Dee Alexander Pays Tribute to Mom
Chicago-based jazz singer Dee Alexander is no stranger to high praise. In 2012 she was the recipient of the Illinois Secretary of State’s African-American Heritage Award for her contribution to the arts. Her 2009 album Wild Is The Wind (Blujazz) received a 5-star review in DownBeat, and critical raves are piling up for her new Blujazz disc, Songs My Mother Loves.
Alexander is accompanied on the album by top-shelf musicians, including Harrison Bankhead (bass), Ari Brown (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax) and Corey Wilkes (trumpet).
As its title implies, the program includes songs that Alexander heard while growing up: “Mother gave me a great gift by weaving music into my life, and I now pay tribute to her with Songs My Mother Loves, giving thanks for her inspiration, influence [and] guidance.” Alexander went on to describe the album as an “homage to the music that is now an important part of my life and connects us through love.”
Alexander grew up on the West Side of Chicago in a home in which she was surrounded by the music of Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington and Nina Simone. In the album’s liner notes, she writes, “Some of my fondest memories are of awakening on many early mornings to Mother singing along with the ‘greats’ while she did her morning housework.”
Alexander’s version of “Nature Boy” (a tune popularized by Nat “King” Cole and Frank Sinatra, among others) showcases not only Wilkes’ poignant muted trumpet but also the singer’s improvisational prowess. She heightens the song’s emotional impact with her elastic delivery of lyrics based on the famous Biblical scripture from 1 Corinthians about love being patient and kind.
Her interpretation of “Letter From Home,” with an arrangement bolstered by Brown’s potent tenor, is the perfect vehicle to highlight her mastery of phrasing. Alexander’s rendition of “Softly As In A Morning Sunrise” is propelled by Miguel de la Cerna’s fluid pianism and spiced by a graceful dose of scatting.
The album also includes two fine versions of “Perdido,” one of which illustrates Alexander’s command of vocal nuance.
The material here consists of old chestnuts, but the arrangements help to make these gems from the Great American Songbook sparkle.
Alexander’s upcoming performances include an Aug. 1 concert at Chicago’s Logan Center, a Sept. 27 appearance at the Hyde Park Jazz Festival in Chicago and gigs with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra on Dec. 6–7 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.