> just a few. [ laughter ] >> well, i saw this title, "memphis ... yes, i'm ready," my first thought was, it took you all this time? >> it did. >> yeah. >> it took me all this time. >> all this time to get ready? >> yeah. >> and why? >> well, i mean, to get ready to go back home, you know, because you know, i've been on a life journey, and finally, i have found that time where i could go back and investigate my beginnings, which has been a wonderful thing. >> what makes this time the right time to do that? >> you know what, it was about -- my mother was beginning her transition. she just died on march 1st, but she's had dementia, and i've been her caregiver for -- i was her caregiver for ten years. so as she began to transition, i began to think that maybe i need to start seeing about what dee dee wants to do, and this was
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something that i've been wanting to do was to go back to memphis to understand why i am the way i am, why i have certain likes that i do and why i've always had this love of soul music and blues music. so, that's what it was. >> so, your fans know, and i count myself as one of them, as you well know, your fans know that you have done it all and that you can do it all, and yet, for a child growing up listening to this stuff on the radio, you took a different turn. you took more of a jazz route. >> well, you know what, i didn't discover this music really, the music that is on this album, until i was in my teens. >> yeah, yeah. >> you know? i was listening to motown, you know. and it was only when i was about, i think about 13, 14 years old that i found this radio station, and i could only get it late at night, so it was like my secret music, and i never shared this with anybody. so, this is -- this is kind of like my coming out party. >> mm-hmm, yeah. [ laughter ] >> at 67 years old, i've decided, yes, i'm ready and i
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can do this. >> but when you discovered it as a teenager, you liked it. you liked it then. >> i will haloved it. >> but you still went the jazz route. >> well, because that was the easier way for me to go. now that sounds funny. >> easier why? ain't nothing easy about jazz. >> well, easy -- >> not the way you sing it. >> easy for me because this is the music my parents played in the house all the time. and when i started singing, even though i started singing more motown-oriented music, people always said that i didn't phrase right, i didn't phrase like most of my girlfriends. and so when i started singing solo at 16, i just started doing jazz. i don't know it was just there. it was a thing that was -- it was the thing that i listened to, so it was easy for me in that sense. and then i guess because my mother had listened to ella fitzgerald when she was pregnant with me, the scatting i could always do, and i never understood why. i just accepted that i could. but yeah, it was because i had
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ella on the brain. >> you said two things i want to get back to before i forget them. >> oh, lord. >> one, it's been 100 years since the birth of ella. >> yes, it has. >> say something about the grand contribution, the legacy of ella fitzgerald. >> ella fitzgerald gave us such a wealth of music. i don't think that anyone thinks of jazz vocals without thinking of ella fitzgerald. she is synonymous with the word jazz singer. so you know, she is, i'd say she and billy holiday for me are the two singers on whose shoulders i solidly stand, you know. and i think that when we are thinking about jazz singers, those are the two names that come. to mind for a lot of people. but ella fitzgerald for me was always omnipresent. i always thought of her, like there's the voice of god there was the voice of ella, you know. >> the other thing i want to go back to, because i'm fascinated
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by what they told you back in the day about your phraseology. and the question i want to ask is what did you learn -- i know what they said back when you were teenagers, that you didn't phrase right. what did you learn about phraseology, about song styling over the years? >> the thing that i have learned, tavis, is that each individual has their own phraseology, their own way of interpreting a song and hearing a song, and i have learned to accept the voice that i have over the years. i used to think that my voice was not black enough, you know, because i can't do that, you know, all that little -- >> all the runs. >> the runs. i can't do that. i've never been able to do that. and i used to be very frustrated by that. secretly, part of me doing this album was my way of saying, okay, y'all, yes, i am black, okay? i am! i really am.
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i can sing like that, you know. but i think what i try to tell young singers is don't try and imitate somebody else. you have to learn to embrace your voice. and so, that's what i had to do. i had to learn to embrace my voice and embrace who i am. >> how did you learn to do that, or put another way, how did you not take offense at these black folk who were telling you that your phraseology just wasn't right? >> i just had to not pay attention to that, you know, and i learned over the years to, you know, to develop a thick skin so that people that would criticize me for the way that i sang, you know, including my own people, i would just walk away from that, and i would just have to stand firm in the dee dee bridgewater that i was and that i am. it's taken years. it's taken years. i can stand today at my age and say, well, this is who i am. and i think that started for me
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at about 50, you know. but before that, i was very conscious and a little self-conscious about my singing. i think that's why, if someone youtubes me and they catch me live, i have a tendency to sing much harder than i do on a recording, because i've always felt i need to belt, to belt it out, and it's only now that i'm starting to go, oh, i don't really have to, that there is a microphone, i can use a microphone. i can count on the microphone to do that for me. but that's something that comes with age and wisdom. >> yeah. i think that if more of us were willing to be honest about it, i think we'd probably find ourselves in the same company as you, that is, this notion of admitting that even as we age, so many of us still feel, for whatever reason or reasons, that we have something to prove. >> isn't that interesting? >> you say -- i heard that comment loud and clear. >> well, yeah.
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>> that at 67, i can do this, y'all. >> yeah, i can. >> we all, i think as we get older, we still -- >> i wonder what that is. >> we still feel like in certain areas of our lives we still have things to prove to people. >> that's very true. i mean, and this album, this new album is, that is a perfect example of feeling like i needed to prove something, on one hand. >> right. >> i mean, i'm doing music that i've always wanted to do, but i felt that i needed to prove that, yes, i am able to sing black and be soulful and, you know, because jazz isn't associated with being soulful, you know. jazz is an intellectual music. and even for me as a singer, i have always had to incorporate the acting, i've always had to incorporate something that i felt is going to make people feel like what i'm doing is easy, you know, and that it doesn't warrant all of this intelligentsia that people associate with jazz music and listening to jazz.
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so, but i really don't know what that is. i do feel like -- that's interesting. i think that, yeah, even at this age, even with the knowledge that i have of having achieved all the things that i want to, i do still feel like i want to prove some more stuff, that i can still do some more stuff. now it's about -- it's age-related. >> right. >> i can still do this at this age. [ laughter ] >> yeah, yeah, yeah. you still got it. you still got it. you said some other things i find fascinating -- >> oh, lord. >> you always do, but i've had so many conversations and teased so many friends about this in various genres of music. i tease my friends who do classical music. i tease our mutual friends, marcus robinson and others that do music. i am black, but if i were a singer, i don't think i could sing in any profession where i couldn't feel the audience loving me back. that's my selfishness. and talking about jazz to your point, being intellectual music,
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you don't always know -- and maybe you do, i don't know how you figure that out -- but how do you know the audience is feeling you, like when you're earth, wind and fire or luther, you feel it, they're screaming, they're on their feet. jazz doesn't do that for you. >> i get that. i'm one of the other in the jazz. i get that. i get the instant response from my public. >> yeah, okay. >> you know. and that's something that i've always enjoyed. i get an immediate reaction. i have people that will yell out if they hear, you know, a scat phrase that they like or something. so, i get that. and so, i am always concerned about whether or not i am having this connection and this communication with the audience. if i don't get it because i'm used to getting it, then i feel there's something wrong. >> yeah. >> so, i'm not that jazz singer that expects for there to be no reaction. i'm expecting a reaction,
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because i like to create a sense of feeling like the audience can participate, you know. >> part of that, i've seen you perform a thousand times, as you know. >> right. >> part of that for you is because you do give a different kind of energy than most jazz performers on stage. >> yeah, yes. >> you're jumping around and running around and they feel -- they don't just see it, they feel it from you, so they give it back to you. i believe what comes from the heart reaches the heart, so that's why you get it back, because you're a different kind of jazz singer. if i were to ask this question of 100 different people, i would get 100 different answers, but i'm going ask you. for dee dee bridgewater, what is the relationship for you between jazz and blues? what's the relationship? >> i feel like blues is an extension, it's a child of jazzic. they're both born out of the human condition and the human suffering of our people. so, blues is a simplification for me of jazz.
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it's like breaking it down so that it's very simple, you know. it's usually 12 bars. sometimes you've got 16 bars. there are different measures of a blues tune. but it's a more simplistic way of reaching out to people and expressing what an individual is feeling. that's the difference for me. and what i'm saying since i'm doing this music now is i say, you know, first there was jazz, and then the blues developed, and then soul music and r&b music. it's just, it almost is a tracing of the development of us as a people. and as we came out of the slavery, first, it seems like the jazz music was we needed to have a conversation, a musical conversation that was truly our own. as we developed that conversation, then we were able to relax a bit and do a simpler
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conversation that could be understood by people in a more simplistic fashion, and that's how the blues music came about. and then we had to funk it up a little bit and that's how the soul and all of that happened. >> when you went into the studio to do this, was there anything about your jazz stylings that you brought to singing this soulful stuff, or did you completely say i'm leaving all of that, i don't want to bring any of that to this? >> when i went into the studio, on the first song, i think it was "i'm going down slow," i was very timid, and my daughter was with me, tilani, who does my management. and before i went in, i went to her and i said, i don't know if i can do this. i said i don't know if my voice is going to lend itself to this music. and she said something that just was a big click-click for me, you know, it just made me go, right, she's right. she said, mama, just sing. i was like, oh!
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oh, okay, just sing, right. stop -- in other words, for me, that meant, she was saying to me, don't trip about how you're going to do it. just go in there, feel the music like i always do, and it will come out. you know. but when i heard it, there -- i did not want to put into this music the jazzy phraseings that i am accustomed to doing, so i was very conscientious about doing a more simplistic style of phrasing, keeping notes cleaner. i don't know. and then the rest of it, it just happened. it just happened. >> i'm glad you said that. when did you know you were in the groove? on what track did you say, i got this now? >> i was in the groove by the end of the first song, by the end of the first take of "i'm going down slow." i was like, ooh, this feels good. ooh, this feels good. but there's something magical about royal studios, where we recorded. you know, there's all of this history, because that is the
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studio where they did most of the high record recordings. that's where al green did all of his albums. and you know, so, most of the artists, or many of the artists whose songs i'm doing on the album recorded in royal studios. and there's just a -- it has a soul to it. it just gives an energy. it's like walking into a church. it's a very sacred space, you know? and i could feel that. and something would happen to me when i would go into the vocal booth and i would shut the door. i don't know, i could feel -- i could feel all of this energy. so, i felt very relaxed. i'd say even more so than when i've gone into the studio to do my jazz album. i felt extremely relaxed, like this was my home, this was where i was supposed to be, and it was a beautiful thing. >> there are 13 tracks on here. how'd you figure out, of all the stuff that you could have done and all the stuff you listened
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to as a teenager -- >> those are the songs. >> you've got some good stuff, but how'd you pick these? >> i don't know. i just -- >> you've got some elvis on here. >> yeah. >> you've got some b.b. king on here, some al green on here. >> mm-hmm, otis. >> some otis redding on here. >> yeah. i just, i don't know, they were just songs that popped into my head. i sat down -- kirk waylum co-produced the album with me and i sat down with kirk and made a list of songs. i think we started out with about 25 songs. and then i -- as we talked about what i was trying to do, i just honed in on the songs that i selected because of the stylings of the songs. i mean, like the elvis tunes, i said i have to do them. i'm in memphis. >> you're in memphis. >> i'm in memphis. i have to, you know? and i loved elvis presley when i was a little girl, you know? and one of my visits to memphis, i went to graceland. i dragged my daughter to graceland. >> you had to go see it. >> i had to go.
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she was like, mama, no. and i said this is my thing, you have to come with me. so she appreciated it, too. i think in the end what was important to me was just honoring people who meant something to me, like b.b. king. i had to do b.b. >> yeah. >> you know, b.b. embraced me when i had first moved to paris. and anytime i saw b.b. king over the years, from that moment -- i first met b.b. in '86 -- from that moment until his death, you know, if we were in the same city and doing the same festival, he'd say, dee dee bridgewater, you'd better come in and sit in with me and i'd be, yes, b.b., i'll be there, you know? so, there were just different reasons behind each of these songs. i had to do -- "can't get next to you" was not in the time frame that i was looking at, but i've always wanted to sing that song, that song. so i took a little bit of artistic license. >> in this 13th track, you had
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to go there, huh? >> "precious laura," i had to. >> you had to go there. >> "precious lord" has been speaking to me for i'd say two years now. i've been doing it every now and then at the end of a show. >> how's the audience respond to it live? >> they love it. they love it. >> the gospel thing, you can't fade it. >> no, you can't. >> you just can't. something about that gospel music, man, it's just -- >> i don't know. people love it. however, we've replaced it, recently. we've been doing in live shows "purple rain." so, and now people go crazy. crazy when we do "purple rain." but "precious lord," i think it started talking to me as i saw my mother's health declining, and it would be a very soothing and healing song for me when i would do it in performance, you know, because we need that. we need that spiritual hand. >> i can see that. >> yeah. >> i love this photo. put it up, jonathan.
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[ laughter ] >> i think i was about 2 1/2 years old. >> there you go. >> it was on a stage in memphis, tennessee. my father was in the band of diana washington. >> ooh. >> he was playing lead trumpet in diana washington's band. i walked out on the stage, and the photographer that was there took the picture. >> that was an omen of things to come. >> yeah, and diana washington, she held me in her arms and told my mother and my father, she's going to be a singer like me one day. >> if you can't be blessed by that moment. >> i was blessed. >> by diana washington. >> obviously. >> the new project is called dee dee bridgewater, "memphis ... yes, i'm ready." dee dee, i love you. good to have you back. congratulations. >> thank you very much, tavis. >> my pleasure. upcoming, blues quartet southern avenue. stay with us. ♪ >> c >> close out tonight's program is blues quintet southern avenue
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performing "freedom." enjoy. goodnight from l.a., and as always, keep the faith. ♪ tryna rain, tryna rain on the thunder tell the storm i'm new ♪ ♪ i'ma walk, i'ma march on the regular painting white flags blue ♪ ♪ lord forgive me, i've been running, running blind in truth ♪ ♪ i'm a rain, i'm a rein on this bitter love tell the sweet i'm new ♪ ♪ oh, i'm telling these tears, go and fall away, fall away, oh ♪
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♪ may the last one burn into flames ♪ ♪ freedom, freedom, i can't move, freedom, cut me loose ♪ ♪ yeah, freedom, freedom, where are you, 'cause i need freedom, too ♪ ♪ i break chains all by myself ♪ won't let my freedom rot in hell ♪ ♪ hey, i'm a keep running 'cause a winner don't quit on themselves, hey ♪ ♪ oh ♪ tryna wade, tryna wave through your water, tell the tide don't move ♪ ♪ i'm a riot, i'm a riot through your borders, call me bulletproof ♪ ♪ lord forgive me, i've been running, running blind in truth ♪ ♪ i'ma rain through your shower, tell the deep i'm new ♪
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♪ oh, i'm telling these tears, go and fall away, fall away ♪ ♪ oh, may the last one burn into flames ♪ ♪ freedom, freedom, i can't move, freedom cut me loose ♪ ♪ yeah, freedom, freedom, where are you, 'cause i need freedom too ♪ ♪ i break chains all by myself, won't let my freedom rot in hell ♪ ♪ hey, i'm a keep running 'cause a winner don't quit on themselves, hey, yeah ♪ ♪ ♪ what you do for me, the truth
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can't shake, oh father can you hear me ♪ ♪ what you want from me, is it truth you seek, oh father ku hear me ♪ ♪ what you want from me, is it truth you seek ♪ ♪ oh father can you hear me, father can you hear me ♪ ♪ ♪ ooh, ooh, freedom, freedom, i can't move ♪ ♪ freedom, cut me loose, freedom, freedom, where are you ♪ ♪ 'cause i need freedom too ♪ freedom, freedom, i can't move ♪
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♪ freedom, cut me loose, freedom, freedom, where are you 'cause i need freedom too ♪ ♪ freedom, freedom, i can't move, freedom, cut me loose ♪ ♪ freedom, freedom, where are you, 'cause i need freedom too ♪ [ cheers and applause ] >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. >> >> hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with television legend ed asner. that's next time. we'll see you then. en.
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♪ ♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you.
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