Douglas Music student on her new album ‘When I Get Low’ and quirks of being a professional musician
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
“Taking music courses at Douglas during the pandemic has been a lifeline for me to feel connected with music and other people.”– Tia Brazda
Vancouver-born jazz singer-songwriter Tia Brazda is refining her music knowledge at Douglas while completing a covers album in Toronto, and it’s thanks to COVID that she has been able to do so. With post-secondary classes being virtual, Brazda is able to reside in Toronto while attending school on the other side of the country.
A self-titled “eternal-student,” Brazda has been making music professionally for nearly ten years. Her singles “Cabin Fever,” “Bandshell,” and “Daydream” made it to number 1 spot on the iTunes Canada Jazz Chart, among many other Jazz and Radio charts. She has also performed on stages throughout Canada, the United States, and Europe. It’s no wonder as her percussive voice is an elevated resurrection of Amy Winehouse. Not to mention that her 1920s speakeasy aesthetic is the perfect accompaniment to her sound.
Her newest album in the works, When I Get Low, is a concoction of her favorite covers which she began recording during quarantine to remedy pandemic woes. “Over the past decade, I’ve only released original songs, but I usually perform a couple covers at my shows. Once COVID hit, I went from being on my way to playing Birdland in Germany to being quarantined in my house following an exposure. Suddenly living in a pandemic felt very surreal and overwhelming at moments—I finally knew what writer’s block felt like. I needed something to work on to keep me grounded so a covers album was the perfect antidote,” Brazda tells the Other Press during an email interview.
“All of the songs are in the jazz/trad-pop genres and relate to the feelings I have experienced over the past year—there is Sinatra’s “That’s Life,” as well as “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall” by The Ink Spots, and of course, one of my favourite Ella Fitzgerald songs that I’ve been performing for nearly a decade, “When I Get Low, I Get High.” There are a couple special guests—a duet with vocalist Alex Bird and Jason Marsalis on vibraphone.” However, due to COVID, everyone had recorded their parts remotely, “Bird was up North and Marsalis in New Orleans. The rest of the band also recorded from their homes even though we all live in the same neighbourhood.” When asked for some adjectives to describe the album, Brazda replies, “Dystopian, dreamy, nostalgic with a dash of grit.”
Brazda explains how her continuing education helped her with her music. “Taking music courses at Douglas during the pandemic has been a lifeline for me to feel connected with music and other people. My main goal was to get better at sight-singing (singing off the page), and I can say that I’ve had a lot of improvement in that area within a very short time frame. Sight-reading definitely comes in handy when scouring old songbooks. I’ve also always wanted to give opera singing a try, so I am doing that with Eric Hannan. I noticed that my vibrato became more refined almost right away and I hear that coming through on this record.”
To add to the excitement of recording a new record, an album which Brazda has done background vocals on has also just been nominated for a Juno. “My husband, Chris Graham, produced the album, Heart Parade for Splash ‘N Boots which was just nominated for Best Children’s Album this year. I did some background vocals on the song “Heart Parade,” (featuring Alice Cooper which was pretty neat) and the song “My Family.” Being a background vocalist is similar to being a movie extra, you’re in the mix somewhere! In addition to hearing the album being worked on in our home for the better part of a year, it was cool to be part of it in some way as a singer. I really do hope SNP wins because, not only did they work very hard to pull off a very ambitious album during a pandemic, but it’s also just a really excellent record. Chris puts his heart and soul into everything he works on so it would be really nice for him too.”
But Juno nominations are nothing new to Brazda. “I have been super fortunate to have contributed background vocals to other nominated albums over the years, Splash ‘N Boots album, Happy Times in 2015 as well as Michael Kaeshammer’s, “KaeshammerLIVE” DVD concert in 2013. It’s cool to see something go from rehearsal all the way to the Junos and I always feel very happy for the artist because it’s such a career highlight. Chris and I attended the Junos in 2015 for Happy Times and it was such a blast—aside from what you see on TV there is a private gala dinner that happens the night before where they give out the awards that they don’t air. It was my favourite part of the entire thing because there were so many great speeches and so many talented Canadians in one room.”
Unknowingly, I am sure that every radio-listening Canadian has heard Brazda’s voice, regardless of if they listen to jazz or not. Remember Sleep Country Canada’s jingle? Well, that was Brazda. “I loved doing that Jingle! That is definitely the biggest one I have done but I’ve also done jingles for TD Insurance and Homesense to name a few. I’ve actually wanted to do jingles since I was a tot so that has been a childhood dream come true for me and it feels good to make a living with my voice. Recently, I have started training to do voiceovers (the speaking part) as well so you may be hearing more of me!”
While the regular narrative around singing often involves not being able to make a living off of it, Brazda has shown us otherwise. What is her advice for current music students in terms of their futures with music? “Practice your instrument and be the best you can be. The second most important thing is to get involved in your local music community, attend events, volunteer, go to jams, and make friends of all ages. Also, find your audience. Is your genre or specialty more popular in another city? Consider going there. Having a mentor can also be so helpful but that is usually something that happens organically when you put yourself out there enough. Don’t be afraid to ask for things or contact people that seem a little out of reach. Finally, I’d say to focus on your music classes because some of that stuff that might seem tedious right now is certainly going to come in handy later.”
Keep your ears perked because Brazda’s new album, When I Get Low is set to release this summer. “I guess it will be an online thing or maybe some small backyard concerts, depending on where things are at with COVID. Singing spreads a lot of droplets so I have toyed with the idea of performing in an actual bubble dome—it also seems like a fun, safe way to make the best out of a bad situation.”
Bubble dome or not, I’m sure that I’m not the only one hoping Brazda makes her way west succeeding the release of her new album. In the meantime, peep her Bandcamp https://tiabrazda.bandcamp.com/ and YouTube at tiabrazdamusic!