A jazz chanteuse in the classical vein headed for Standard Bank Joy of Jazz

A jazz chanteuse in the classical vein headed for Standard Bank Joy of Jazz

By Peter Feldman

Dee Alexander, described as Chicago’s most gifted and respected, vocalist will be heading to Johannesburg for the first time in September to shower her talents on the locals at the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz.

This annual music event, at the Sandston Convention Centre on four stages (Dinaledi, Diphala, Vonga and Mbira), will take place from September 24 to 26 and features an amazing line-up of international musicians and singers that includes Peabody Bryson, William Parker, Larry Carlton, Marcus Millar and The Yellow Jackets.

Alexander’s talents span every music genre, from Gospel to R&B; from Blues to Neo-Soul. Yet her true heart and soul are expressed in their purest forms by performing in the Jazz idiom.

Besides being a phenomenal lead act in her own right, Alexander has shared the stage with such musical luminaries as Ahmad Jamal, David Sanborn, Earl Klugh, Gerald Albright, Roy Ayers, Joshua Redman, and the O’Jays.

Never one to bathe in the spotlight exclusively, Alexander has lent her considerable talents as a backup vocalist to the live performances of an array of many other renowned singers such as Michael Bolton, Phil Perry, Willie Clayton, and Zora Young.

Alexander also formed the Evolution Ensemble, which is an acoustic group that consists of string instruments and percussion with a strong emphasis on original compositions.

Her albums are few: ‘Live at the Hothouse’ in 2004; and then, in 2008, both ‘Unplugged’ and ‘Evolution Ensemble: Live at Hyde Park Art Center’; with her other releases being rounded out by ‘Wild in the Wind’ and her latest ‘Songs My Mother Loves’.

In an interview, Alexander said she was both “excited” and “elated” to be coming to this part of the world. “The closest I got to South Africa was to perform in Angola and that was my first trip to Africa – and that was last year in March,” she said.

“I am planning on performing a wide range of material at the Joy of Jazz. I was talking to my musical director about what I am going to do and there will be a great variety in store for you down in South Africa,” added the singer.

While Alexander is rightly viewed as a musical treasure in her hometown of Chicago, thanks to her concerts and albums, it was through ‘Songs My Mother Loves’ that she truly expanded her reach.

Talking about the album, Alexander said it was doing fairly well and both she and her mother were happy about that. “I wanted to pay tribute to my mother while I still have her,” she said when asked about her motivation, adding that “she’s so elated and just so happy about the success of it.”

“I chose songs that I remembered listening to that she would play when I was a child here in Chicago. My brothers and I would be awoken every morning to the music while she was ironing the clothing and singing along to the different artists. It’s unfortunate that you can only put so many songs on a CD, because I had about 50 songs. There were also a couple of songs that I liked and that I actually introduced her to. That was exciting as well.”

She talked about the difficulty in choosing the right repertoire for the album, “because there were so many songs that I loved and that my Mom loved. But two particular numbers stood out: ‘Perdido’ and ‘Guess Who I Saw Today’, made famous by Nancy Wilson, were Mother’s top favourites and had to be on the album. There were also songs by Abbey Lincoln, whom my mother wasn’t familiar with and I had to introduce her to. I would awaken many mornings to Billie Holiday’s ‘Now or Never’. I went onto Billie’s discography and found the song and I love it.”

“I always loved music and I was always surrounded by music. It wasn’t until I got into high school when the music bug really hit me. I was always involved in something musical; even throughout my formative years. Music was always in my life and when I became an adult I decided I would tackle this thing called music and it has been very gratifying for me.”

Living in Chicago, Oprah’s territory, I asked whether she had met her. “I was once in a group of singers and we did her Christmas party one year, but I have not met her one-on-one.”

After her short stint in Johannesburg, Alexander will undertake concerts in Europe. “I love touring and visiting different places and seeing different cultures,” she said. “I do a lot of travelling in Europe.”

She is bringing out her musical director Miguel De La Cerna on keys, Junius Paul on bass and Yussef Ernie Adams on drums. “These musicians have worked with me for years, so I feel very comfortable with them. We’re friends, like a family really. And they know my music. It’s not only about my music with me; I am always open to suggestions from the band members.”

Asked how she felt about the state of jazz in America, Alexander responded by saying that a lot of people were saying that “old jazz” is dead. “But its American classical music and will be here long after we are gone. I am so happy to see a resurgence of it amongst young people. They are taking it by the horns and what they are coming up with is not just innovative, but speaks to the classical as well. I’m fond of this music. In Chicago we have a fresh bunch of musicians and singers in their early 20s and early 30s and they are taking this music by storm. It’s very refreshing.”

Her message to fans is that she is so happy to be coming to South Africa and finally meet her South African brothers and sisters, where they can share stories and share music.

An avid reader, movie-goer, and one who is always writing music, Alexander also finds time to spend with her five-year-old granddaughters. “I’m a pretty simple, off the scene kind of person,” she concludes.

* Tickets are available at a 15 percent discount for all Standard Bank customers subject to availability and on presentation and usage of a valid Standard Bank debit, cheque and/or credit card at a Computicket outlet. The offer is limited to two tickets per person, providing they meet the criteria. The offer is not available for online bookings. This discount will only be available until August 31.

Tickets are on sale at Computicket

Visit www.joyofjazz.co.za for more information.

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