Denise Perrier was running out the door and didn’t have time to talk.
She had gotten word that a vintage dress was available and had to hustle down to the shop to see if it met her very particular need. From Friday through Sunday, she’ll be paying tribute to jazz legend Dinah Washington in “Unforgettable: Denise Perrier As Dinah” at Jazz at Pearl’s in North Beach. A jazz, blues and pop star from the mid-1940s until her early death at the age of 39 in 1963, Washington was known as The Queen, and she carried herself like royalty.
“I’m trying to get my Diana persona together,” Perrier said after her unsuccessful shopping expedition. “That vintage dress was a little bit too small, but I own three tiaras, so I’ll be ready.”
In many ways, Perrier is an ideal performer to commemorate one of jazz’s most beloved artists. Her velvety contralto is rounder and more pliant than Washington’s, but, like The Queen, she’s authoritative belting out double entrendre-laden blues, delivering a torchy ballad or swinging through a standard. She’ll be backed by a first-rate combo featuring pianist Tammy Hall, bassist Ron Belcher and drummer Rob Rhodes.
Born in Louisiana and raised in the East Bay town of Albany, Perrier grew up in a house suffused with music. Her stepbrother, Paul Jackson Jr., is the highly regarded bassist best known as a founding member of Herbie Hancock’s pioneering fusion band Head Hunters, and her stepsister Joyce Jackson is an accomplished flutist and songwriter. By the end of high school in the late 50s, Perrier was performing with The Intervals, a jazzy vocal group.
It was at an Intervals gig at Don Barksdale’s Oakland club The Showcase that Perrier first met Washington. But it was a few years later in Las Vegas that they became friends. “That’s where Dinah gave me the pair of emerald green pumps I always talk about in the show,” Perrier said. “A lot of people think she was kind of standoffish and liked to be with men rather than women. But Etta Jones and I often talked about her and she also felt that Dinah was very generous. If she really liked you, she’d give you things.”
Now Perrier is giving something back to The Queen, keeping her memory alive with a show she’s been honing for nearly 30 years.
Unforgettable: Denise Perrier as Dinah
Where: Jazz at Pearl’s, 256 Columbus Ave., San Francisco
When: 8 and 10 p.m. Friday-Sunday
Contact: (800) 838-3006 or www.jazzatpearls.com