The best thing about the Chicago Jazz Festival is that it’s curated by an independent committee of people (mostly from the Jazz Institute of Chicago) who really love music, rather than being overly influenced by promoters, booking agents and managers representing a few big name artists who are trying to fill blank dates during their big tours.
Ms. Bridgewater all but channeled Betty Carter, who she rightly called an “unsung hero of American music.” Betty died ten years ago, after establishing herself as the most dynamic and original female singer-songwriter-interpreter-improviser-bandleader-record producer of the jazz world, ever. (My personal favorite of her albums is Inside Betty Carter from the early ’60s, but her duets with Ray Charles are priceless, of several fine albums on her own Bet-Car label I recommend The Audience With . . ., and she also recorded rewardingly for Verve). She was a great favorite at the Chicago Jazz Fest, once delivering a superb set in defiance of a downpour. Bridgewater has a somewhat coarser delivery and with her shaved head, gold body paint, above the knee silver dress and overall buffness was even more physically imposing than Carter, who commanded the stage with grand gestures and facial expressions as elastic as her voice. Bridgewater also demonstrated dramatic intensity by concluding her performance with Nina Simone’s devasting “Four Women.” She was ably accompanied by pianist Mulgrew Miiller, bassist Ira Coleman and drummer Winard Harper — all veterans of Betty Carter’s ’80s and early ’90s bands.