Germaine Bazzle CDs
The New New Orleans Music /
The New Orleans C.A.C. Jazz Orxchestra /
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Alvin Red Tyler
Simply Red /
Rockin and Rollin
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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
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
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
"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 imagine—five
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 not—how 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
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 summer—the 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
"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 child—a 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,
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
Richard, Smiley Lewis,
Shirley and Lee, and
Huey Smith and the
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
|"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
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
"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: Dixie—The Times Picayune
(October 13, 1985). Mimi Read is a staff writer for Dixie; G.
Andrew Boyd is a staff photographer for
The Times Picayune.
Ladies of Jazz; Stephanie Jordan, Germaine Bazzle,
Leah Chase at Bayou Boogaloo Festival—Germaine
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
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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posted 3 May 2010