Dee Dee Bridgewater

Dee Dee Bridgewater performs Nov. 19 and 20 at Blue Note Napa.

Mark Higashino photo

Dee Dee Bridgewater is one of the great ladies of jazz. Born in Memphis and raised in a musical family in Michigan, she has accrued a string of prestigious honors over four decades as a vocalist and an actress in musical theater. Among these are three Grammys and a Tony Award, and she will be inducted as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in April of 2017.

Bridgewater, along with her trio, will perform this Saturday and Sunday, two shows a night, at Blue Note Napa.

A traditional jazz vocalist, she was influenced early on by Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, and by age 20 was already the lead singer of a band led by Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. She was quickly recognized as a formidable talent, and performed and recorded with jazz royalty of the era, including Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Max Roach and Roland Kirk.

In mid-career, she lived in Paris for nearly 20 years, performing primarily in Europe. On the phone from her home in New Orleans earlier this month, she talked about how European audiences differ from U.S. audiences, particularly when it comes to traditional vs. smooth jazz, the latter-day off-shoot influenced by R&B, rock and pop.

“My personal experience is that smooth jazz does better here in the United States,” Bridgewater said. “In Europe, they don’t even want to know about smooth jazz. Very few countries in Europe are interested in it. They want classic, traditional jazz.

“Europe is concerned about the art form thing, as close to pure as possible. When I veered away from doing traditional jazz music in Europe, I was criticized in the country where I lived, France.

“They’ve just always thought that the music, No. 1, has to be played by black people. They feel that it’s more authentic. They love New Orleans jazz, they love Dixieland jazz, and they just love straight-ahead jazz.”

Bridgewater’s 17 studio and live albums span four decades and include tributes to Horace Silver (“Love and Peace,” 1995), Fitzgerald ( “Dear Ella,” 1997) and Holiday (“Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love,” 2010). Her most recent studio recording is “Dee Dee’s Feathers” in 2015.

She is a Blue Note veteran. “I’ve played just about every Blue Note there is to play,” Bridgewater said. “I just got off the Queen Mary 2, where Blue Note now does concerts. I think the nice thing about the Blue Note clubs is that they have found a recipe that works well in terms of the seating, the food, the show. They’re taking it now and trying to really brand it. There’s your Blue Note that just opened in Napa. There’s a Blue Note in Honolulu. There’s a Blue Note that I just played in Beijing. There’s one in Milano, and I understand they’re going to be opening one soon in Shanghai.

“A lot of great legendary jazz musicians recorded at the original club in New York City. It’s a very prestigious place to perform and not everyone is allowed through those doors to do so. It’s a pretty big deal. People just know that they’re going to get good-quality music when they come to a Blue Note club.”

In Napa, Bridgewater will be accompanied by pianist Edsel Gomez, bassist Michael Bowie and drummer Kenny Phelps.

Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 19 and 20, 6:30 p.m (doors open 5 p.m.) and 9 p.m (doors open 8:30 p.m.). $35-$55. Blue Note Napa. 1030 Main St., Napa. 707-880-2300.

Heads Up

Peggy Lee Remembered – Sunday at Silo’s

The Napa Valley Jazz Society (NVJS) presents a unique retrospective of jazz singer Peggy Lee, a combination of vocal history, vintage video and singing. Napa Valley’s Wesla Whitfield and writer James Gavin (author of “Is That All There Is?: The Strange Life of Peggy Lee”) team up for a musical biography. Sunday, Nov. 20, 4 p.m. $45 (NVJS members, $25). Silo’s, 530 Main St., Napa. 707-224-5299.

David Kerns is a Napa-based freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at