Vocalist Adi Braun just released her new recording Night and Day: The Cole Porter Songbook.
Her sixth release features 10 classics that showcase the musical range of both Braun’s artistry and Porter’s songwriting. It’s a collaboration with Emmy-winning Canadian keyboardist, songwriter, producer, and arranger Don Breithaupt (of Monkey House and Brass Transit).
Braun joined us to talk about the album.
Congratulations on the new album. First, let’s talk about your early life in music. I see you’ve mentioned that music is a family tradition. How did you come to this?
I come from an illustrious family of opera singers. My dad was a famous opera singer, my brother is, my mother was. A younger brother is heavy metal. I started classically, and it was something I always wanted to do but it took a lot of courage to migrate sideways.
Sideways meaning away from classical into something more contemporary or pop?
I always wanted to be a pop singer, primarily. But I had classical training and followed in those footsteps. It was almost like Cinderella — the shoe didn’t quite fit. Then I won this little competition on Church Street and the prize was to [make] a recording. They put together the band, and the band happened to be Doug Riley, Terry Clarke and Steve Wallace. And… once bitten, always smitten.
Having a family that was already involved in music, does that make the choice less abrasive to family members when you decide to pursue music? It’s already part of the understanding of how people live.
My mom’s listening, I think. This is a tricky question because when you come from a family that’s established in a tradition — let’s say classical music — it would be, “Well that’s nice, but you seem to have a natural classical voice so you must train in that.” In hindsight, I’m not unhappy that I did it, but there was a little bit of difficulty in allowing myself to say, “But I really feel more comfortable in this.”
Regardless, that seems like a solid way to get going.
For sure. I think you have to retrain and find your own voice after that. Learning to sing with a mic is an art in itself. I think I’m sort of getting closer to being good at it now.
I know cabaret is something that’s been a big part of your life. When someone sings a song from the Great American Songbook or someone is singing a cabaret song that might be from the Great American Songbook, what are the different elements that you’re bringing to those different occasions?
Well, you probably wouldn’t swing in cabaret, and also you might do a mixture of spoken word and singing. If you’re thinking about German cabaret, the spoken word was very, very important. The instrumentation of the band would be completely different. The key signature would be different, too. Sometimes you can say there would be a big difference, but there may not be that much of a difference.
Is it about the performance, too? You act it out more?
You’re so good. Yes. I think because cabaret singers didn’t sing with a mic many decades ago, then yes, they would have a Judy Garland, Ethel Merman kind of voice. You would definitely need to act to demonstrate the emotion, for sure.
Let’s talk about the origins of Night and Day. How does an artist these days decide on this concept? Tell me about nailing down the Cole Porter element of this project.
I’ve been friends with Don Breithaupt and Jeff Breithaupt for many, many years. Don and I started talking about collaborating together, and I had a hankering to do something that was on a larger scale in terms of the arrangement — always with the goal of singing with an orchestra. I have produced and arranged all of my CDs, and there’s satisfaction in that, but it’s so wonderful to give this to somebody else who is such a genius at it. It was clear at the beginning that Don was going to produce and arrange, and the more we looked at the sheets, he said, “I see a lot of Cole Porter songs here. Why don’t we look at that?”
It seems like there are two sides of Cole Porter that you wanted to showcase. There’s a lightness to some stuff, and there can be a darkness, a more serious tone to some of the other material. That seems like an interesting place to balance out the material.
He can be profound, he can be sinister, he can be sarcastic, he can be vulnerable. I think that’s who he was as a person. As most people know, Cole Porter was a homosexual man living in the closet — I mean, maybe not to himself, but to the world, yes. He had a most intriguing relationship with his wife, Linda, and I think whatever love they had was 100 per cent love. They were there for each other. I think he suffered greatly, but he had a great sense of humour. So, all these aspects of his own life, and the trials and tribulations, I find it daring and sexy.
He not only wrote the music, but the words. The combination of those two things is not something you always find in a songwriter, and he was one of the best at doing it. What is it about having both of those skill sets that made it something you were interested in?
If you look at the lyrics alone, there’s music right there. There’s rhythm already in the words. If Cole were alive, I’d say, “What came first, the words or the music?” And he might say, “Both at the same time.” I find that just brilliant.
I’ve talked to a lot of artists who imagine the experience of going into the studio one way, and then it can represent completely different circumstances. It can exceed expectations or fall below expectations. Give me a sense of going in there and realizing this dream after a couple of years of putting it together.
This was a very different — a 360? Or is it a 180? — it was a turn of events. When I go into the studio, usually I rehearse with the band that I’m touring with. We rehearse it at home, they have lead sheets that my pianist or I may have created, and then we play. Here, there was method to the madness. We had 17 players — there were strings, there were horns, there was a core group — [so] we really needed to have something written out. We recorded with a click track. I was really afraid of that, but there’s beauty in all that. If you know that there’s a solid rhythm and you never stray from that speed, it opens up so much more for the vocalist. I had to just be my best self vocally, and I could leave all the other worrying to Don and the others.
It’s funny, it seems like with more constraints, more freedom was created.
Strangely, yes. I was very nervous about the process, but now I see that there’s beauty in it, and freedom.
This interview has been edited and condensed.