The corporate jet; a smooth, classy, sophisticated ride to the perfect finish. How nice that would be. If you possess a millionaire’s taste, but lack the assets perhaps you will prefer a smooth, classy, sophisticated ride on the vocal wings of Brigitte Zarie. The timeless style of her sound is evocative of the classic jazz era, but is blessedly placed in our day, with a flawless fit. Brigitte positively purrs her own jazz anthems with a certain authority and power that escapes simple description. Her writing is on par with those wonderful timeless tones; honest, charming and memorable. We wouldn’t have expected anything else from greatness. So strap into your seats for a talk with Brigitte Zarie as she takes us on a singer-songwriter’s flight through memories, notions and conversation non-stop to great enjoyment.
Introduction by Daniel Buckner
I think most stories are best from the beginning. What was life like growing up?
Wild! Lots of noise! And, ‘cause I’m from Toronto, Canada – cold (laughs).
And tell us a little bit about your parents. What kind of people? What kind of environment?
I’d love to tell you about my parents. They’re the reason why I’m doing what I’m doing, actually. It just seems like yesterday, but it’s been going on for years now. I just lost my mom. I keep saying “just” because I’ll never get use to it. My mother was extremely instrumental in my music and my singing, my writing. She noticed I had some talent when I was younger because I would, you know, sing all over the house, and she would encourage me to continue to pursue the talent that she discovered. She was also a singer, so when we would have parties, my mother would sing and my father would play the lute. It’s a Moroccan instrument.
My parents were from Casablanca and my father was a multi-instrumentalist: he was a sax player, a self-taught keyboard player, so it was a huge, huge part of my life. I mean, they really instilled the music into my soul.
It’s really interesting the fact about the origins of Morocco. Tell us a little bit about that. Did you hear traditional Moroccan music?
I did. My whole life I heard Moroccan music. They were from Casablanca, so it had many French influences. Huge Moroccan artists like… I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Umm Kulthum.
I have not.
She’s not with us anymore, but she is a world-famous singer and she would be forever playing in our home. My mother would always have her on when she was cooking and cleaning and stuff like that. An extremely passionate, soulful singer. And then there was a French singer called Enrico Macias who was somebody I also grew up with and was one of my first concert experiences that my parents took me to in Toronto growing up. He was a very, very famous Parisian, French-Moroccan singer. So the music and the culture was everywhere also and then the jazz came in from my siblings. My brother was a big jazz guy, fan, and he would always have Stan Getz on playing when I was little, so that was my first introduction to jazz actually.
Interesting. So tell me… you just mentioned your brother with Stan Getz. You’ve mentioned a couple of these other international artists. What music would you say has made the biggest impression on you?
I’d say Stan Getz. I’d say that first introduction to Stan Getz when I was really little… and it’s odd, because I’m a vocalist, right? But yeah, that was my really first big, huge influence. “The Girl from Ipanema,” that whole Stan Getz album and Tom Jobim, so I would say that was my first. Let me also add Frank Sinatra, of course. I used to listen to “Strangers in the Night.” (Laughs) Such a weird kid. I would listen to “Strangers in the Night” and I would listen to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and I was so in love with Frank Sinatra’s voice. I was so in love with his charisma. His tone.
I wasn’t your average kid. I wasn’t listening to pop music of what every local kid was listening to. I wasn’t really into that. I was into Sinatra and Stan Getz and that kind of thing.
I wanted to ask you specifically about Frank Sinatra. When I was listening to recordings of you singing, I thought, “This woman was influenced in part, at least, by Sinatra.” That was my guess. Most people would think, “Well, she’s a female vocalist. Why would you think that?” But that’s what I thought. So I Googled “Bigitte Zarie” and “Frank Sinatra” and I saw you being interviewed at a celebration of Sinatra’s birthday. Given that this year will be a hundred years of Sinatra on this earth, I wanted to get your opinion on what is it that makes the Sinatra magic, because you just said that you were a lover of his music. If you could put it into words…
You know, obviously, I’m not alone. Obviously, the whole world adores him or a great part of the world adores him. Some people are chosen, I think. He was chosen to do his job which was to entertain millions and millions of people and leave a mark on all of us and I think he was just a tremendous teacher. I think he was a master teacher. There’s teachers in a class with twenty kids and then there’s teachers of the world and he was definitely a grand master teacher, and he taught me more probably than some of my teachers in school. He’s had that kind of influence on the masses. There are just some really, really magical teachers that affect us as students and we remember them, and I think that that’s what he was: a fantastic teacher/entertainer.
So in addition to the artists you’ve mentioned and Sinatra, what vocalists would you say have influenced you the most?
I have to say Sinatra is really up there. He just had a tone that was so magical and would translate and would reach a part of your soul that’s just like really, really rare. Even in today’s world it’s affecting even kids growing up. So I would say Sinatra.
I would say definitely Nat King Cole, just the smoothest, most romantic tone. Billie Holiday, obviously. Her pain really, really affects and I can relate to her voice, in her singing, in her approach. Ella Fitzgerald, with the melodic, gorgeous harmony in her voice just. I consider Ella Fitzgerald a happy voice. The second you hear her, you’re in a good mood. You know before she sings that much of a song just in the way she translates, the way she emotes… it’s just happy.
So everybody has a feeling that they instill in you. Frank Sinatra, to me, is also happy. Ella Fitzgerald is a happy voice. Billie Holiday, if you want to bawl your eyes out and relate to any kind of thing she’s going through and all of us could at one point in our life, I’m sure, as woman or whatever… even men. Elvis Presley – massive influence, believe it or not. I love Elvis Presley. Umm Kulthum, because I remember her. When she sings I think about my family and memories growing up and Mahalia Jackson. Talk about pouring your heart out in a song and being able to reach your soul. She can certainly do that so she was a massive influence, and I love gospel. It’s endless, really, but I’d say those were my top.
The other thing about Bigitte Zarie is that she’s also a songwriter. Tell us, what are some of your great song writing influences?
Oh boy. Cole Porter, Mercer, Shakespeare (laughs). You mentioned the fact that I’m a songwriter. I actually consider myself more of a songwriter than a singer, if you can believe that. To me songwriting is like praying. It’s a spiritual experience to me. If I ever have a problem or if I ever have something I need to communicate with, I would sing it in a song. The song, the lyrics and the melody usually come out together, so it’s almost like my version of praying or my way of praying to God or to whoever the universe.
Johnny Cash, obviously a great songwriter, was a huge influence on me. Dolly Parton. Hank Williams. Stevie Wonder. Van Morrison. Willie Nelson. For my jazz songwriting, I would say Cole Porter and Mercer and Neal Hefty.
When did you begin writing songs?
The second I opened my voice, they came hand-in-hand. They came together. Any time I had a feeling about anything, I can hang up the phone from you and think about what we’ve just discussed and think about it out loud, but it will come out in a song. Michael Franks is also a huge influence. Nina Simone. I mean, I’ve been writing songs since I was little. I had an experience, a memory that imprinted in my brain, stamped in my brain… where I was five years old and I was at a desk and my brother came in. The brother, that’s the Stan Getz brother (laughs), came in and asked me what I was doing. I looked at him – I had a pen and paper – and I said, “What do you think I’m doing? I’m writing a song.” So it’s kind of odd because I wasn’t even able to talk that much yet. I feel like sometimes we’re destined to do something. I guess it’s my destiny.
I could see that. Are you more moved by lyrics or the melody in music? What affects you emotionally more? Is it the words or is the sound that you’re hearing?
It’s the melody. It’s the melody when I lay out the story and it’s done and it’s recorded and then I listen to it it’s like, “Wow! That was good.” Sometimes I cry after I listen to it because I think what I was going through really sucked. Sometimes I’ll laugh because I think, “Wow! That was a really happy moment for me.” Like “Happiest Day of my Life.” Slightly… I don’t know… it’s not one of my greatest songwriting experiences. It’s just kind of like a tongue-in-cheek happy. I was going through a happy moment and I just wanted to share it in music, but it was a happy moment. You’ll notice most of my songs are not really on the happy side.
Yeah. I wanted to actually ask you about that. You mentioned earlier pain. You said that you can sense the pain in the vocalist. Do you find it easier to write from a source of like sorrow than joy?
Well, that’s a good question. That’s a really good question, because I’m being challenged with that very thing at the moment. I wrote a song about my mom and it’s the hardest song I have to write. And I keep coming back to it and some songs I will just spit out the lyrics and the melody and all and the whole song is done. Sometimes it surprises even me. And some songs just beat the crap out of me and this particular one is doing that… The one about my mom, because you would think I would have just an endless amount of things to say to describe her, to talk about her. It’s just I’m finding it super challenging and I think it’s because I have so many things to say I can’t really organize my thoughts. It’s really challenging. Sometimes it’s super, super hard.Semnat de Paul Leslie