Putting the strong musical personalities of vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater and pianist Jacky Terrasson together on the same bandstand seemed risking a clash. Both are distinctive stylists accustomed to the spotlight, musicians who develop a palpable sense of drama when they perform. Could two such assertive performers coexist without getting in each other's way?
Not a problem. In the first of two nights at Catalina Bar & Grill Friday, Terrasson's trio provided extremely sensitive support to the vocalist, playing at a whisper when required or roaring along as the singer scatted briskly in instrumental tones. And in return Bridgewater, especially during her moments of vocal improvisation, worked in a way that encouraged Terrasson, bassist Ugonna Okegwo and drummer Ali Jackson II to echo, accent or punctuate her performance. You might say they brought out the best in each other.
The program was billed as a tribute to Ella Fitzgerald, and Bridgewater acknowledged to the crowded house that "I can't imitate what she does . . . but can try to give another life to songs she made so popular." Yet there was much of Fitzgerald's creative spirit in her work and occasional suggestions of Fitzgerald's tone as well.
Hints of Ella surfaced in the innocent, cotton-soft sound Bridgewater employed on "Miss Otis Regrets" and the hard-swinging, horn-like improv she generated on "Cherokee." "Love For Sale" was given an almost theatrical sensuality that suggested the cool distance such a profession requires.
That fondness for drama provided a link between the singer and the pianist as they shifted through ballads and up-tempo numbers, always varying the dynamic and emotional level.