"A show can look ever so simple when you're looking at it in its finished form," sighs jazz vocalist Clea Bradford. "But so much effort has been put into it, it's like pretty beads on a string; they have to be graduated just so for them to match." Bradford, a statuesque singer who migrated here from Los Angeles six years ago, has built a show around the great jazz singer Billie Holiday, using "her life as a thread to string the songs on." She will perform it the next four Monday evenings at Charlie's Georgetown.
Tributes to jazz greats have become increasingly popular, with both Carrie Smith and Linda Hopkins doing successful one-woman Bessie Smith shows in the last few years. Bradford's Lady Day tribute attracted overflow crowds when it premiered in concert recently, but she hastens to point out that she is "not mimicking Billie Holiday, I'm simply doing her material. I'm not strictly into 'nostalgic' music anyways."
Bradford connects the songs with Holiday anecdotes; someday, another artist may do the same for her. Mississippi-born, Bradford is part Choctaw Indian, part Ethiopian; she was raised in St. Louis at a time when great players like Miles Davis, Clark Terry and Oliver Nelson were coming to the fore. "I was a little girl on the back porch listening to them jam," Bradford recalls. "And I loved it. They had a lot to do with influencing my style, although I didn't know it then. I unconsciously began to mimic the songs I was hearing from the horns." Bradford's horn-like phrasing is one of her outstanding attributes.
She has performed with Duke Ellington, Sonny Stitt and James Moody and toured the Soviet Union with Earl (Fatha) Hines. Jazz vocalist have not been particularly well treated by the record industry in the last decade, even though club and concert work have remained steady. After being unable to secure a new recording contract for several years, Bradford recently embarked on producing her own album. "All music is jazz," she says. "Jazz is not decided by the title of the song, but by the treatment. I do a lot of material by a lot of writers -- contry-western, jazz, gospel, blues, rock. I get bored by a lot of the old things." Except Billie Holiday, of course. i