Home > Events, General, Profiles > Emily Braden’s Jazz Journey

Emily Braden’s Jazz Journey

July 26, 2009

Emily BradenVocalist Emily Braden and pianist Misha Piatigorsky appear at Hermann’s on Monday and Tuesday night for two shows celebrating the successful launch of Braden’s debut studio album Soul Walk, which was produced in New York by Piatigorsky and which is already receiving acclaim from fans, reviewers, and musicians alike.(Click the Reviews button under “Categories” in the sidebar for the Island Jazz review of Soul Walk).

Island Jazz sat down with Braden and Piatigorsky to learn more about the making of the album and to find out what’s next as Braden takes another step in the development of what many feel will be a major international career.

A Special Voice and a Landmark Album

New York pianist/composer/producer Misha Piatigorsky knew from the first note he ever heard Emily Braden sing that she was a unique talent.

He heard that note about two years ago when Braden asked him to do a gig with her at Pagliacci’s restaurant in Victoria. (He currently spends his summers here with his family at his in-law’s Oak Bay home and teaches at the Victoria Conservatory of Music Summer Jazz Workshop where Braden first met him). Having already heard from other players in town how good she was, he agreed to the gig, thinking it would be a good way to check her out.

Needless to say, he was impressed.

That night when she drove me home,” says Piatigorsky, “we sat in the car and talked about music, what her aspirations are, and what she sees herself doing, and I told her that she should have me produce her debut record.”

Piatigorsky felt it was important that Braden have a really strong first album to help launch her career since these days as he points out, “your album is your business card.” But more than that, having heard her sing, he wanted to make an album with her. “There is the gig where somebody comes to you and wants you to produce them…and then there’s a different kind of gig where you really want to produce somebody. Those ones you take much closer to heart. Producing her record was the same thing as if I was producing a record for myself.”

That personal connection meant that Piatigorsky spent a lot of time working on the album, much more than he would give to a regular production. “I have issues being a perfectionist when I produce, and so I spent hours on every inch of every song.”

Of course it takes more than time and devotion to make a project like this happen. Without a major record label footing the bill, independent artists have to scrape together whatever funds they can from friends, family, and their own resources. Soul Walk was no exception. “Even though we had what to the average person was a very large budget, it was a tiny budget for the kind of record that it is,” says Piatigorsky.”I think our budget was around $20,000. The record we did was a 60 to 80,000 dollar production. That’s always the biggest challenge…”

While stretching the production dollar took some doing, Piatigorsky says they didn’t really face any major creative hurdles, largely because Braden trusted him and they were able to work together really well. “She gave me the full liberty to do whatever I wanted, which, as an artist, makes my life so much easier – it just makes me fly.”

Their first task was to decide what kind of album it would be. Piatigorksy says he gave Braden options but also encouraged her to use her own material. “I said it’s a debut record – why don’t you put out a record with all original music. You write some really cool things. But she was uncomfortable with that because everyone knows her as a jazz singer. So, at first, the idea was to put out a 100% jazz record with only standards – I would arrange everything and give them all spins…but then she said ‘there’s a big part about me which is soul and this is what I love to do.'”

In the end, Braden and Piatigorsky met halfway, producing an eclectic album that is a mix of jazz standards and original material (both Braden’s and Piatigorsky’s) and that honors both her soul and jazz influences, while introducing a variety of sounds from African to Arabic to gospel. “Emily’s very eclectic and therefore the album became eclectic and I realized that would be the right idea.” says Piatigorksy, adding that as a singer, she has no boundaries.

Piatigorsky is pleased with the result. “It’s a really cool album and I hope it puts Emily on the map because she really deserves it. She has a really special voice and a very special presence. She’s got a lot to say. She’s very inspirational to people and if she has the right band and the right material, there’s no limit to what she can do. Hopefully this gives her the push-off to reach for the stars.”

Building a Career in the City That Never Sleeps

Emily Braden got much more than a killer album from her sojourn in New York City last year. The 27 year-old says her initial idea in going to the musical mecca was to open her ears, but in the end, her time there validated her deepest feelings and desires. “I really went to just absorb but was amazed at how much I felt a part of it and how much I felt that this is the music that I love and that I can make it.”

That feeling struck her the very first night she arrived on an initial two-week trip and found herself on stage singing at Showman’s, the Harlem club where the likes of Sarah Vaughan used to hang out. “It was like this is home,” says Braden, who feels that in New York she has found a place where people really speak the language of the music she loves.

During that first short visit she connected with the musical history of the city but her second longer four-month sojourn was much more about digging into the contemporary scene and starting to find her own place within it. “I really appreciate history,” says Braden, “but I don’t want to be intimidated by it,” adding that she’s really into “the present tense,” and spent a lot of time researching and connecting with the young music scene happening in the city.

She says New York is like a live version of her own iTunes library in that all the musical styles are so accessible. On one street corner there’s the restaurant where a great African band plays and on the next you’ll hear folk or hip hop emanating from another venue.

She also discovered that individuality is highly valued. “Originality and authenticity in the sense of being true to yourself is really appreciated there and I love that.”

But perhaps her most important realization, as she appeared on the stages of various clubs, was that she does have a place in the scene there and that having taken a measure of herself in the most challenging of all musical environments, she recognizes that her talent does stand up and her desire to pursue a musical career is not some idle fantasy. Braden says she got “the most amazing feedback” and ” a lot of encouragement” and that being there was both “inspirational” and “a confidence builder.”

At the same time, she’s realistic and recognizes that the life of a musician isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to paying the rent and putting food on the table. “If you’re going to do this, you’re just going to have to dig deep,” says Braden, a process she’s already started as she begins to contact promoters and publicists in advance of her return to New York in September.

The game plan is to first of all land some smaller but higher profile gigs, including, she hopes, a CD launch at the Iridium that Misha Piatigorksy is trying to organize for her, as well as continuing to network on her own. She’s already been asked to play a few gigs by people who heard her last year and feels she just has to go and have the faith that things will work out.

Braden says it’s hard to leave Victoria but the inspiration New York offers is calling her. She also recognizes that it’s important, at least initially, to have access to the people – managers, promoters and the like – who can make a difference in her career. As well, the sound created on her album is”pretty New York specific” and so it’s important to be around the musicians who are part of that, particularly Piatigorsky, whom Braden says really kept her going during the making of the album. “I would go up to those five flights of stairs to his apartment ready to stop the album and he would just ease my mind – he kept things moving.”

At the same time she’s cautious and plans for now to sublet her James Bay apartment and “give it a year to see what’s calling me and how I feel,” adding, “I’m so excited about everything but I’m scared to death too.”

Fortunately, she’s had more than a few signs along the way that she’s following the right path. One of the more interesting occurrences happened in the Treehouse Cafe on Salt Spring Island awhile back. Braden was on stage singing when she noticed a “beaming face” in the audience and realized it was “THE Raffi.” She spoke to him at the break and he gave her a lot of good advice and encouragement. About a month later, she was feeling particularly down, wondering how she was ever going to make her career happen, when an envelope appeared in her mailbox with a supportive note from her childhood musical idol and a very generous cheque – the seed money for what would become Soul Walk.

Braden says she was blown away and has been really blessed with things like this so far, adding, “I only hope I can give back half of what my friends and family give me. I do believe that music has the power to do that.”

Her supporters believe she has the power to realize her dreams. Piatigorsky says that besides being hugely talented, she’s smart and that if she works hard she’ll do just fine.

For Braden there really isn’t much choice anyway. While she’s been very careful and has heeded the advice of her mother and grandmother to first of all complete her Master’s degree in Hispanic studies at UVic, she clearly believes that music is her calling. “It’s not a question of wanting to do it,” she says, “I have to do it.”

The energy, confidence, clarity, and passion with which she delivers that and all statements about her life in music make it pretty clear that she will do it and that she is on the verge of what Raffi called in his note, “an amazing career.”

– Rick Gibbs

Emily Braden and Misha Piatigorsky appear at Hermann’s Jazz Club in Victoria, Monday (July 27) and Tuesday (July 28) at 8pm. Copies of Braden’s new album Soul Walk will be available at the shows.

Categories: Events, General, Profiles
  1. Gillian Gravenor
    July 30, 2009 at 10:58 pm

    hey rick
    thanks for the piece on emily braden and her album soulwalk
    and the affirmation of her talents
    she has a very strong fan base here in victoria

    its so great to realize that she is only 27 and has more songs to write
    and will of the caliber of wallflowers fantasy and georgia o keefe

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