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When she’s not teaching or performing, Bazzle fills the hours with more song.
She is a Catholic convert, and . . . sings with the St. Louis Cathedral Choir. She is
also a member of The New World Ensemble, an all black choral group
Germaine Bazzle CDs
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Alvin Red Tyler CDs
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The Jazz Singer Is a Lady
By Mimi Read
Before she opens her mouth to sing, there is something queenly about Germaine Bazzle.It’s there when she’s offstage, taking a break, sitting emphatically alone at the far end of a bar and drinking coffee. It’s there when she’s at home in the 7th Ward, recumbent on a taut Victorian sofa. It’s there when she’s teaching music appreciation at Xavier Prep, trying to drum operatic scores into the minds of adolescent girls. Widely considered one of the best jazz singers this city has ever produced, Bazzle has never received commensurate acclaim. In fact, her career has been one of remarkably low visibility: no recordings, no tours, no national press.
Bazzle, who is in her early 50s, guides her life in her own steady way. She has been performing in local nightclubs for the past 20 years. for many of those years, she has also taught full-time. After a gig, with the smell of the barroom in her clothes, she gets home about 1:30 a.m., steals a scant night’s sleep, and arrives at Xavier Prep early the next morning wearing smart color-coordinated outfits and flawless cranberry nail polish. There, she becomes Miss Bazzle.
“Get your hands off your faces,” she says to two dozen high school girls at a choir practice. “Get your haunches on the end of your seat — you’re getting too comfortable. get your backs off the back of the chair, sweethearts. Drop your jaws so the notes can come out.” Her tone of voice is like a big pair of pliers coming at the girls. And with Bazzle pulling the song out of them, they sing.
“We have some very talented students here,” she says. “But I don’t encourage them to go into music professionally because it’s not an easy life. Sometimes kids can be caught up in the glamour of all this, the things they see on MTV and all. But there’s another side to this coin that is not very glamorous. What you see on the stage is the result of lots and lots of work, study, preparation and denial.”
Still, when Bazzle is up on stage, all you see is the grace, the discipline so ingrained it forgets itself. the kind of high style that comes from a deep place. her smile or her tall slender body contorted by song. Bazzle standing against a red stage curtain with cigarette smoke clinging in its folds. Bazzle in a liquid evening gown and pearls.
Her voice is a rich, dusky contralto, full of quirks and surprises. Her sound is uncommon, unhummable, idiosyncratic, real. As one music critic put it, she is an acquired taste. Her repertoire consists, for the most part, of classic tunes written by Cole Porter, George Gershwin and Duke Ellington, freshly interpreted and given new arrangements.
Bazzle explores songs. Back when she was a music major at Xavier University, there was a nun who directed the band. Sister Mary Letitia told the trumpets what to do by imitating a trumpet, by doing trumpet things with her voice. Bazzle picked that up. In any standard number, she will imitate a bass, trumpet, saxophone and imaginary instruments. She will also add kinks and curlicues where they are least expected, or veer off into scatting.
The musicians who work with Bazzle say they respect her immensely. She knows music, and it makes a difference when they play together. Often Bazzle will, with her left hand, discreetly and casually direct the bassist, the pianist and the drummer. “She’s like an instrumentalist, the way she reacts with the band,” says Johnny Vidacovich, 36, an innovative local drummer who has always been in demand. “It’s not like backing up and accompaniment. It makes the job about 85% better. She’s just an abundance of technique and flexibility.
“Her songs are very different every time she sings them,” he goes on. “As a matter of fact, if you’re not really paying attention, she’ll spin you around.” Like Bazzle, Vidacovich teaches music during the day. But for him,, it’s a sideline. he teaches at Loyola, has only three students this term, and devotes about four hours a week to it. “But Germaine,” he says, “she’s right in there every morning, every day, every year, dealing with those kids. it’s hard for me to imaginefive days a week on the high-school level. I really don’t know how she does it. I’d go out of my bird. I’d lose it.”
“She’s got a voice like a 13-year-old,: Vidacovich says softly. “the lightness, the color and timbre. the consistent strength that she has over the hours. She’s the lady. She’s definitely the lady.” Germaine Potter Bazzle was born in New Orleans, her middle name taken from the doctor who delivered her at Charity Hospital. the oldest of six children, she lived the first 10 years of her life on Pauger Street in the 7th Ward. Her father was a night watchman, her mother a mother.
Later the family moved to the Lafitte Housing project. Bazzle keeps happy memories of that place, with its blocks and blocks of identical apartments. “We were nothow can i say it/ We were not made to feel bad about it,” she says. “We were not told that negative influences were there. you see, the housing project was a step up for many of us at that time. So we moved in there with pride. In the backyards, there were gardens.”
In the project, music was everywhere. It was simply a natural sign of human habitation, like footprints, or smoke. “We had a big apartment,” Bazzle says. “In the block where I lived, we were a group of teenagers who were a group of teenagers who were overwhelmed by singers like Billy Eckstine, Buddy Johnson, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn. At that time, every boy wanted to sound like Billy Eckstine and every girl wanted to sound like either Ella or Sarah, or both. It was not unusual for us to sit out on the porch and sing at night. No instruments, no records. It was just our little concert.”
Bazzle’s mother and father played piano. So did her aunts, uncles and cousins. Her baby brother Glennon used to bring home record albums of Miles Davis, Charlie parker, Stan Kenton and other jazz giants and play them on the family phonograph. Bazzle had a natural taste for such music, preferring it to anything she could possibly tune in on her radio dial. Bazzle attended Valena C. Jones elementary School and McDonough 35 High School. In college, she learned to sing Schubert and Brahms. On her own, she kept listening to Ella and Sarah. Until she was 21, home was the housing project.
The Treme neighborhood surrounding the project has always been a breeding ground for musicians and musical organizations. In Bazzle’s day, there were bands blossoming everywhere. There were several marching clubs of second liners who paraded in the summerthe men in pretty pastel shirts and streamers, holding aloft their gaudy umbrellas. Because there were so many talented people in Treme, in the project, in the Bazzle family, Germaine didn’t view her own talent as particularly special. Her mother could sew clothes and crochet beautiful, intricate tablecloths: that was a talent. To Germaine, singing wasn’t much different. She didn’t see it as a ticket to fame or solid gold or anything else. It was just a part of things.
In those days, she sang at parties. Now and then, she participated in little concerts at the YWCA on Claiborne. In between sets at an Uptown jazz club called Tyler’s where she sings once a week, Bazzle sits alone at the bar. She looks self-possessed as ever. prying open a clutch purse, she finds a pair of eyeglasses and a sexy evening gown. She takes off her gold mesh watch and places it on the bar. Settling back against a wall, she hums a little, sways delicately, listening as the Ellis Marsalis trio plays on without her.
“Teaching is really my strong suit,” she says. “My big outlet. To me, the subject matter is just a vehicle. you’re trying to reach for something inside that childa sweetness, a kindness. I need teaching because it requires a certain kind of giving of myself. I’m passing on to those ladies some of the good things in life. “But these gigs, I need them in a different sense. this is when I’m sharing on another level, with adults. it’s my therapy. I get rid of all my hangups, all my frustrations. It whets my appetite.”
In her life, Bazzle has made some unconventional choices. Those choices don’t seem to confuse her, but they often confuse other people, she says. People always ask her why she never recorded. they’re curious about why she didn’t pursue the bright lights beyond New Orleans. they want to know why she never married. “Making albums?” she asks. “That might happen. But I haven’t given it that much thought. Singing was my hobby, and still is my hobby. And I don’t know if I want my hobby to become work.
“People have come up with all kinds of reasons why I did not leave New Orleans and pursue my career. I say to them, does that explanation please you? Yes? OK, then. Go with it. But that’s not the reason.” Sometimes, she says, her Xavier Prep students work up the courage to ask her why she she never married or had children. She tells them that it wasn’t an important goal for her. She tells them she likes her independence, the fact that she can come and go pretty much as she pleases. “I don’t feel any different from the other teachers,” she says. “I think that sometimes they feel I’m different. But I’m not the kind of person who could go home and wash and iron and take care of kids after working at school. I think what is normal for them baffles me as much as what is normal for me baffles them.”
When she’s not teaching or performing, Bazzle fills the hours with more song. She is a Catholic convert, and on Sundays, she sings with the St. Louis Cathedral Choir. She is also a member of The New World Ensemble, an all black choral group of local music teachers: twice a month, the group assembles to sing baroque, classical, spiritual and gospel music. And when she’s not with either of those groups, she’s passing time in the small immaculate house that she shares with her 83-year-old mother. “I just don’t know.” Bazzle shrugs. “There are those who can seemingly have it all together — their jobs, their husbands, their children, their pets. But I don’t know what kind of vitamins they take.
“In a sense everything that I do has to do with relaxation. I can sing through my anger, my frustrations. Sometimes I can yell, but when I can’t yell at anyone, I start singing.” To local musicians, Alvin “Red” Tyler, 69, is an enduring legend. One of the granddaddies of New Orleans rhythm and blues, he has been playing baritone saxophone in local nightclubs for 37 years. Tyler, who served a year in the U.S. Army, learned to play his instrument by attending music school on the G.I. bill. The rest of his soldier buddies studied bricklaying and mechanical engineering, but he thought music was nicer. Back then, he made records with such stars as Little Richard, Smiley Lewis, Shirley and Lee, and Huey Smith and the Clown.
Tyler and Bazzle, who perform on Sundays at a 7th ward bar called The Club, move around the stage together as suavely as cats. As Bazzle heats up and belts out some crescendo, Tyler lays down his sax, snaps his fingers with a deadpan, circular motion and coolly lights a cigarette. Tyler and Bazzle started playing together in the mid-60s, at Mason’s Motel Americana on North Claiborne Avenue. inside the mostly black hotel, there was a tiny room called the VIP Lounge. It no longer exists, but in those days, the VIP was the spit to know.
It was a plush, elegant place. The men worse suits and the women came all slicked up, wearing cocktail dresses and gardenias in their hair. Lady B.J. was a waitress and aspiring singer. the stage was was so small that when Tyler was performing, he couldn’t turn around. “Lotta fun, sure,” Tyler says. “We used to rehearse quite a bit back then. people used to say we were one of the few groups in town who were playing what nobody else played. we like the standards.”
They’d start playing at 10 p. m. and finish up around 2 in the morning. then, in the early 70s, Louis mason, the owner of the hotel, added a flashy series of clubs and dubbed them the Las Vegas Strip. When he did that, Tyler says, the atmosphere took on a carnival feeling and people didn’t feel so comfortable coming to the VIP.
“Mason was trying to capitalize,” Tyler says. “He put Ironing Board Sam out where all the cars parked. So we’re playing this jazz stuff inside, but every time you opened the door you’d hear rock ‘n’ roll. the people couldn’t enjoy our music. it really came down after that.” Bazzle was quite a sight at Mason’s, Tyler remembers. She looked like a torch singer, dressed up in long gowns, turbans, boas, and bulky jewelry.
“She’s such a lady,: he says. “A lot of the guys I knew really had big eyes for her. They’d say to me, man, oh, man, that sure is a lovely, lovely lady. But she was almost untouchable. They were afraid. They didn’t know how to talk to her. “But really, she’s a warm person. all you’ve got to do is get a second line going, and she’s right behind them. She came up in Treme, you know? Germaine is down to earth. Two years ago, when Kiel Bazzle was a student at Xavier prep, the nuns would tease her by asking her pointedly if she was really related to Germaine.
“Both the nuns and the girls look at her as the perfect lady because she is so prim and proper,” Kiel laughs. “And I was so crazy. So careless and crazy.” The daughter of Bazzle’s brother Glennon, Kiel is a 21-year-old mechanical engineering student at UNO. She and her family live three blocks from Bazzle, and they visit back and forth quite a bit. One year, Bazzle and Ellis Marsalis and several other musicians put on a show in the Xavier Prep auditorium.
“She did one of the jazz tunes,” Kiel remembers, still laughing. “She got a little loose, dancing, snapping her fingers and all. And the girls could not believe it, because most of the time she’s walking around with perfect posture, looking like she doesn’t know how to snap her fingers. I was happy, elated and embarrassed all at the same time.” At school, Bazzle is looked upon as a strict teacher, Kiel says, but she’s well-liked. though she has much authority, the girls trust her and sometimes confide in her.
“She was co-principal one year,” Kiel goes on. “And she was always watching me because I was terrible. She’s so articulate. She just kills me. I’d say to her, Germaine, you ought to be casual and talk wrong. Why do you speak perfect English? Nobody ever does that anymore. Nobody wants to be right.” Kiel likes to visit Bazzle’s mother, who, she claims, is an active woman with a wacky sense of humor. Kiel says the whole family has to beg her grandmother not to climb up on the ladder and put up drapes.
“Germaine takes care of her mother,” Kiel says. “I think that’s the reason she never pursued her musical career any further, because she wanted to be around my grandmother. She didn’t want to leave her.”
Though Germaine Bazzle is warm, humorous, and human as can be within the family, in funny little ways she commands the same respect with kin that she commands on stage and in school. Germaine is the oldest, Kiel says, and she tends to be more mature than the rest of them. “Like my daddy, who is 43, was telling me a dirty joke the other day,” Kiel says. “And he says to me, wait, let me see if Germaine’s in the room.”
Source: DixieThe Times Picayune (October 13, 1985). Mimi Read is a staff writer for Dixie; G. Andrew Boyd is a staff photographer for The Times Picayune.
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New Orleans Ladies of Jazz; Stephanie Jordan, Germaine Bazzle, Leah Chase at Bayou Boogaloo FestivalGermaine Bazzle is often referred to as one of New Orleans’ important jazz vocalists. After graduation from Xavier University of Louisiana, Germaine began a teaching career and entertaining in the same year, teaching during the day and playing bass in a local traditional jazz band at night. After 12 years as a teacher, she left the classroom and began singing with various bands in New Orleans. Three years later, she returned to the classroom, but continued to perform with such jazz greats as Alvin “Red” Tyler, Peter “Chuck” Badie, Victor Goines, bassist/vocalist, George French, pianist Ellis Marsalis, Emile Vinnette, Larry Siebert, David Torkanowsky and many more. Germaine can be heard on her CD entitled “Standing Ovation.” In his liner notes producer Kalama ya Salaam writes that while some might compare Bazzle to other great jazz vocalists she is “dazzling in her own right . . . Especially in her ability to mimic the sound of the trombone, but also her musicianship. She knows the music, the changes, and above all the rhythms. And the listener can hear her expertise in the way this lady improvises … Moreover there is a bubbling exuberance in Germaine’s style. She smiles. She laughs, sometimes even giggles. Hers is a joyful sound. She is an awesome jazz artist and also a very warm and sensitive human being whose artistry makes one feel glad to be alive.”JazzCorner
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 3 May 2010
Related file: Have You Ever Been a Saxophone (Red Tyler)