Brigitte Zarie is the new gal on the jazz block and she is making waves. With her unabashed individuality and confidence, Zarie is poised to take her music, and jazz as a whole, into the future.
Visiting Israel for a brief vacation after finishing her new album, Marie, due out this fall Zarie spoke with the Jerusalem Post about the state of jazz today, returning to the music of her soul, and singing her dream duet.
How does a Jewish woman from Toronto become a renowned jazz singer?
I have an older brother named Danny. He was getting ready for a date one night while he was babysitting me and he put on Stan Getz. I was possessed in that moment. He was about to leave and was going to turn the music off and I said, “No no, please leave it.” I was maybe seven at the time.
Jazz also got my parents together. My father was a saxophone player in a jazz band and my mother went up to him one night and asked if he could play a song for her. My father said, ‘Sure, but only if you dance with me.’ They were big music lovers. My father was a self-taught musician who also played keyboard and every other instrument. My mother was a singer. She used to sing around the house, so jazz was everywhere.
When did you know that being a jazz singer was what you wanted to do with your life? That’s a great question because some people were just lucky to fall into things. I had to really grow and shed a lot of layers in my music.
I moved to New York from Canada and became a big jingle singer on commercials. I was doing that and doing my own music at the same time, but it was more R&B. I was also writing music then. But I wasn’t digging it at all and I wasn’t having a good time.
I decided to go back to what my soul wanted. I was always afraid of jazz from a commercial standpoint because I was always surrounded by music executives (I had management back then, too). I was afraid to approach them with jazz because it scares business people in music. It’s not Justin Bieber money! Finally, I decided to start writing jazz and I shared it with my producer Neil Jason, who is also my husband.
He is a big guy in the industry. He played with John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger; he’s worked with everybody. I told him I wanted to do jazz and played him the songs I had written. He was blown away.
He said, ‘We’ve got to do this. This is your voice.’ So I had a partner who was super encouraging. We all need that, no matter what we’re doing. As corny as it sounds, everybody needs someone who believes in them.
So we went ahead and made my first album, Make Room For Me. Then the musicians all heard about it in New York and the response was really positive. One thing led to another and it became a really big thing.
I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished because I’ve had to break a lot of barriers. Radio people were giving me a hard time because I wasn’t singing standards.
But thank God there were DJs who had the balls to play original music and thank goodness for the Internet.
With the Internet, the fans are really calling the shots.
They don’t need permission from a radio guy to play their request and they don’t need a radio guy to introduce them to a new artist. I’m really grateful for that.
How would you describe the jazz world today?
The thing with jazz is that it’s a genre that for some reason doesn’t want to evolve. I don’t mean to insult it because I absolutely love jazz. But if you’re a jazz singer today, it’s expected that you’ll sing the standards.
I write my own music and it’s throwing people for a loop.
Why do you think that is? I don’t know. But I can tell you that the fact that I’m writing my own music has caused a stir. But then you have a lot of musicians who have been excited by my music because it’s original and it sounds like it’s from Frank Sinatra’s time. I just have to keep being myself and not conform. When we did my last gig, Paul Shaffer came to it – not to toot my own horn, but he’s a big fan.
He’s a musician’s musician, so he finds what I’m doing to be really refreshing. There are still many people in the jazz world who don’t want to step out of the box.
I don’t want to diss the system at all because it created me, but I need to do my own thing. I would never discredit the past; it’s because of those songs that I’m even here. They were the greatest teachers. I can sing “Fly Me to the Moon” asleep, drunk, or upside down.
The memory of all of the jazz legends who came before me is in my soul, so when I write music, I’m borrowing from that subconsciously. Obviously I give huge credit to Cole Porter, James Mercer, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday, without a doubt. I did a couple of covers actually on my last record. One of them was “Walk the Line.”
The Johnny Cash song?
I know, threw you off didn’t it! I did that because it was a favorite song of my mother’s. She loved the movie with Joaquin Phoenix. To the point where every time she would come to see me, she wanted to see that movie. As an homage to her and to give her kavod (honor), I covered the song. Unfortunately, she passed away before I could play it for her.
After defying the odds with your first two albums, you’re about to release a third? Yes, the name is Marie, after my mother. Her Hebrew name was Miriam, but I wanted it to have a more universal appeal. I want to keep it as mainstream as possible. I wrote “Marie” with Enrico Macias in mind.
He is the Tony Bennet of Europe. I think the majority of Israelis know who he is because he’s big with them.
I grew up listening to him. In a Moroccan household, you have Enrico Macias playing in the background. I had a dream of singing my song “Marie” as a duet with Enrico. When I finished the song, I presented it to my producer and said I wanted to sing it with Enrico. He told me that was a nice dream.
I’m not one to rest on my laurels or take no for an answer when it comes to my music. As luck would have it, Enrico was doing a concert in New York this past winter. I did an interview with a newspaper in America and the journalist was about to interview Enrico. So I emailed him and asked for a favor. I asked him to tell Enrico that I’m his biggest fan and to see where that goes. He agreed and told Enrico, who responded that he would love to. The journalist got back to me, but I was sure it was just a polite exchange. It turned out to be more than that. He gave me a whole day in the studio; it was kismet.
We have a couple other surprise guests for duets on this new album as well. It’s looking like there will be six duets in total if we can pull it off. We recently had a session with a big band, where we cut six songs live. I sang for five hours straight! Working on this new album has been amazing.
What inspires you to create?
Unfortunately life and fortunately life. Pain and sadness inspired Marie from the loss of my mom. Singing to me is prayer; it’s my outlet.For more information on Brigitte and her music, visit http://brigittezarie.com