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Dee Alexander: Free As A Bird

For Dee Alexander, taking flight is both a vocal technique and the realization of a dream. “Rossignol,” from her acclaimed 2009 album, Wild Is the Wind (Blujazz), is named for a North African nightingale that she has adopted as her artistic alter-ego. Her improvisations artfully recreate the songbird’s flight patterns, interspersing forward-thrusting lines with playful flutters, zigzags and swoops. On “Butterfly,” dedicated to another of her winged role models, she unfurls complex filigrees and curlicues that move with disarming quickness, leaving shards of light in their wake.

“I’m about uplifting,” the native Chicagoan explains, when asked about her fascination with airborne creatures. “Hope and joy, and love.” That’s not to say, however, that everything is sweetness and warmth in her musical world. One need only hear the predatory snarl in her voice when she takes on Abbey Lincoln’s caustic “And It’s Supposed to Be Love” (which she has yet to record) to know that she’s as fearless of the dark as she is exultant about the light. “The heart and soul comes from livin’,” she confirms. “You gotta get out there, you gotta play, you gotta experience some things, you gotta get hurt.”

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Originally Published

David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.