The Times (Trenton, N.J.) - October 17, 2008

Dizzy's daughter plans tribute to open new venue

Friday, October 17, 2008

By BRENT JOHNSON

Special to the Times

At the back of the Trenton War Memorial is an old-time ticket booth.

Behind it is a new music venue more in tune with tradition. Haberdashery is designed as an intimate, after-hours jazz supper club -- the kind that were prevalent a half-century ago.

"It goes back in time," says Michael Mazur, publicist for the new club.

Haberdashery will open Nov. 7 in the War Memorial's George Washington Ballroom, with a Cajun menu, Prohibition-era cocktails and a performance from a jazz legend's daughter. Jeanie Bryson will play selections from "The Dizzy Gillespie Songbook," a smat tering of songs her trumpet-blowing father made famous.

Dizzy will also be included in a display of photos by noted jazz photographer Herman Leonard -- one that also includes 16-by-20-inch pics of Ella Fitzgerald, Quincy Jones and Chet Baker.

It's one of three events Haberdashery, with its 250-guest capacity and dinner-table seating, will host. The next is set for November, and another will take place in December. The schedule for 2009 has yet to be determined, though the clubs plans to feature jazz, blues R&B and soul acts in an attempt to revitalize American music in Trenton.

Bryson, whose set XXXXXXX tonight will include Dizzy favorites such as "Night In Tunisia," "Tanga" and "Umbrella Man," sang professionally for 13 years before publicly revealing her father's identity.

"I think it just took me a while to kind of feel comfortable with the idea," she explains. "For so many years, it was a secret about my father."

Her mother, noted songwriter Connie Bryson, wasn't married to Gillespie; he was married to another woman.

"It was difficult for him," Bryson says during a Wednesday afternoon interview at her home in East Brunswick, where the living room is cluttered with pictures, posters and books of Dizzy. "It was difficult for me. ... Actually, his wife didn't know about me until many years later."

But Bryson's earliest memory in life was sitting on her mother's lap during a cross-country bus trip from her native New Jersey to see her father play in Seattle. They stayed at the home of Quincy Jones' sister.

Bryson -- who also lived in the Princeton area for two decades -- says she saw her father in streaks growing up, often seeing him play locally.

But her resemblance to the round-faced, perpetually smiling Dizzy is striking. And when she played with her father's band on her second record, Bryson learned looks aren't the only thing she's inherited.

"You should have heard them laughing when I was counting off a tune or doing something," she recalls. "They said, 'My God, every movement you have, every facial expression, every way that you smile or move your eyes, it's just uncanny.' Because I didn't grow up with him. I couldn't learn it by really looking at him. It's just, like, genetics."

Despite her lineage, Bryson ad mits that jazz was more her elders' thing when she was growing up. She listened more to '70s pop- rock: Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, the brothers Allman and Doobie.

She didn't begin singing professionally until after she graduated with a degree in anthropology from Rutgers University. Her first gig was singing for soldiers at Fort Dix in 1981, performing Top 40 hits backed by her mother on piano.

That proved to be a problem, though.

"I was literally getting hoarse," she explains. "I would sing for a weekend and then I'd lose my voice until Thursday. ... And the jazz was so easy, I could sing every night, and I never lost my voice. It was more organic to my voice."

Around that time, she went to see her father -- who was once an Englewood resident -- play in the Atlantic City area. Dizzy called her on stage.

"I sang 'God Bless The Child,' and he was playing behind me, and my son ran out on stage," Bryson remembers. "He was clinging to my legs, like little kids do. So I'm sing ing and my son is clinging. It was very emotional."

But it wasn't until Dizzy's death in 1993 that Bryson truly started talking about her father.

"Journalists found out," she says. "It's really hard when someone calls you and says, 'Is it true that you're Dizzy Gillespie's daughter?' What am I gonna say? No? ...

"After he died, I didn't feel like I had to keep it a secret anymore. I was protecting him."

Still, it was 30 years into her career before she tackled her father's catalog. The idea for the Dizzy songbook came from a promoter Bryson was working with in Ireland in the summer of 2006.

"He said, 'Your father will be 90 (next) year. Have you thought about doing a tribute to him?' ..." Bryson recalls. "I wanted it to have it be me, but also be part of him."

Bryson -- who prefers to interpret a song literally, singing the melody as is, without improvising or bending notes -- has been touring with the project for the last year and is planning to enter the studio to record an album of it.

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