Cuddy is thrilled by the reaction to Namedropper. “The artistry of the album and how it intertwines with Suzie’s life is incredible. It’s a real triumph,” he says.
Similar unanimous praise is being heaped upon Just Passing Through: The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook. The Breithaupt brothers had both been very active musically prior to forming a sibling songwriting team. The Emmy and SOCAN Award-winning Don Breithaupt has recorded four albums with his project, Monkey House, and toured as a keyboardist with the likes of Kim Mitchell and Sass Jordan. Recently relocated to Los Angeles, he’s now in demand there as a producer, player, songwriter and composer for film and TV.
“I’m astonished the Breithaupts consistently put out so much material that’s that good.” – Sarah Slean
Jeff Breithaupt traces the formation of their writing partnership back to 2002 and “an improvised moment. I was producing theatre in New York, and I commented to Don that I felt there was a hunger for new material written in the tradition of the Great American Songbook. I said, ‘Why don’t you write a few?’ And he said, ‘Why don’t we write a few? Send me a lyric.’ I sent Don a lyric and he wrote the music and sent it back in sheet form. From there it was like we were playing catch-up for all the years we hadn’t written together. The songs just started pouring out.”
Well over 100 songs are now in the Breithaupt Brothers songbook. They term their material “modern standards,” with Jeff explaining, “We take our cues from the Songbook. Not to mimic it, but to hew to some of the ingredients and building blocks that make that tradition special.” As Don observes, “Do you really want to be the 9,000th singer to record ‘Body and Soul’ or ‘Over the Rainbow’? We just thought it’d be fun if there was new material in that vein.”
As with many famed Songbook songwriting teams, the Breithaupts divide the creative roles. Don notes that “Jeff can play more than well enough to write the music, but I do that. I can and do write lyrics, but not in this partnership. We do it old-school, Gershwins-style.”
Multiple Breithaupt Brothers Songbook performances at Joe’s Pub in New York City and at Toronto’s Young Centre over the past decade have proven very successful. One such evening at the Canwest Cabaret Festival was recorded live for the 2009 album, Toronto Sings The Breithaupt Brothers Songbook, featuring Sarah Slean, Brent Carver, Patricia O’Callaghan, Wendy Lands, and Dione Taylor.
For Just Passing Through, much as Oh Susanna gathered songwriters, the Breithaupts recruited an all-Canadian cast of vocal stars to each interpret one of their songs. That formidable list comprises Kellylee Evans, Denzal Sinclaire, Emilie-Claire Barlow, Ron Sexsmith, Jackie Richardson, Heather Bambrick, Marc Jordan, Paul Shaffer, Sophie Milman, Laila Biali, Sarah Slean, Monkey House, Patricia O’Callaghan, Ian Thomas, and Tyley Ross.
The process is like casting a movie. “You think of the best voice for each of the songs in the set list,” says Jeff, “then try to recruit them. When a singer connects with a song and your gut instincts are correct, that is thrilling for the songwriters.”
For Ian Thomas, the collaboration “was just unadulterated fun and an honour. The arrangements were really musical, and the brothers were a delight to work with.” To Sarah Slean, it “felt luxurious to just show up and stand in front of a microphone. Usually I have my fingers in all the pies!” The only vocalist to appear on both of the Breithaupts’ albums, Slean is a committed fan. “I’ve always loved musical theatre and the craft of classic jazz songwriters, like Cole Porter. I’m astonished the Breithaupts consistently put out so much material that’s that good.”
Just Passing Through covers a broad stylistic swath. “The danger in writing torch-song style material is you’ll end up with too many piano ballads,” says Don. “We were adamant about including some mid-tempo or fast songs. It was so much fun to invent the arrangements, and customize things to the singers. For instance, for Ron Sexsmith and ‘Any Day Now,’ we invented this bubbly acoustic version of what was a jazz ballad for him to sing, adding some western guitar.”
Persuading Sexsmith to participate was an easy sell. “I love those classic songwriter teams, so I knew I could totally get behind this,” he says. “The melody on ‘Any Day Now’ was really creative. I love a well-written song.”