Brenna Whitaker brings jazz to Q's


Musician Brenna Whitaker is performing at Qs Palazzo Versace
Brenna Whitaker has a legion of celebrity fans

Published: Mon 29 Jul 2019, 10:22 AM

Last updated: Sat 3 Aug 2019, 11:19 AM

The greatest appeal of residency acts, such as those selected to make Q's Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace their home, is the artist becomes more familiar with the UAE. Rather than pitch up for one or possibly a maximum of two shows over a weekend, the performer has a chance to envelop themselves in life here and, in blues siren Brenna Whitaker's case, experience a Dubai summer.
The Kansas City native has been entertaining crowds over here for a few months with her larger-than-life stage presence and haunting vocals, which have become a beacon for jazz aficionados. What else would you expect from someone hand-picked by legendary producer and Q's founder, Quincy Jones, who lends his initial to the venue?
Brenna boasts a wide spectrum of celebrity fans including, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones and Gladys Knight, as well as Katy Perry, Justin Bieber and John Mayer who flock to her shows to drink in the stunning performances.
So impressed was Gene Simmons, he booked Brenna to perform at his wedding, professing "Brenna Whitaker is the real deal. In a world full of empty singers, with no sense or knowledge of "roots" ...comes a voice and personality that carries the torch of Ella, Dinah Washington and the greats. The perfect soulful combination of yesterday and today. A class act." Michael Buble also heralded Brenna as "one of the finest singers of our generation!"
With such ringing endorsements, we had to find out more.
How does it feel to have your own residency in Dubai?
It feels wonderful to give a city filled with people from all over the world a real "jazz night" show. My band here is incredible and working in Quincy Jones' camp is a very high honour.
What do you think of the venue?
It's a five-star luxury speakeasy. The Palazzo Versace Hotel is the perfect spot for this incredible club. I think Q's is the perfect place to bring your best friends from out of town or favourite neighbours or to celebrate your wedding anniversary or a girls' night. Music is the universal language that holds us all together. The food, drinks and staff and a small intimate show of soulful and timeless music... it's a perfect celebration of life. I have been told that there is nothing like Q's in the whole Middle East area mainly because of the unmatched acoustics. It's nice to be a big fish in a big pond.
What is the strangest thing you've done or seen since arriving in Dubai?
Well, I had a wonderful hair colourist, Ruwani De Alwis, come to my hotel room and she put together  a hair treatment of honey and oils. In LA, you are in traffic to get to hair salon an hour each way, so this was a very new wonderful and new experience.
How would you describe your style and music?
I'm a torch singer. I love stories of heartbreak and making up or getting your power back. I'm rooted in the theatre and blues spirituals, so I'm quite dramatic with powerful electric guitar solos from Joel Whitley (Stevie Wonder, Prince) and Mahesh Balasooriya (Natalie Cole, Wayne Shorter) creating stunning Arabian inflections on piano and Matt Lesser (Robby Krieger, Him and Her) holding down a vintage "rock and roll" tribal heartbeat on drums. We do everything from Cab Calloway's, Hi De Ho to The Shangri-Las, Walking in the Sand to Prince's, Purple Rain.
Can people catch a quick preview somewhere online?
My Instagram covers the shows best: @brennawhitaker
How would you explain your journey in music?
I have been singing professionally since I was 11 years old and I'm a very sensitive soul. The entertainment industry has high highs and low lows. The older you get, the stronger you have to be on every level emotionally. You must have a sense of humour.
What have been the most important milestones and hurdles in getting where you are today? 
I started a series of shows in Los Angeles and found my tribe of musicians and artists. Having a full album produced by David Foster on a legendary jazz label, Verve Records, helped. My album was put out globally on Universal so I have the opportunity to be in Japan and Germany on a regular basis, which allows me to work that much more.
Who do you enjoy listening to and why?
Sad songs because they make me feel alive.
Being given a ringing endorsement from Quincy Jones must be very touching. How does it make you feel?
My heart and soul are full of gratitude to Quincy Jones and what he stands for.
How has his musical legacy touched you over the years?
When I was eight years old, my first tape was a Lesley Gore record and Quincy produced the album. Those songs shaped me as a young musician and I recorded You Don't Own Me on my debut album. It's all full circle with music.
What is your ultimate career ambition?
I'd love to continue building relationships with audiences around the world till I'm 90 and create opportunities for singers to use their gifts.
You have a legion of celebrity fans, does it make you nervous if any of them are in the crowd?
John Mayer scares me. I nearly fainted when he was at one of my shows and got up with my band and jammed!
Do you recall any particular celeb compliments after a show?
Billy Dee Williams from Star Wars once told me my version of Billie Holiday's, God Bless The Child was the best he has ever heard. I fainted.
With whom would you most like to collaborate and how would the song go?
Josh Ledet and I would do an album and John Mayer would produce it.
Do you have any words of advice for people trying to do what you do?
Learn how money works and believe in something bigger than you and keep your family close.
How do you like to relax or what would be your ideal night out?
I love massages and peaceful sleep and swimming with my two-year-old. 

By David Light

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