Dee Alexander | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Dee Alexander 

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Jazz vocalist Dee Alexander grew up idolizing R & B singers like Angela Bofill alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, but horn men have played just as vital a role in shaping her style: in the 80s the Chicago native sang with Breath, a group led by her mentor, reedist "Light" Henry Huff, and more recently she's worked with trumpeter Malachi Thompson. Alexander favors relatively straightforward structures and lyric themes and seldom diverges radically from standard Western harmonies, but within these parameters she's audaciously free. Her scatting is supple and impish, her tone can turn on a dime from sultry croon to nasal sneer, and out of nowhere she'll plunge into a deliciously dirty growl like a tailgate trombone--or, in Thompson's "Blues for a Saint Called Louis," an imitation of Satchmo's bluesy trumpet and sandpaper vocalese. Alexander's self-produced "Live" at the HotHouse, recorded in 2001 and released this year, is a straight-ahead, swinging set; she applies her pinpoint intonation to a relaxed, bluesy romp through "Love for Sale," and on Monk's "'Round Midnight" she deconstructs feminine vulnerability, mocking little-girl-lost bathos in a playful, mewling soprano. Jazz Festival week is a busy one for Alexander: her gigs include a Friday afterfest set at Rosa's with her own band, a Sunday afterfest set at HotHouse with Thompson's Africa Brass, and a Tuesday duet at the Cultural Center with pianist Jeremy Khan. She also sings at the festival itself on Saturday night, joining Orbert Davis's Chicago Jazz Philharmonic at Petrillo at 8:30 PM; see the pullout guide in this section for more. Friday, September 3, 9:30 PM, Rosa's Lounge, 3420 W. Armitage; 773-342-0452 ($15). Sunday, September 5, 9:30 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo; 312-362-9707 ($15). Tuesday, September 7, 12:15 PM, Randolph Cafe, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington; 312-744-6630 (free).

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.

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