Ever since I was a little girl, the jazz era of the 1920’s and 30’s has always intrigued me. For me, it was the fashion that enamoured me about the Jazz era. The luxuriousness and the glamour that represented the period was also reflected in the styles as in the flapper dress or the cloche hats. But it wasn’t until recently, specifically in the last year that I’ve become more appreciative in a central character of the 20’s: the music. To be honest, I have never been a huge fan of jazz. I grew up listening to hip hop and R&B. So, when I was asked to interview and write an article about Juno award winner and jazz vocalist, Brandi Disterheft, I was a little hesitant because of my lack of knowledge for contemporary jazz music. But, I decided to take on the challenge and explore further.
From what I knew of the Jazz age, it was a time of liberation of expression through fashion, art as well as music. The spirit and energy of jazz music itself, was a force embodying the era. It was a significant character that defined the 20’s. Like the fashion, jazz was elaborate. It was coined the “The Roaring 20’s”! There were big live bands and huge parties with lots of dancing. Jazz was in full swing! It was the energy and the power of the music that transcends even to today, proving it’s significance for many years and years to come.
Almost 100 years later, the spirit of the music is lives on in musicians like Harry Connick Jr. or Michael Buble. I experienced first hand what the music meant to so many people and then some through a performance by Brandi Disterheft. There’s nothing more satisfying than hearing a live instrument play but in the case of Brandi, she bares her heart and soul. Something that is rarely felt in today’s mainstream music scene.
Looking beautiful and ethereal in a white gown and black cropped blazer (styled by Paperdoll Clothing and make up by Provici), Disterheft didn’t always have a feminine style to her onstage look. A Juno award winner for her single, “Gratitude” Brandi hails from North Vancouver, and is currently living in New York City, and plays the upright bass. As we sat at Le Garage, which was an appropriate jazz venue, I might add; I immediately felt at ease with her. She was soft spoken, had a gentle spirit and her invitation to New York was an indication of how open and thoughtful she was when I told her about my interest in visiting the Big Apple one day. Like most musicians, I felt her passion which was later received during her performance. We chatted about fashion, music and New Yorkers’ attitudes vs. Canadians. Growing up, her fashion influences include Bjork, because of her boldness to wear whatever she wanted while keeping the integrity of her music. But it was her own mother who influenced the way Disterheft actually dressed on stage.
When Disterheft started to learn to play the upright bass, fashion certainly was not a priority. After all, it was all about the music. Usually, Because the upright bass is a massive instrument, (imagine a cello but bigger), Brandi dressed for it, which meant she dressed comfortably. But as she honed her musical talents and started performing on stage more, it was at her mother’s suggestion to dress for the stage. Also, the upright bass was and is played predominantly by males, which was another factor in the way she dressed. It was her own mother who brought to her attention to take on more of a “feminine” look to her on stage performances. But it wasn’t all dresses and stilettoes. Keeping in mind, the upright bass, she still dresses for practicality and comfort. A woman after my own heart. Comfortable footwear is important because she stands while playing. Brandi has worn ballroom dancing shoes on occasion.
These days, when considering what to wear, Brandi keeps 2 things in mind: to dress with class and the stage. Not only has she become more comfortable in dressing, but she also looks for clothing that catches the light, in order to shine! Now, Brandi has fully come into her own style, becoming the Juno award winner she is now, while maintaining the integrity of her music, just as she looked up to Bjork for the same reason. As I watched her performance, I realized that her stage presence was just as important as the music itself. She maintains the perfect balance of feminine and masculine energies, through her clothing style while performing a mostly male-played instrument. Visually appealing, if you ask me. For a moment, I became intoxicated by the sounds of the instruments and the sound of her singing. It was a treat for myself and the audience for our visual and audio senses to be awakened. Her heart and soul was felt with each song, creating that intimacy with her audience, particularly in “Gratitude”, a song about her close cousin who passed away. In one performance, Brandi Disterheft was able to remind me of why jazz is still significant today. It’s the energy and spirit that only one can experience during a live jazz performance, reminiscent of the music’s original time. What’s special though and resonated with me, is the intimacy and interaction that Brandi brings to her audience that is so rare, capable at tugging at our own heartstrings.