"I'm trying to define what it means to be a woman in her 60's," said Dee Dee Bridgewater, catching her breath, leaning back on a stool, and laughing. In the middle of the stage. In the middle of the show.
Not that she was done.
Dee Dee was quickly up and dancing, singing another of the soul classics she's revisited on her newest album, "Memphis...Yes, I'm Ready."
She's been a regular at the Montreal jazzfest since early on, honored with the festival's Ella Fitzgerald Award back in 2000. I remember a variety of her festival shows. Her concert of Horace Silver songs. Her concert of "Red Earth" songs. Also, spectacularly, a couple of fests ago, Dee Dee was a one-woman second line with trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.
"I remember my first show at this festival was in this very hall," said Dee Dee, happy that this very Theatre Maisonneuve was packed. She'd come with the Memphis Soulphony, a six-piece band that can play all the music ever recorded in Memphis. They fingered first, after the trumpet fanfare, "Soulfinger."
And out came Dee Dee, singing "Giving Up." "I come from Memphis," said Dee Dee. "I first heard these songs on WDIA. I listened on a little transistor radio." She first heard Gladys Knight sing "Giving Up." She talked about all the songs on the show and all the singers she loved as a girl. Al Green. Otis Redding. "Try a Little Tenderness" was a highlight. And, really, every song was a tour-de-force, excited and exciting. "B.A.B.Y." "I Can't Stand The Rain."
Even when catching her breath, Dee Dee was indefatigable. In a leopard-spotted dress, she danced every which way across and around the stage. "Don't Be Cruel" was a climax. "Elvis Presley sang this song," said Dee Dee, "but I heard Wilson Pickett." And she sang another climax to remember B.B. King, "The Thrill Is Gone."
Not that she was gone or done. When she came out for an encore, someone in the balcony shouted "Slow Boat to China!" And Dee Dee laughed, as she'd been doing the whole show. And Dee Dee sang, as she'd been doing the whole show. Delightfully. "Slow Boat to China" a cappella.
"Okay, that was for you," she said. "Now I'm gonna sing one foe me. It's not from Memphis. It's for someone we lost a couple of years ago." And she sang "Purple Rain" for Prince. Deeply heartful. And with waves of cellphone lights all around the audience. "Je vous aime!" shouted Dee Dee. "Merci beaucoup!"