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Dee Dee Bridgewater in concert with the Big Band of the Kölner Musikhochschule on July 7th 2006 in Cologne, Germany, Courtesy Wikipedia, Alexandra Spurk

I hate cigarette smoke.

I just do. It weaves through the tight curls in my hair, adheres to my skin like chalk dust,  and condemns my nose and throat to frenetic fits of sneezing and coughing. But for the pleasure of experiencing the vocal gymnastics of singer/songwriter/actor/producer/Grammy and Tony award-winner Dee Dee Bridgewater, I would sit at a table of four chain-smokers and tough it out. Well, maybe just two smokers with filters, and my gas mask.

Since I’ve been following her career for some years now, and am a devoted listener of her critically acclaimed NPR radio show “Jazz Set with Dee Dee Bridgewater” which I stream on WBGO out of New Jersey, I know Bridgewater is worth most any discomfort for a chance to hear her sing. She is a consummate entertainer, and a connoisseur of classic jazz sung with a hint of seduction and her unique flair. So, when I heard she was appearing on Blue Note Hawaii’s stage this February, I knew I had to go.

The Blue Note Hawaii, formerly the long-standing showroom of Honolulu’s Society of Seven variety show in the Outrigger Waikiki Beach Resort Hotel, is a newly remodeled, upscale jazz club featuring musical legends and local artists in a year-round, twice nightly format which closely resembles its flagship in New York which was founded in 1981 by Danny Bensusan.  In a venue rumored to hold 300 guests, and boasting a mouth-watering dinner and cocktail menu, the Blue Note Hawaii could very well become the new gathering place for the best and the beautiful in Honolulu.

When I arrived, I was ushered into a sleek showroom backlit by mood-enhancing blue lights and modern lush decor. And thankfully for me, there was no smoke anywhere. The polite chatter of seated patrons couldn’t disguise the anticipation we all felt as the clock ticked forward to performance time. I sat facing middle stage near the sound booth where I had an eagle eye’s view of the showroom. This proved a fortunate vantage point to observe  Bridgewater’s multiple selfie bombs with the Japanese tourists who sat in delighted bunches right against the stage.

Bridgewater swooped onto the stage swathed in a wildly floral-printed sheath dress, welcomed us souls willing to brave the late show, then wowed us with her trademark scatting.  Even though I love the marvelous, high-octane energy she projects on stage, I found myself preferring her sultry rendition of ballads, like “Prelude to a Kiss” which she obligingly sang to an adoring fan from Tokyo who couldn’t help admonishing Dee Dee, during a three minute conversation, that no one could stay depressed in Hawaii, unless of course, that person was crazy.

And crazy we were for Bridgewater as she flirted and teased her way across the stage, trilling up and down octaves with the assurance of a master performer. Both her pianist Michael King, and her bass player Eric Wheeler were top-notch, and could have easily carried her on their own without any other accompaniment.

My one disappointment is that we didn’t hear Ms. Bridgewater sing as much as we heard her scat, depriving patrons like myself from being transported fully by her magical approach to lyrics.  But redemption occurred in her haunting rendition of Abbey Lincoln’s “The Music is the Magic of a Secret World.” Pure bliss.  Pure Dee Dee.

Dee Dee Bridgewater, please continue to share your magical music, and wave your magic wand as you did when you appeared on Broadway as Glinda the Good Witch in The Wiz because we need you to remind us that there is no place like home to listen to great  jazz, especially if home is here in Hawaii.

Allison Francis is Hawaii Reporter’s Arts & Culture Editor  

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