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The sound of the jazz underbelly is alive and well in Dubai this summer, courtesy of Brenna Whitaker / The National

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Brenna Whitaker at Q's Bar and Lounge

The sound of jazz's un­der­bel­ly is alive and well in Dubai this summer, cour­te­sy of US sing­er Brenna Whit­a­ker. She is the latest res­i­dent ar­tist at Dubai's Qs Bar and Lounge, the in­ti­mate mu­sic ven­ue cu­ra­ted by mu­sic pro­duc­er Quin­cy Jones.

For five nights a week, Whit­a­ker and her three-piece band can be heard per­form­ing songs that pro­vide a dif­fer­ent as­pect of the genre, one that is re­moved from the glit­ter and the fame. From Fe­ver by Peggy Lee and Ruth Brown's I Can't Hear a Word You Say, Whit­a­ker's setlist is made up of songs by art­ists who lived and played hard. "That mu­sic until this day real­ly speaks to me. I hear their voices and what they are say­ing, which is full of hope and de­spair, and I think, yes, these are my peo­ple," Whit­a­ker says. "Jazz does have a history, I guess, of per­form­ers be­ing more or less bro­ken. Now there are a lot of cases where art­ists are alive to­day and lived to re­build their lives. But a lot of the trag­ic cases is down to a lot of things, one of which is the hus­tle is real­ly a grind and to go on stage and bring­ing that emo­tion and en­ergy ev­ery night is like sell­ing a lit­tle bit of your soul."

Whit­a­ker's ap­pre­ci­a­tion for these art­ists is not mor­bid fas­cin­a­tion. Her ca­reer has in fact fol­lowed the well-trod­den path of her heroes. Raised in ru­ral Kan­sas City where she be­gan per­form­ing in a the­a­tre troupe at the age of 11, Whit­a­ker took off to New York City and Los An­ge­les where she strug­gled and even­tu­al­ly made a name for her­self as a specialist in jazz's torch-sing­er tra­di­tion.

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