Growing up in Vancouver, Tia Brazda says “singing and writing became like companions” that she still has to this day. Coming to London to promote her new album When I Get Low with a gig at Pizza Express Holborn on 2 May, she talks to LJN about discovering jazz as a teenager, how singing helps to work through emotions and her English heritage. Preview feature by Rob Adams:
Tia Brazda can’t wait to make her London debut at Pizza Express Live in Holborn on Monday 2 May – and to take a trip in a black cab.
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The Canadian singer with the distinctively alluring vocal timbre will be promoting her latest album, When I Get Low (Flatcar Records), on which she concentrates mostly on songs written between the Great Depression and the Second World War. It’s an era that makes an easy comparison with the world today but while the album, on first impression, might have a dystopian theme, the Vancouver-born Brazda turns it into an uplifting experience, dreamy and nostalgic with a dash of grit.
Singing was a calling from an early age for Brazda, who says she made her first solo performance at her local church at the age of four or five.
“As far back as I can remember, I’ve been singing,” she says. “I was trying to write my own songs in primary school and growing up mostly as an only child, I had to find creative ways to entertain myself. Singing and writing became like companions to me – and they remain so to this day.”
In her late teens she made her first jazz discovery, Ella Fitzgerald, who became the singer she tried to emulate the most. At the same time, countless hours listening to Erykah Badu, Norah Jones and Sarah McLachlan guided her songwriting.
“I would analyse their lyrics and song forms – writing them out and looking for patterns,” she says. “I also read lots of interviews with them and thought their lifestyles sounded like something I would enjoy. I knew I wanted to travel to many places and meet lots of interesting people when I grew up – and now I’m luckily doing just that.”
Her distinctive voice has been getting Brazda recognised – literally – since before she turned professional and honed her sound in the clubs of Toronto.
“Many people have always told me that they know me by my voice – whether speaking or singing – and I am more than okay with that because I think it never hurts to stand apart,” she says. “At the end of the day, I just try to be the best singer I can be – as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I am incredibly grateful for the people who come out to my shows – they are the reason I get to keep doing what I love.”
Brazda made her first recording, an EP called Cabin Fever, in 2012. It made a quick impression, reaching Number 1 on the Canadian iTunes chart. Three years later, her first full-length album, Bandshell, followed suit and by 2016, her singular take on the swing jazz style – described as a “hip pastiche” – was sufficiently established to earn her headliner status at Montreal Jazz Festival.
The songs she sings – whether her own or interpretations of existing ones – are generally extensions of her mood at the time.
“I especially like songs that paint a picture, or even create a short film in my mind when I hear them,” she says. “For my new album, When I Get Low, which is mostly selections from the Great American Songbook, each song helped me in some way to endure the past couple of years. For me to connect with a song, it is either articulating feelings I didn’t know I had or magnifying and helping me sort through what I am already feeling.”
On her Pizza Express date, Brazda will be joined by a quintet comprising Canadian and local musicians – pianist Charlie Flint, trumpeter Byron Wallen, guitarist Wes Carroll, bassist Chris Adriaanse and drummer Morgan Childs – who have been chosen to help Brazda bring the songs to life.
“The most important thing about performing, for me, is that I connect emotionally with others,” she says. “I hope people will leave my show feeling seen. If I can lift their spirits or if they leave with a deeper appreciation for jazz, then that makes me happy too! My grandma was from England so it’s a bit of a heritage trip for me as well as being there for work. Aside from checking out the usual landmarks, I plan on just walking and exploring downtown. Find a nice spot to have a tea and take in the scene – but I also love your taxis and am looking forward to seeing the city that way too!”
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LINKS: Tia Brazda’s website