Making it sing

By JON GARELICK  |  March 25, 2010

When the show’s run ended, Bridgewater came back to her own body and voice — a voice that’s earned her acclaim on a string of CDs for Verve and as the host of NPR’s JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater. And it’s not difficult to hear the kind of artistic self-determination for which she credits Holiday as making it possible “for singers like me to carve out a career for ourselves.” It took 15 years of living in France for Bridgewater to find the confidence to do her music her way, “whether or not I had a new album,” and get the respect she wanted as artist, bandleader, and producer.

Talking about getting the respect of her own band, she says, “I’ve had incidents where musicians weren’t prepared. And I docked them! I’m going to the Betty Carter school of music” — here she recalls another pathbreaking singer who made her way as bandleader. “I say to them, ‘You know, gentlemen, if you were hired by Herbie Hancock or Wayne Shorter, you would never show up at their gig not knowing the music.’ If they mess up, I dock them $50. That’s the way to get a musician to listen: talk to their pocketbooks!”

At the Paramount, the musicians serving under Bridgewater’s watchful gaze will be Gomez, bassist Ira Coleman, drummer Greg Hutchinson, and saxophonist Craig Handy.

Another kind of singer returns to Boston this week with a new album: Ron Gill, long-time former host of WGBH’s Jazz Gallery, who moved to North Carolina last year to be closer to family. (This was shortly before ’GBH whittled down its music programming in favor of news and public affairs.) The warmth and unfussy directness of Gill’s delivery is at a peak on Turn Up the Quiet (Whaling City Sounds), which he conceived with guitarist John Stein. There are only two accompanists — Stein on guitar or bass and Gilad Barkan on piano, with no drummer or other instruments. Often the settings are for no more than a duo.

“The more noise there is around Ron, the more he belts it out,” Stein tells me. “And to me, the best of Ron Gill is the quiet, intimate stuff.” Gill’s conversational intimacy is always disarming, whether live or on disc. You can hear it in the way he builds up Leslie Bricusse’s “Something in Your Smile,” with Stein’s bass and Barkan’s piano, from a reflective ballad tempo to more ecstatic swing, then segues into Bart Howard’s “I’ll Be Easy.” The lyrics are uncanny, especially when Gill sings lines like “Though fools may hide their feelings/And tell us love is blind/As for me, I’ll be easy to find.”

Aside from his taste and musical instincts, Gill is a scholar of the music. “He’s very knowledgeable about jazz in general and vocal music in particular,” says Stein. That became apparent in Gill’s previous recording, 1998’s The Songs of Billy Strayhorn. Here he’s found material from years of collecting songs, some of which he’s never sung before. And among the classic American Songbook–era material is someone he’s paid special attention to in recent years, Stevie Wonder, whose “It’s Magic” and “Too Shy To Say” he joins in a medley. “He’s such a giant,” Gill points out. “I’ve got a whole book of Stevie Wonder arrangements I’d love to do.”

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