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Brigitte Zarie
Brigitte Zarie

You Must Remember This - The Brigitte Zarie Interview

Brigitte Zarie has the David Letterman band at her back and a bright future ahead of her.

By Jim Dupuis

Brigitte Zarie, is pretty, talented and driven to succeed.  She's originally from Toronto and is now trying to make it in the city that never sleeps.  She is also pretty well connected and has bassist/producer Neil Jason in her cornerThink KISS, John Lennon, The Brecker Brothers.  Her new CD called Make Room for Me has guests such as Randy Brecker on trumpet and Jeff Golub on guitar.  Jason, also got the horn section from the David Letterman Show to show off their wares on it and you know the good stuff we don't hear on Letterman - the stuff they play during the commercials that we never get to hear.  Well they play it here.  Well maybe not, but they sure as Hell can play.  In reality all this talent would not be associated with this project if she wasn’t good.  The bilingual Zarie is both a composer and vocalist and Make Room for Me harkens back to Las Vegas shows in the Sands and the Dunes in the fifties or lavish variety shows with lush orchestras like Nelson Riddle's or Count Basie'sZarie's voice is perfectly suited for the material and with a break or two, who knows.  I tracked her down in New Jersey, recently and she gave me the low-down on life in New York and being oh, so close to a legend.  Maybe this real-life fairytale will have a happy ending.

JD: Today we are speaking with Brigitte Zarie who is in the New York area.

BZ: Actually I’m in New Jersey, right across the river and I have a beautiful view of Manhattan.  Actually I’m about a mile away from Manhattan.  It’s gorgeous here today.  The weather is spectacular.

JD: You’re not from New York, originally are you?

BZ: Originally I’m from Toronto, Canada; born and raised.

JD: Oh, yeah.

BZ: Yeah, my favourite place in the world, actually.

JD: It is a lovely city.  There is no doubt about that.

BZ: Especially in the summer with the harbour front and the lakeshore.  It’s just gorgeous. 

JD: I remember The Beaches.  It was always nice, too.

BZ: That’s funny because we used to have a supermarket in The Beaches.  My brother had a supermarket, there and I was there every day after school working in The Beaches, my favourite area. 

Make Room For Me
Make Room For Me

JD: To what extent was there music in the household that you grew up in?

BZ: It was every extent (laughs).  It was everywhere.  You couldn't run away from it.  I come from a massive family.  First of all, my father was a sax player.  He was in the French Foreign Legion.  That's actually how he met my mother.  He tried to pick my mother up and she told him only if he played a song for her.  So he said cool, whatever it takes.  So, I come from music.  My mother's a singer and my whole family is all musical. 

JD: That's a wonderful story.  What’s the first time you can remember music; a specific song or artist?  Do you have that somewhere?

BZ: You know what, I really do.  It's weird but I do.  First of all I was singing as a child.  As corny as it may be, I was Cinderella in camp.  So that’s my first singing memory.  But the memory that’s etched in my brain, where I thought, "Oh my God, this is absolutely the best music I ever heard," was when my older brother Danny was getting ready for a date and he had me and my sister stay at his apartment while he was going to have his little thing (laughs).  While he was getting ready and putting on shaving lotion and everything—I remember it vividly—he had Antonio Carlos Jobim and Stan Getz playing.  I couldn't have been more than seven and I thought, "Oh my God!"  When he left he asked us if we wanted him to turn it off and we said, "No, no, no, no, no!" and we feel asleep to it.  It's etched in my brain and that was my true introduction to jazz. 

JD: Well that's a good one.  That's a good place to start, there's no doubt about that.

BZ: Weird for a young kid to be blown away by Stan Getz, you know.

JD: I like that.  Do you have any musical education?  Did you study in Toronto, or elsewhere?

BZ: You know what?  It’s all pretty natural.  I didn't take any kind of lessons.  I wish I could say I did, because it’s always helpful to have some kind of training, but no, I just opened my mouth and started singing and really dug it.  No, actually no training.

JD: You couldn’t tell that from listening to your CD.

BZ: I have life experience.  I don't have formal training, although I did make an attempt to go to the Royal Conservatory in Toronto.  You know I just can’t be trained (laughs).  I just can’t be trained.  My experience there, maybe from the teacher's perspective, really wasn't very good, because I really couldn't sit my brain down and absorb anything that they were saying.  I don't know, I have ADD when it comes to training, so the answer to that is no.  I need to do it experience-wise.

JD: What ever works for you is all that counts.  Well, we just received your new CD.  It's called Make Room for Me and I notice that you have some heavyweights on it.  You have Randy Brecker the trumpet player and Jeff Golub, the guitarist.  How did you get a hold of these guys?

BZ: What do you want to know about them?  Obviously you know Randy's history.  He's phenomenal and come with a huge history.  It's a long story.  Neil Jason, my producer, is also a very famous bass player.  He's legendary.  He's played on everybody's—KISS; he's produced the Brecker Brothers, John Lennon, Mick Jagger … you name it.  Neil's played on it; John McLaughlin, Anne Murray.  Because of his association with the Brecker Brothers, he was a friend of Randy, obviously.  So when "C U Again" came about, which I composed, I just felt that Randy would be a perfect marriage and complement to "C U Again."  So, Neil asked him and he was absolutely thrilled and he came on board.  He was thrilled to play trumpet and he did a phenomenal job and I’m so indebted to him for it.

JD: It is a wonderful song and his solos are beautiful on it.

BZ: You know what - breathtaking!  He did a phenomenal job on it.  He really, really added such an amazing thing to that song.  I’m so honoured to have had him. 

JD: Yes, that's an amazing thing.  I noticed from the liner notes, that you wrote or co-wrote all the songs on the CD.

BZ: Yes I did; every line.

JD: When you do lyrics and music which happens first?

BZ: I just start singing and I start writing.  I have a recorder that’s glued to my arm and I don’t go anywhere without it.  I just start singing and I record it into a cassette.  Lyrics come with the melody and then I’ll play what I have.  The variation of what I think this song will be to Neil (Jason)—the producer, and he will start laying down some chords to it and it will just evolve.

JD: Ok, do you use a piano to write the music?

BZ: Yes sometimes.  I'm a terrible player.  It’s definitely not my thing, but some times.  It’s usually in my head and I’ll record it and sing it for Neil and he’ll either hear something and say, “Cool that sounds great and I can work on it,” or That sucks” (laughs) and move to the next thing (laughs). And I’ll go, “Hello I’m not a robot and I want to do this or I want to do that,” but I usually just write a million songs into the cassette and I’ll give it to him and he’ll choose a song that he can work on or thinks is really cool.

JD: Sure, that sounds like it works well.  Brigitte, I love the way the CD is arranged.  In many instances I got the feeling of Frank Sinatra with the Count Basie Band.  It just has that nice feel.  Who did the arranging and is that what they were trying for?

BZ: Ok, first of all, thank you so much for saying that, because you just hit the nail on the head.  That’s been my dream, my whole life.  Second of all, Neil Jason did the arranging and Chris Byars also contributed to some arrangements on three songs and he plays saxophone so he was a big help on some of the songs.  As far as the Frank Sinatra—was it a conscious decision to do that—is that what you are saying?

JD: Yes.

BZ: No, it wasn’t.  I just write like that and the arrangements came out like that because of the songs.  So, they were working according to how the songs were structured, and Neil obviously knows  I’m a huge Nelson Riddle; a huge Count Basie, Dizzie Gillespie, Frank Sinatra fan, so we probably subconsciously were thinking along those lines.  It wasn’t a conscious decision.  It’s just the songs that I wrote.  I don’t know I should have been here in the fifties.

JD: It works in the 2000s, too.  It’s a very good CD.

BZ: Thank you so much, Jim.

JD: You are welcome.  On Make Room for Me, you sing the title song in both English and French.  Is it difficult to switch back and forth in the languages?

BZ: No, because I speak French.  My parents are from Casablanca, Morocco, so there was French in the household all the time, especially when I didn’t understand it and they wanted to yell at us kids, it was always in French (laughs).  So I speak French so it was a natural flow to want to do French.  Neil, also suggested, because I speak French that I might want to do “Make Room for Me” in French and I thought, “Cool, let’s do it.”

JD: I think it’s a real good idea.  So what are your plans for the rest of the year?  Are you going to do any touring?  Are you coming back to Canada?

BZ: Oh my God, nothing would make me happier to tour in Canada and my home town.  I can’t wait.  But right now we’re in the studio recording new songs and we’re just starting up to plan where we are going to start promoting this record and I know Toronto definitely and Canada generally will be one of my first places. 

JD: Well that’s good to hear.

BZ: I can’t wait.  Really, I’m a Canadian and Canada holds such a dear, dear place in my heart, you know, so playing there would bring me such joy. 

JD: Well, we want you to come; we want you to come (laughs).

BZ: Ok, ok (laughs).

JD: So, the CD, Brigitte Zarie Make Room For Me, how do you go about getting it?

BZ: You can buy Make Room for Me at i-tunes and Amazon.  We are on all the digital sites, now, which is pretty exciting.

JD: That is good.  The access is great.

BZ: I’m getting really positive feedback and I’m really blown away by it.  I’m really floored and so honoured, because you know it’s weird when you’re an artist.  You put yourself out there and it’s like ok everybody throw your opinions at me.  You know.  It is art and I’m very sensitive about it and I’m just so honoured that people like it.  It is a labour of love for me and to have positive feedback is just great. 

JD: It’s a good CD and people should pick it up.  So, Amazon, i-tunes.

BZ: And you can go on my website and it will tell you where you can get everything.

JD: You also have a Myspace page, too.

BZ: Yes, I just got a Myspace page and people can hear songs there.

JD: You are presently living in the New York area.  How exciting is that.  What happens there?

BZ: Please, it’s more like what doesn’t happen, there.  You can anything and everything, here and you know what, I got to tell you Jim it’s really no different than Canada, except for the fact that it doesn’t close.  It’s open all night and it’s everything people say.  I remember growing up in Toronto and I remember, you just got your energy revving up at 11 o’clock and everything closes.  From that perspective it’s different.  Everything’s open all the time 24/7.  Other than that it is pretty similar to Canada.  It really is.  It’s bigger and it’s great.  Musicians are always available any time because they love to play.  They’re all here; especially jazz musicians, so that’s cool. What’s great about this CD, also is that the Letterman guys played on my CD.  I was lucky enough to have the Letterman Horns, because, again, Neil Jason replaces Will Lee on the Letterman Show a couple of time a year.  He’s also a good friend with the guys and Paul Shaffer, who’s also a Canadian, and a dear friend of ours, so we were lucky enough to have the Letterman Horns play on Make Room for Me; Tom (Bones) Malone and Al Chez were gracious enough to play.  That was pretty exciting.

JD: So do you think you might be on Letterman one of these days?

BZ: Oh, please, from your mouth to God’s ears (laughs).

JD: I’ll give him a call.  I’m so important (laughs).

BZ: Are you (laughs)?  Listen, nothing would make me happier that to be a guest on Letterman.  I was on the show.  I went on the show to watch Neil play and as luck would have it, Letterman was exhausted that day so he was going to rest during commercials and I was up where the engineer is and I was just watching the show just like everybody else and I had a great time.  So that was my closest to being on the show (laughs).

JD: Well you never know. 

BZ: I walked on the stage (laughs).

JD: Did you happen to slip him a CD?

BZ: No I didn’t because we didn’t have the CD ready at that time.  We hadn’t got these songs out yet. 

JD: Maybe that would be the first step.

BZ: All the guys (the Letterman Horns) have the CD because they all played on it and Paul’s got the CD, so you never know, were just one step away from getting it to Dave (laughs).

JD: Hope it happens, and if it does, let us all know so we can stay up and watch you on Letterman.  That would be very cool.

BZ: For sure and I’d definitely give a shout out to Canada. For sure!

JD: Thanks for doing the interview.

BZ: Thanks so much for having me and I can’t wait to play these songs in Canada.

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