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Unforgettable, A Tribute to Dinah Washington

"Denise Perrier Teaches Us Tonight" from BAM magazine

Oct. 18, 2014, Joe Henderson Lab, SFJAZZ

San Francisco’s own Denise Perrier recently treated her SFJAZZ audience to an exquisite evening of Dinah Washington classics in the very intimate Joe Henderson Lab. Her “Unforgettable, A Tribute to Dinah Washington” was presented with a graceful spirit. After the first song, Ms. Perrier removed her mink stole to get comfortable for the first of her sold-out shows. Her version of “Teach Me Tonight” was delivered with the understated sensualism that made it one of my favorite Dinah songs.
Denise Perrier : Photo  © Walt Atkins
The elegant Ms. Perrier sang “What a Difference A Day Makes” with the confident verve that propelled this composition to a Top 4 hit on the 1959 pop charts for Ms. Washington. Denise Perrier’s clear contralto voice covered the full range of Dinah Washington material with ease and confidence. The band, led by the talented Tammy L. Hall, supported the singer with smoldering sax play from Ylonda Nickell; and with dependable double bass and drum work from Gary Brown and Deszon Claiborne, respectively.
Denise Perrier first met Dinah Washington at the Sportsman’s Lounge in Oakland. At that time, Ms. Washington asked if she was “studying her.” Then Dinah asked her to have a drink, and they became friends. Ms. Perrier shared her stories from Dinah Washington’s “illustrious career,” including a joke about a talking dog. During a big audition, the pet was asked to read a newspaper headline but did not respond. Afterward, at home, the dog told his disappointed owner, “You know damn well I can’t read.”
Ms. Perrier told her audience that if Dinah liked you, she would give you ”trinkets.” But if you ticked her off, she would want them back. Ms. Washington once gave her a pair of gorgeous green emerald shoes to complement the dress she was wearing for a show. She wore them until the shoes were “lost in a trunk somewhere between Hong Kong and Vietnam.”
Denise Perrier‘s “Unforgettable, A Tribute to Dinah Washington” richly celebrated the artistry of the legendary pop/R&B/jazz vocalist. However, the 60-minute set passed way too quickly. Time does indeed pass when you are having fun.

"Bessie. Dinah and Me”

I recently had the pleasure of seeing one of San Francisco's treasures, Denise Perrier, in her acclaimed one woman show "Bessie, Dinah and Me" at the Rrazz Room. I have been enjoying Denise since I moved back to the Bay Area in 1982, and I was expecting the usual high standard performance that Denise always gives. But, I was truly amazed at this performance - Denise is clearly at the top of her form. Her intonation was pitch perfect, her phrasing was impeccable and she was able to sustain long notes with a beautiful, controlled vibrato at the end of the phrase. When she came out onto the stage, completely took it over as if she owned it. Totally relaxed and confident, she glowed. The show was obviously built around two of Denise's inspirations, Bessie Smith and Dinah Washington.

During the first part, Denise came out dressed like Bessie, tall, regal and all-knowing with a sly smile she gave the aura of Bessie. She started the show with "Gimme a Pigfoot" and then launched into some of Bessie's well known songs such as "I Need a Little Sugar in My Bowl", "Blackwater Blues", and "Good Old Wagon". Her voice is different from Bessie's, she has a sweeter sound than Bessie did, but the interpretations were pure Bessie.

After a change of costume, Denise came out as Dinah Washington. Dinah is one of Denise's
inspirations. When Denise was starting out in the business, Dinah noticed Denise wore a turquoise dress but not with matching shoes. A few days later Dinah presented Denise with a pair of shoes that matched the gown. (As an aside, when Dinah was just starting out, Ella bought her a dress - maybe Dinah was "paying it forward".) Denise started with "September in the Rain" and continued with "Unforgettable" and the comical "Relax Max", followed by, to me, the highlight of the show "Don't Touch Me". Dinah was present in the room that night.

After a short interlude, Denise came back as herself and wowed the crown with some of her favorite songs including "You Better Love Me While You May", a plaintive "I Want to Be Loved", a rocking "Lover Come Back to Me" and one of my favorite songs, "I Love You More Today Than Yesterday".

It was a bravura performance by of one of our finest singers. As I said before, Denise is at the top of her game and she provided one of the most enjoyable nights I have spent in a club in a long time.

Jim Blackman



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