Angela Allen

Dee Dee Bridgewater Portland Jazz Festival 2012

Dee Dee Bridgewater, as huge a name in jazz vocals as Roy Haynes’ is in drumming, is doing more than headlining the 2012 Portland Jazz Festival.

She is honoring Lady Day, aka Billie Holiday, one of jazz’s pioneering singers and influences.

At 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, at the Newmark Theater, Bridgewater and her quartet will perform “To Billie with Love: A Celebration of Lady Day.” The show features songs from her 2010 Grammy Award-winning CD “Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie with Love From Dee Dee.” Tickets are $28-$58.

Eleanora Fagan is Holiday’s birth name and Bridgewater, 61, used it to convince listeners that Holiday was a “real person,” she said from her home in Henderson, Nev., southeast of Las Vegas. “Her personality is much more than the stereotype she had in the latter years of her life. In my opinion, it was the direct result of singing ‘Strange Fruit,’ and the subsequent problems she had with the law and the authorities.”

Watch her sing “Strange Fruit:”

Holiday, who had many run-ins with the law since her childhood, did not write “Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, but it became a signature race protest song, and she sang it often beginning in 1939. The song is the last on Bridgewater’s CD. Holiday did write “Fine and Mellow,” “God Bless the Child” and “Lady Sings the Blues,” all cuts on the CD.

Though Bridgewater admires Holiday and her unmistakable singing style, she won’t compare her voice to the earlier singer. “I have a much larger vocal range, a larger voice,” Bridgewater said. “My projection is maybe stronger. Her voice is thinner.”

But yes, both sing with full-on yet tender emotion.

Bridgewater, however, will not be wearing a gardenia in her hair, Holiday’s trademark flower. First of all she has no hair, “by choice” (she doesn’t like to fool with it and shaved her head three years ago). (Her striking “Eleanora Fagan” CD cover shows her with magnolia as a reference to “Strange Fruit.”) In Portland she will wear ”crazy long” fake eyelashes though, she says.

She will be backed by Edsel Gomez on piano, who she has worked with for nine years and the arranger of the 12 songs on “Eleanora Fagan”; Kenny Davis on bass; Jimmy Green on reeds; and Kenny Phelps on drums.

Bridgewater, whose career started in Flint Mich., as the daughter of Matthew Garrett, trumpeter and musical educator, is well known for her Tony Award-winning role as Glinda the Good Witch in Broadway’s 1975 “The Wiz,” and for her role in “Lady Day,” which showed in Paris and in London. She is also the voice of “Jazz Set” narration on National Public Radio. Aside from her Billie Holiday CD, she has done tribute albums to Ella Fitzgerald and Horace Silver. Her latest CD is “Midnight Sun,” released in 2011.

Fluent in French, Bridgewater lived in France for 21 years and kept a home there until 2010. She claims as her influences Nancy Wilson, Betty Carter, Jimmy Scott, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Harry Belafonte, and Johnny Mathis. “I go way back,” she says.

As well, she keeps up with the future of jazz singing. She’s impressed with young jazz singers Roberta Gambarini, Gretchen Parlato, and Cecile McLorin Salvant, who won the Thelonius Monk vocal competition in 2010. And Bridgewater is a fan of Portland darling bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding’s musicianship.

To Bridgewater in action, this time for a project she did in Mali, take a look and a listen.