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Brigitte Zarie Interview Photo 1Jazz vocalist and songwriter Brigitte Zarie is always witty and ready to demonstrate her humorous side, so when we asked her what first brought her to New York City from Toronto Canada it should not have come as much of a surprise to us when she replied, “By U-Haul actually. I have been here for a long time, for fifteen years.  New York has always been a music thing for me, which is why I left Toronto.”

During a conversation punctuated with  lots of laughter, Brigitte Zarie spoke with sincerity, but raw honesty, concerning her career and she expressed genuine joy that her life is beginning to unfold the way she imagined that it would someday, something that is reflected poignantly and beautifully in her song “Happiest Day Of My Life.”  

With her current album Make Room For Me the vivacious dark haired beauty has in collaboration with producer, bassist and composer Neil Jason (Paul Simon, John Lennon, Pete Townshend, Mick Jagger, Carly Simon) has created an album of spectacular standards and swing tunes that are all original compositions. She has breathed fresh air into a sub genre of jazz that has been literally starving for something new to attract interest from a generation of music fans who cannot relate to lyrics and themes which are sixty, seventy and eighty years old and to maintain interest among those who have tired of hearing classics like Consuelo Velázquez’s “Besame Mucho,” Fats Waller’s “Honeysuckle Rose,” or Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova hit  “The Girl From Ipanema,” performed regardless of the talent of the plethora of singers who have sung them.  Those comments are meant as no disrespect to the gifted composers, but it is time for something new.  That something new comes to us in the form of songs such as “Happiest Day Of My Life,” a tune that swings onto the music scene in a fashion that we have not heard since Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee and others of their vintage, at a time when it was fun to listen to and dance to this style of jazz music.   

Zarie recalls the moments when “Happiest Day Of My Life,” was created, “I was really, really happy, I was loving what I was doing and we were already doing Make Room For Me. It’s not everyday that I am happy and I have to say and I have to admit. I know that is very personal, but it is actually true. I have a need to be happy, but it is hard to obtain when you are an artist and you are as weird as I am.  I think that anybody who is an artist has got to be a little weird, if not a lot weird. You can’t have art and talent inside of you and not be weird.

With “Happiest Day of My Life,” I was just feeling happy and it just came out.  As you can tell, on the CD there are not a lot of upbeat songs. I keep writing ballads and I just wrote another one. I had two ballads that we were supposed to cut, but Neil was like, ‘Brigitte you are going to put the audience to sleep.’ I was like I can’t (write an upbeat song). It’s not happening. I don’t feel anything and I have to be in a great mood. I am more dark than I am happy,” but surprisingly Ms. Zarie did in fact not only create an upbeat song and a great tune, in which the listener can feel the glow and sense a huge smile on her face, as her big voice fills up the room.

Due to the star studded cast of musicians and other music professionals who appear on the album Make Room For Me, we share a joke with Ms. Zarie about the slouches on this CD and she laughs heartily. One of the masters who appears is noted New York City composer David Wolfert who conducts the orchestra for “What’s Wrong With Me?” someone to whom Zarie refers to as, “a sweetheart of a guy. What a humble guy. That is what I find with some of the most talented musicians is they are so humble, so warm, so welcoming, so willing, so not full of arrogance and of themselves that it is just unbelievable. You would think that it would be the polar opposite, but it’s not.”

“I heard Shirley Horn and I heard strings. I love Shirley Horn and anything Shirley Horn touches my heart. With David being a friend of ours we played him the song and he freaked out.  He was in love with the song. Neil and I told David it would be an honor if he would put some strings and an arrangement on it. He was more than willing and the outcome is what it is,” she says. 

About the lyrics she says, “I was just trying to ask what is wrong with me and it is as literal as it sounds. That is how I was feeling that day and I was feeling that some stuff wasn’t going my way.  Some business stuff wasn’t going my way and it was really a plea to God. It turned out the way that it is. I just asked myself that question.”

“What’s Wrong With Me?” is a song that transports the listener to another day and another time, without mimicking any song you have heard before, Brigitte Zarie and an incredible orchestra, under Wolfert’s direction, introduces a marvelous soundscape that beckons to filmmakers everywhere. Lawrence Feldman’s saxophone solo adds to the feeling of loneliness, as Ms. Zarie asks hard questions about the state of her life. Not only is the singer clearly in the moment, but the listener cannot help, but be pulled into the sense of abandonment. Pianist Peter Zak provides a beautiful accompaniment for Brigitte Zarie’s voice.

Iconic jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker also appears on the album Make Room For Me, as his horn introduces us to the first track “See You Again,” and strolls by Ms. Zarie’s side, while she expresses her desire “If I could steal a moment / a chance to save this romance / but what I wouldn’t give / what I wouldn’t do / if I could see you again.

“It breaks my heart to hear the song “See You Again,” because only I know what I went through, so I needed to write that and it was a cathartic feeling for me. It came out in a song. These are all personal experiences that have taken place in my life and it is almost like I am an open book, so here we go. I have an absolutely, delicious mamma who I love with all of my heart. She was staying with me for a while and it was a culmination of her leaving and what I was going through personally, in just wanting to see her again and my wanting to see this other person again. It was a feeling of being lost and how we really take it for granted when we have people in our lives when in just a minute they cannot be here anymore. The lyrics are what I wouldn’t give to see you again. I wanted to be able to see my mom again,” she explains.

As for Randy Brecker’s contribution to the song “See You Again,” Ms. Zarie says, “It doesn’t get any better than Randy Brecker as far as I am concerned. He is a very old friend of Neil’s, because Neil used to play with the Brecker Brothers (Michael and Randy). Neil called him up, he listened to the song and he just became a part of it. It was a blessing for me and for everybody involved. For whatever reason, I thought that Randy would be perfect for “See You Again,” and it was like it was meant to be. We really flow together on that tune. It is the perfect marriage of Randy and my vocal on that song. The lyrics and Randy’s horn just really, really works. It is actually my personal favorite song on the CD.” Brigitte Zarie interview photo two

Despite the opulent music that adorns Make Room For Me the response to Brigitte Zarie’s music, sadly has been mixed. There are radio station DJs and program directors who have fully embraced her music and there are others who belong in rocking chairs out on a porch somewhere as their negative responses conjure up imagined words like ‘Back in my day young lady, when music was really music, let me tell you how it was,’  because they cannot get their collective heads around the fact that you can actually pay homage to a style of music, by creating new songs.

“Being an artist is just that, you are an artist. You are supposed to write. You are supposed to create. That is the true definition of art. How many times do you want to hear the same songs? Aren’t there enough girls doing that? I don’t need to be another one of them. There are enough. My heart experiences things in my life and my first instinct as a writer is to want to write them down in a song. Why would you want to stifle someone’s creativity. Now it is becoming a more common statement that my songs sound like standards, but they are original and how refreshing. I am not following what people are telling me to follow. I have never been a sheep,” explains Ms. Zarie. 

“I am just being me and that’s the bottom line. Cole Porter, Sammy Cahn and some of the great songwriters in the world, I wouldn’t dare take away what they have done, but those were their experiences in their lives and they wrote what they were feeling at the time and this is my experience in my life and I am writing what I am feeling,” she says.

Did Brigitte Zarie deliberately fashion her songs after the standards and swing tunes of yesteryear? “No I didn’t. I have had a lifetime of listening to Frank Sinatra and Ella Fitzgerald, but the weird thing as a singer is that I really flock towards horn players; Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Stan Getz, so my singing, everybody says, almost sounds like a horn player. I have always been singing standards in my head that I would make up. (she laughs and says) I sound like a really normal person don’t I? I sound like a crazy person. Because of all of the listening, it just came out. It is just the natural flow and it wasn’t a conscious decision to do any of these (as standards or swing tunes),” she says.  

Even producer Neil Jason draws comparisons between Ms. Zarie’s vocals and horns. She says that he once told her, ‘‘You have more air than any singer that I have ever worked with in my life. You are singing like a horn player and you sing the whole take. You hold the line then you take just a little breath and you will keep going. My father was also a jazz musician and he was a horn player. I guess I just mimic horn players when they hold notes for a long time.”

Music fans will find both English and French versions of the title track “Make Room For Me,” on the album, a move that pays tribute to Brigitte Zarie’s French heritage. She says, “I am getting a lot of response from Parisians for the French version and they are really digging it. I am finding across the board that Canadians, Americans and French people (including in Quebec, Canada) consider it to be one of their favorite songs.”

With so many people beginning to sit up and take notice of Brigitte Zarie’s music, we are expecting less songs from her in the future that pose the question “What’s Wrong With Me?” and more that echo the theme “Happiest Day Of My Life.”