Jazz Songstress, BRENNA WHITAKER Discusses Performing With John Mayer, Her Debut Single, “Love Back”, Her Favorite Musicians and More!
Posted On 29 Mar 2016
Tag: Adele, All Access, All Access Music Group, Amy Winehouse, Artist Interview, Billie Dee Williams, Brenna Whitaker, Dave Brubeck, David Foster, Disney, Etta James, Eva Cassidy, Grammy, It's Not Easy Being Green, James Bond, Jess Glynne, John Mayer, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Love Back, Luther Vandross, Michael Buble, Pearl Bailey, Quincy Jones, Ruth Brown, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Star Wars, Stevie Wonder, The Muppets, Verve, Verve Records, Vibrato Jazz Grill
As a kid growing up in Kansas City, Brenna Whitaker fell in love with the music of jazz and blues singers from a long-ago era.
“Ruth Brown, Peggy Lee, Cab Calloway, Etta James – those are my people,” says the L.A.-based vocalist. “I don’t even know how I ended up knowing so many of their songs and standards from back then. It’s almost like they found their way to me, like I’m from another time.”
After landing her first professional theater gig at age 11, moving to New York City on her own to study with Broadway veterans at age 17, and spending her early 20s leading jazz bands back home in Missouri, Whitaker headed to L.A. and started setting up a series of residencies that eventually attracted fans like Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Michael Bublé and caught the attention of Verve Music Group chairman and 16-time Grammy Award-winner David Foster.
The first new artist Foster has agreed to develop and produce since discovering Bublé, Whitaker is now set to release a debut album for Verve that finds her reviving a vast American jukebox of classic songs and revealing the full force of her stunning, soulful voice.
Learn more about Brenna in the following All Access interview:
Thanks for your time today! So, now that we are two full months into 2016, how’s the year treating you so far?
Well, 2016 started off with me on the ground with my hands up… and then I surrendered and it all got better. It’s a very exciting journey I’m on.
What were some of the highlights of 2015 for you and your music?
I really started touring for the first time in my life in 2015. To travel the world and do what you love and be with your best friends on the road is such a gift. I think I was made for the tour life. Being inspired that there is a whole world out there waiting to see your show… it’s beyond exciting.
How was your recent show in LA at the Vibrato Jazz Grill? I heard that John Mayer showed up and performed a couple songs with you! How did that all happen?
Well, it’s funny… I have a really amazing following that happen to be successful entertainers. The seat John was sitting in is usually occupied by Billie Dee Williams from Star Wars and Billie couldn’t make it so I feel like the gods sent John. The good thing about living in LA and being a musician is that they like to eat and go out with their friends and listen to music… I happened to be the band that night.
Were you expecting that to happen?
No… but I try to always be prepared for something crazy and magical to always happen.
Do you have more shows coming up in the near future?
I’m really starting to get busy, which is great. I’ll be in Japan, DC and NYC in March and Italy, Germany and Paris in April. I have another show in Bel Air at my favorite Jazz Club in LA, Vibrato Jazz Club on April 5th if you want to have a nice steak and watch my band play with me.
Growing up, did you always want to be an artist?
I knew music was always going to be a constant love and passion and roller coaster ride.
Was your family supportive of that dream?
My family was almost too supportive. I started working professionally at 11 years old. They wouldn’t let me give up and knew it’s what truly made me happy.
Can you imagine yourself doing anything else today?
I would love to open a fried chicken joint in Pasadena and restore a crumbling historic house and have a bunch of kids and always be a pioneer for getting kids to play music.
You have a lot of jazz experience. How do you think that translates to the pop world?
I think there is a shift going on. Retro stuff is being dusted off and kids are buying records and are becoming interested in vintage cultures. James Bond never goes out of style and eating great appetizers while listening to Dave Brubeck never gets old.
You have been compared to several incredible artists like Jess Glynne, Adele and Amy Winehouse. What do you think of those comparisons?
I love them!!!
Do those particular singers inspire you and your voice?
Majorly. I consider them soul sisters.
What other artists have continued to inspire you through the years?
Too many to count, but some include Eva Cassidy, Etta James, Ruth Brown, Pearl Bailey, Sister Rosetta Tharp, Luther Vandross and John Mayer.
Who would you absolutely love to work with in the future?
Can you talk about your new single, “Love Back”? Where did the inspiration for it come from?
Everyone knows what it feels like to have wasted time on the wrong person and want that time back. When I sing it I’m thinking of all my ex boyfriends… and there are a lot of them.
What did it feel like to release your debut album?
Surreal and scary.
How long did it take to put it together?
About 2 years.
Can you talk about the recording process of it?
It was like getting your masters in music sort of maybe. You really learn how the machine works and everyone’s parts in it. It was a dream come true for me.
What was it like recording The Muppet’s classic song “It’s Not Easy Being Green” for the Disney Collection?
It’s an underdog song and an anthem to me for being different.
Did you choose that song?
I sang the song years ago for my best friend’s boyfriend at an eco-friendly conference for sustainable energy building in NYC. I fell in love with the song.
Why did you want to be involved with this album?
I’m kinda weird and I wanted to remain myself.
At the end of the day, what do you hope is the message of your music?
I hope people hear my voice and know I’ve been through a lot of dark stuff too… I hope to be a light for people.
What do you hope listeners take away from your songs?
I hope they get lost in a story and can interpret their own movie in their minds with my songs.