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Concert Review: Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Fab French Quartet

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Where do I begin?

Vocalists are, unfortunately, a rarity at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase, so we weren’t about to miss this golden opportunity to hear Dee Dee Bridgewater in this intimate (and smoke free!) club setting. She was appearing with the Fab French Quartet in support of her Grammy-nominated album of French songs, J’ai Deux Amours. Little did we know that this was going to be a memorable evening in many different ways.

First of all, Joe Segal, the club’s soon-to-be 80-year-old impresario, informed us that the first set would be starting a little late because Ms. Bridgewater fell down a stairway at her hotel earlier that evening, spraining her ankle. He assured us that she’d arrive on stage “as soon as the pain pills kick in.”

He then acknowledged the presence of Liza Minnelli in the audience — yes, Liza Minnelli! We never actually saw her, but I still can’t believe I was in the same room as Liza Minnelli…!

When Dee Dee Bridgewater eventually took the stage (with a bit of a limp), she was wearing a stunning lime-green silk shawl, which she promptly removed to reveal an even more stunning black dress. She thanked us for our patience, remarking how troubling it was to have fallen on the stairs at the hotel while people just hurried past her without even offering to help. “We got problems, people…” Indeed.

It turned out that she was not only suffering from a sprained ankle, but also battling bronchitis, and while she occasionally coughed off-mic, her voice (and spunky attitude) was otherwise unaffected. Her ankle injury didn’t keep her seated on her stool for very long, either Soon, she was not only standing, but gesturing and dancing energetically as she sang.

Dee Dee and her Fab Frenchmen presented a refreshingly original set of mostly well-known French songs in unique and striking arrangements. The accordion player was particularly stunning, also serving as pianist, string section, and then some for the group. The bass player provided a firm anchor as the guitarist employed several tasteful Bill Frisell-ish effects throughout, and the percussionist used a large and varied set of drums to keep everything grooving.

Above all, though, it was Dee Dee Bridgewater’s robust voice and irresistible charisma that carried the night. Among the tunes were the Bobby Darin staple “Beyond The Sea” re-imagined as the churning, bubbling “La Mer”; “Mon Homme/My Man”, which effectively alternated between despairing and jubilant moods (and between French and English lyrics, like many of these songs did); and “Danser Sur Moi” — a kickin’ take on “Girl Talk” that culminated in a rollicking, R-Rated, and hilarious freestyle rap!

Overall, Dee Dee was working the crowd like nobody I’ve ever seen, and by the end of the set she owned the room and everyone in it (especially one gentleman who was invited on stage to give her a hug at one point).

After a riotous standing ovation, Dee Dee acknowledged the audience’s warm reception (as well as the presence of Liza Minnelli, of course), and as an expression of heartfelt gratitude, she sang “Amazing Grace” as an encore — a cappella, no less.

And that was just the first set! But, unusually, a large crowd had already gathered in the Jazz Showcase lobby for the 11:00pm show, so we weren’t permitted to stay for the duration (without paying another $40 cover charge per person). Regardless, we could hardly ask for anything more at this point. It had been a truly memorable, electrifying performance in every way — and I’m sure even Liza would agree!

Dee Dee Bridgewater and the Fab French Quartet
Jazz Showcase, Chicago, IL
April 15, 2006 9:00pm

Dee Dee Bridgewater, Vocals
Louis Winsberg, Lead Guitar
Ira Coleman, Bass
Marc Berthoumieux, Accordion
Minino Garay, Percussion & Drums

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  • BG

    Thanks for your review, Stephen. I dearly wanted to see Dee Dee in this venue but unfortunately work commitments kept me from going. I was pleasantly surprised to find mention of this show here at blogcritics.com. I look forward to your comments about future shows at the Jazz Showcase, or anywhere else for that matter. Stay well.