Denise Eileen Garrett was only 3 years old when her family moved to Flint, Mich., from Memphis, Tenn. This was long before she became Dee Dee Bridgewater, jazz-vocal superhero — to say nothing of a mother, a Tony- and Grammy-winner or an NEA Jazz Master. But Memphis left an impression on the little girl, subtle but persistent, somewhere in her psyche.
Bridgewater, 67, has been revisiting Memphis in recent years, embarked on what you might call an exploration of her root system. One byproduct of this search is her new album, Memphis. Due out Sept. 15 on DDB/OKeh/Sony Masterworks, it was recorded in that city's historic Royal Studios with a pair of pedigreed co-producers: Kirk Whalum, the Memphis-born saxophonist, and engineer Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell, grandson of the great Willie Mitchell.
As Bridgewater puts it, the album consists of songs she first heard on WDIA, the influential Memphis radio station where her father, trumpeter Matthew Garrett, had an on-air persona as "Matt the Platter Cat." Among the familiar tunes in her track list are Otis Redding's "Try A Little Tenderness," B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone" and Al Green's "I Can't Get Next to You."
The lead single, "Hound Dog," captures this spirit well: Bridgewater delivers its melody with a yelp and a growl, skipping past Elvis Presley to commune with Big Mama Thornton circa 1952. "Oh baby, you ain't getting no more food when you come 'round my house, that's for sure," she ad-libs near the end of the tune, before singing a note that sounds more than a little like an answering howl.
Memphis comes out Sept. 15 on DDB/OKeh/Sony Masterworks.