Delishious jazz diva hits the stage

April 2005
Ryersonian Staff

It's been over 20 years since Adi Braun packed her bags for Toronto and left behind her childhood in Germany. She was just 19 at the time. With a demo tape in hand, Braun was determined to become a famous North American pop singer.

Her parents were both accomplished musicians. Braun's father was a renowned opera singer who moved his family with his career, between Munich, Cologne and later England.

Braun began playing piano at age six, and started voice training at 18. But her arrival in Toronto changed things. She enrolled in a classical music program at the University of Toronto and later became a respected opera singer herself, performing with the Canadian Opera Company and Opera Atelier. Yet as time passed, Braun became more and more dissatisfied with her career. Secretly she wanted to be a jazz singer.

"Those dreams went to sleep and they didn't really reawaken until about six years ago," says Braun. "Until then I didn't have the courage to do what I really want to do."

In 2001 Braun entered a vocal jazz competition at a Toronto restaurant. She won with a performance of Miss Celie's Blues, a Quincy Jones song from the soundtrack to The Color Purple.

"That's what gave me the push, the incredible feeling I got when I sang that song," recalls Braun. "Half a year prior I sang an aria at a big convention in front of 3,000 people, but it didn't compare to the feeling I got performing that song in front of 50 people in a small club."

Her dreams were awakened. Since then, Braun has launched herself onto the Canadian vocal jazz scene. Her successful debut album, Delishious, came out in 2003 to critical acclaim and earned her a 2004 Juno nomination.

She shrugs off the label, but Braun's music is most often described as jazz cabaret. Although Braun counts jazz masters like Ella Fitzgerald and Dee Dee Bridgewater among her influences, she's just as quick to place Barbara Streisand and Judy Garland alongside them.

In this sense, she's not exactly a jazz purist, but she makes no apologies for it either.

"Jazz, by its very nature, is many, many things to many different people," says Braun. "I think jazz is a great genre where you can blend just about every musical style if you want to."

Her album features a diverse line-up of songs by greats such as George Gershwin, Quincy Jones and Canadian songwriter Shirley Eikhard, among others and showcases her eclectic tastes. Growing up, she was just as likely to mix Streisand with Italian opera star Maria Callas.

"At 14 I thought Barb was far out. But at the same time I also thought Maria Callas was far out because she took enormous risks. And these were two singers from opposing poles."

But Braun reserves her greatest praise for Judy Garland. "Judy is the quintessential. I mean, this is it," says Braun. "She's possibly the greatest interpreter of songs of her century. We don't have performers like that anymore."

This is what Braun strives to do. She describes her performances as more theatrical than most jazz singers.

She emphasizes lyrics and places a lot of importance on strong diction and phrasing.

She says her classical training has led her to focus on carrying the melodies of her songs, rather than scatting or improvising lyrics. Braun looks for strong lyrics and emotionally revealing music.

"I like to say that I'm a story teller. If I wasn't passionate about the song I wouldn't perform it," she says. "One German critic once said they're like mini-moments of human emotion. And I think that's a good description."

Braun is performing at the Royal Conservatory of Music's jazz series on April 9 at 8 p.m. The show is at the Conservatory's temporary home at 90 Croatia St. in Toronto.

She will pay tribute to great singers from the 1930s to the 1960s, with an emphasis on Canadian songwriters such as Eikhard, Gordon Lightfoot and Jeff and Don Breithaupt. Accompanied by the Doug Riley Trio, Braun will also play some songs from her current album, and some new material from her upcoming release, due this fall.

Tickets are $10 for students and $15 for adults. They're available by phone at 416-408-2824 ext. 321.