"I'm not a star -- I consider myself a huge twinkle," laughed singer Clea Bradford, who moved here only recently and has a growing local audience.
"I came here (from Los Angeles in 1975) for an extended vacation and ended up staying and working on the East Coast," Bradford said the other night at Jazz Uptown in the Cafe Burgundy at 5031 Connecticut Ave. NW, where she is appearing this week through Sunday and again Wednesday through Sunday of next week.
"People like Yale Lewis (WETA-FM announcer) pulled out my old records and got their listeners interested in me. Club dates started breaking and here I am."
While living in White Oak and working around town, Bradford has used this area mostly as a base of operations, performing at clubs in the East and Midwest. She left Los Angeles, she said, because the great cluster of musicians there made it hard to find work.
Bradford, 41, has been singing professionally since the mid-50s. She grew up in St. Louis, where she studied voice with her maternal grandfather and started working in clubs. She first recorded in 1962 and toured the Soviet Union with Earl Hines in 1966.
The singer is as striking looking as she is impressive musically. Standing just under 6 feet, she has smooth bronze-colored skin, high cheekbones and long, straight black hair -- all characteristics of her family background, a father who was a ful-blooded Choctaw and a maternal great-great grandmother of Ethiopian royalty.
She's a singer of commanding presence and good humor. Bradford sings jazz, which means she approaches a song in a manner similar to that of an improvising instrumentalist. She alters melody and suspends rhythm.
Said Bradford: "I try to interpret a song in a fresh improvised way without losing the melody or the listener."
She did just that in her marvelously breezy version of "I'll Remember April," in which she sounded as if she had the notes chasing each other on a colorful carousel. Bradford also demonstrated her impeccable breath control, timely phrasing, broad range and ability to jump from a low to a high note at quick notice.
On "Like Someone in Love" she easily moved from whispered tones to great bursts of sound, or she juggled meter as if it were just an object in a balancing act. "When I Fall in Love" was an object lesson in lyricism.
Bradford was tastefully accompanied by the Mickey Topetzer Trio (pianist Larry Eanet, bassist Marshall Hawkins and drummer Toperzer).
Everything in her program the other night was a well-worn standard. This listener would like to hear her pluck out some obscure gems and work melodic wonders with them. Nevertheless, she should be heard by more people.
Meanwhile, Bradford is looking ahead to working soon at Boomers, a night spot in Greenwich Village. She sometimes writes lyrics with her sister Janie, a songwriter for Motown. Bradford said she'd eventually like to own her own music room, and cut about two albums and work about six months a year.