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Jazz at the 2017 Spoleto Festival USA

Performers included Dee Dee Bridgewater, Charles Lloyd, Pedrito Martinez, Henry Butler and Evan Christopher

From left: Larry Grenadier, Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland (photo by William Struhs)
From left: Larry Grenadier, Charles Lloyd, Eric Harland (photo by William Struhs)
Sofía Rei (photo by Perry Tannenbaum)
Sofía Rei (photo by Perry Tannenbaum)
From left: Jhair Sala and Pedrito Martinez (photo by Leigh Webber Photography)
From left: Jhair Sala and Pedrito Martinez (photo by Leigh Webber Photography)
From left: Roland Guerin, Evan Christopher (photo by Perry Tannenbaum)
From left: Roland Guerin, Evan Christopher (photo by Perry Tannenbaum)

Dee Dee Bridgewater didn’t exactly say that a diva can sing any damn thing she pleases. But she came close. Kicking off the Wells Fargo Jazz concerts at this year’s Spoleto Festival USA, Bridgewater told the crowd at Cistern Yard that it was tough luck if we didn’t get the memo: now that she has been named among the NEA Jazz Masters for 2017, she feels like she’s earned the privilege to take a break from jazz.

As she introduced her supporting cast—six pieces plus two backup singers called the Memphis Soulphony—Bridgewater told us that this detour was taking us back to the soul and blues of her hometown. So there were golden oldies by Big Mama Thornton, B.B. King, Al Green, Otis Redding and solos by each of the backup singers. This was a raunchy and raspy side of the vocalist, muted in past years. B.B.’s “The Thrill Is Gone” and Big Mama’s “Hound Dog” both had an authentic zest, raw at the core, affirming a true busting loose. The last two numbers, a Redding-styled “Try a Little Tenderness” and a communal “Purple Rain,” with many in the audience firing up their smartphone flashlights to simulate the good ol’ butane lighter days, were distantly connected with jazz.

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