STORY WRITTEN BY ROB NAGY
For Digital First Media
When folk rock singer Jonatha Brooke embarked upon her musical journey in the late 1980’s, she could not have foreseen the diversely creative path awaiting her.
Decades later, Brooke, at 52, whose songs have been prominently included in film, TV and stage productions, is thriving as a solo artist, playwright and songwriting mentor to aspiring artists.
Following a critically acclaimed run of her 2014 one-woman off Broadway play, “My Mother Has 4 Noses,” which she wrote and performed, Brooke is feverishly writing music for a pair of stage productions as well as a new album.
“I’m working on a brand new musical with an amazing writer named Geoffrey Nauffts,” says Brooke, from New York City. “He wrote a play called “Next Fall” that was a big success on Broadway. We’re mutual fans, so we decided to work on something together. We’re fast and furiously working on this new musical idea we have. I just submitted 15 songs that I’ve been working on. I’m kind of sworn to secrecy because it’s such a cool idea, and I don’t want to jinx anything. That’s front burner.”
“I can talk about the other one I’m working on,” adds Brooke, “which is called “Quadroon.” That’s a larger, long-term crazy project that I was working on with legendary jazz pianist Joe Sample when he passed away a year ago September. It’s an incredibly beautiful musical project based on the true life story of Henriette DeLille, who was an African American woman living in New Orleans in the 1830’s who wanted to be a nun. It’s a great story.”
Always seeking that new sound, Brooke’s latest album project, which she expects to release late summer, will maintain her tradition of exploring a new creative direction and is an intentional departure from previous works.
“I’m homing in on my next record, trying to find that sound that will be where I reside now,” says Brooke. “I’m not putting out a bunch of songs just to have made a new record. There needs to be a really good reason. It’s a real combination of funky and dark. There’s one song that I’ve built around Joe Sample’s Wurlitzer part recorded not too long before he died. It’s probably the happiest, funniest song I’ve ever written, which I’m thrilled about. He was over and we were working on Quadroon and I said, ‘Joe, can you just throw down a Wurlitzer part for me?’ So he did and I built the whole track around that. That one’s called “I Really Love You.” It’s just so happy, inclusive, joyful and fun.”
Brooke is equally excited about returning to the classroom later this year to teach the art of songwriting, a program she has successfully offered in the past at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Music.
“I’m doing a couple of songwriting workshops in Nashville this year that are real exciting,” says Brooke. “I enjoy teaching — it is a new kind of thing for me. It’s kind of obvious, but it wasn’t obvious to me that I would be teaching songwriting at this point. That has been a whole other door that has opened up that I’m starting to embrace. “
“I think it’s that sort of complicated balance of light and dark, and I think that’s where I reside in whatever I do,” adds Brooke. “Whether it’s musical theater now, which seems to be a really new fun direction that I love, or whether it’s teaching. I think it’s just this kind of trying to find that line between humor and comedy and tragedy. I think my writing tries to do that.”
“There’s this great through line,” says Brooke. “I think I’m realizing, ‘OK, everything I’ve ever done has brought me to this place where I’m involved in these things that are so satisfying, because they call on all of those skills and all of that experience. I couldn’t have done any of this when I was 23.”
Following a 3-year hiatus from touring in order to work on her one-woman play, Brooke returned to the concert stage in 2013, much to the delight of her fans.
When Brooke performs at the Sellersville Theater later this week, she is looking forward to joining an old friend before heading south for the first of her songwriting workshops in Nashville.
“I’m going to be doing a little bit of everything when I come to Sellersville,” says Brooke. “This is a co-bill with Patty Larkin. She and I are old buddies. We go way back. So I’ll be singing a few songs with her, and she’ll be singing a couple of songs with me. It’s kind of a love fest when we get together. It will be everything and the kitchen sink, hopefully.”
“I’m proud of my body of work and psyched about what I’m doing now ‘cause it’s different,” adds Brooke. “I think it’s trying consistently not to repeat myself. It’s really challenging me in great new ways and I love that! I don’t want to stay the same. I don’t want to do the same thing year after year.”