Brenda Russell Returns With Her New Album, Paris Rain, And Top Writing
By Dale Kawashima
Brenda Russell has worked steadily as a recording artist,
songwriter and musician for more than two decades. However, this past year has
seen a flurry of activity from her, highlighted by the release of her latest
album, Paris Rain (on Hidden Beach/Epic Records), and some very
noteworthy songwriting collaborations. She has recently written songs with
Stevie Wonder and Carole King, and she collaborated with Brazilian composer Ivan Lins to
write "She Walks This Earth (Sobra Rosa)" for Sting, for which he won the Grammy Award for "Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male.".
|Brenda Russell performing at the Jazz Festival in Barbados.|
Russell is probably best known for her Grammy-nominated hit,
"Piano In The Dark," and her Top 10 hit for Oleta Adams, "Get Here." But she
has enjoyed many other successes over the years, including recording seven
albums as an artist, plus writing hits for Luther Vandross ("If Only One
Night") and Donna Summer ("Dinner With Gershwin"). Most recently, she co-wrote
with Stevie Wonder the song "Justice Of The Heart," which has been recorded by
Wonder for the upcoming movie, John Q., starring Denzel Washington.
"Itís been a busy time for me, first writing and recording
the Paris Rain album, then touring and helping to promote it," said
Russell, who lives in Los Angeles. "Iím very pleased with how the album turned
out, and the support Iíve gotten from Steve McKeever (President of Hidden Beach
Records) and the label staff."
Paris Rain is Russellís first album in seven years,
and during that time she continued to write regularly, building a collection of
songs in preparation for her album, as well as writing for other projects.
A breakthrough occurred in 1998, when she was approached by McKeever to sign
with Hidden Beach.
"It was truly a case of divine intervention," explained
Russell. "I was singing for the first time at the Agape Center, which is an
inspiring church where people from all religions can get together and meet.
After I sang, Steve (McKeever) came up to me, and said how much he loved my
music. I knew and respected Steve from the music business, but I didnít know he
had launched Hidden Beach Records (which is co-owned by basketball star Michael
"Steve told me he would be calling my manager, and he did,"
added Russell. "The next thing I knew, my manager called me up to say, ĎI think
I have a record deal for you!í In this arena of music, itís often difficult to
get noticed. It was a blessing to me that Steve came along."
Russell had already written many of the key songs for her
album, but she wanted to collaborate with some other writers she admired to add
a few more songs. She contacted Carole King to ask if she would write a song
with her for the album.
"I got up the nerve to call Carole King, whose music I
always loved," recalled Russell. "I was a big fan of her album Tapestry and
songs like ĎI Feel The Earth Move.í I was excited when she agreed
to get together and write. She came over to my house, and we wrote ĎMove The
Mooní for the album. It was an unbelievable feeling, to have an artist who has been such an inspiration to me, to come over to my house and collaborate."
Shortly thereafter, Russell had completed all of the songs
for her album. She decided to co-produce Paris Rain with her keyboardist
Stephan Oberhoff, who had done an impressive job of co-producing her demo
recordings. She then brought together many of her longtime, musician friends to
play on her album, including such jazz and pop stalwarts as Jimmy Haslip (bass)
and Russell Ferrante (piano) from the Yellowjackets, Sheila E. (drums),
Paulinho Da Costa (percussion), Greg Phillinganes (keyboards), and saxophonists
Dave Koz, Everette Harp and Kirk Whalum.
Paris Rain marks somewhat of a departure for Russell,
with most of the songs heading into a more mature, jazz/New Age direction. "I
used to record more uptempo, dance/pop tunes to try to appeal to younger radio
formats and audiences," explained Russell. "But at this stage in my life, I
wanted to make an album that I felt comfortable writing and creating, not just
fitting into radio formats. Paris Rain has a jazzier, more adult style,
which can sometimes be difficult to market. It creates a challenge, but
artistically, it was definitely the right direction for me."
Paris Rain has gotten off to a good start, with the
first single, "Catch On," becoming a Top 10 NAC (New Adult Contemporary) hit.
Hidden Beach will soon be releasing a new single, "Walkiní In New York."
Russell has been touring on behalf of the album, including opening for George
Benson for some shows. She has also performed at jazz festivals in Barbados and
St. Lucia. In December, she joined other top, jazz musicians as part of the
nationwide Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour.
In addition to her artist career, Russell remains very
active as a songwriter, collaborating with artists for their albums, as well as
writing for special projects. One such project was a tribute album Russell was
involved with: A Love Affair: The Music Of Ivan Lins. This album
featured guest performances by Russell, Sting, Vanessa Williams, Chaka Khan, Grover
Washington, Jr. and Dianne Reeves. Russell collaborated with Lins to write "She
Walks This Earth (Sobra Rosa)" for Sting, and Sting won a Grammy Award for his vocal performance on this song.
Russell is very excited about her new collaboration with
Stevie Wonder for the film, John Q. It was Russell who learned about
this movie project, and contacted Wonder (whom she is friends with) about
co-writing a song.
"Stevie called me back and said laughingly, ĎSure Brenda,
Iíll win an Oscar with you,'" recalled Russell. "The next time we spoke on the
phone, he sang and played on piano a melody he wrote for the film. It was so
beautiful, I was dying on the line. I couldnít believe I would get to write the
lyric to Stevieís gorgeous melody. I wrote a lyric with the title "Justice Of
The Heart," and now this song is set for the movie, with Stevie as the artist
This collaboration is the latest chapter for Russell in her
enduring, successful career as both an artist and songwriter. "Itís very
gratifying to work with such wonderful artists whose music I love," said
Russell. "Iím blessed to be working with such talented people, and as an artist
and songwriter, to have the creative freedom to write songs that truly express
the emotion and feeling I want to convey with my music."
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