Saxophonist John Doheny was born in Seattle Washington in 1953 but has spent much of his adult life in Canada, primarily in Vancouver and Toronto. After early experiences accompanying strippers in bars and cabarets he became a professional R&B sideman in the late 1970s, touring and recording with artists both prominent and obscure. In 1991 he returned to Vancouver and began a program of intense musical study, both in academe (Vancouver Community College, the University of British Columbia) and in the more informal area of performance. He asserts that "all human intercourse is either an opportunity to learn or to teach. Everything that I know about jazz performance (to the extent that I know anything at all) I owe to those players, teachers and students who have suffered to share the bandstand and the teaching studio with me." Since 2003, Mr. Doheny has been a permanent resident of New Orleans, Louisiana, but makes every effort to spend summers in Canada because "it's too damn hot down here then."

Monday, May 11, 2009

Germaine Bazzle.

The debate continues, always, where is jazz going, who is the "future of jazz"? Is it Dave Douglas? Does the music need to incorporate more contemporary pop influences? Hip hop beats? Croation throat singing?
Those of us over 50 (or even 40) have heard it all before, and some of us (like me) are bored gormless with the whole discussion. I like what I like (and my tastes are actually pretty broad) and being an old guy means absolutely not giving a rat's ass about whether one's likes and dislikes are 'cool.' And of course the slant that often gets left out of discussions about whether playing the same music now that you were playing 40 years ago is 'valid' is that, in many cases (Ellington springs to mind) you're doing it a lot better now.
Case in point: Germaine Bazzle, who gets better every time I see her. Last night at Snug Harbor Bazzle, joined by the stellar talents of Larry Sieberth (piano), Simon Lott (drums) and Neil 'dig my sharp new haircut' Caine (bass), rolled out a program of standards very similar in content and execution to every one I've seen her present over the years, but she does it so well that any trifling over the fact that it's the 'music of the last century' seems like pointless nitpicking.
Bazzle is a jazz singer in the true meaning of that word. Her sense of swing is innate, and she is constantly engaged in the internal dialogue that is part of any small jazz band, an equal participant, not a 'singer' supported by 'accompanists.' Her choice of tempos (excruciatingly ballad-slow for "I Thought About You," burning-up for "Surrey with the Fringe On Top," dead-center-in-the-pocket for "What A Difference a Day Makes") was spot on, placing each tune exactly where it needed to be for maximum swing-osity groove from all participants. Tempos are hard; it takes years of experience to know where to put them. Bazzle knows.
Then there's scat singing. My usual position on this is that a little goes a long way; unless you actually are Sarah Vaughn or Ella Fitzgerald, just sing the song already. But Bazzle is just that good that I actually welcome chorus after chorus of finely honed, harmonically inventive scat from her, she's one of the most original practicioners of the art since hugely underrated Basie tromonist and singer Richard Boone. Her musicianly facility may well be a product of her own schooled background (Bazzle played bass on Bourbon Street for years with saxophonist Alvin "Red" Tyler, and currently teaches piano and vocal diction at Xavier Prep). Bazzle in no way limits herself to the 'shooby dooby doo' school of scat singing, instead deploying instrumental imitation (trombone, bass; at one point duetting with her 'singer' self and her inner trombonist) and a wide variety of pops and tongue-clicks that at one point (on the out-vamp to "Surrey") had drummer Simon Lott gasping in amazement at their polyrhythmic complexity. Bazzle has the ability to keep surprising even herself, often emitting delighted little yips and cackles in the midst of her improvisations. And she has that quality of sly innuendo, so common among 'Creole of Color" ladies of a certain age, that creates the illusion that the knowing wink, the breathy chuckle, and the implied double entendre in the lyric are all meant just for you.
In my experience the ultimate litmus test for singers is the regard they are held in by their fellow musicians, and in this regard Bazzle is absolutely 'one of the cats.' I've never heard a musician say anything but good things about the experience of working with her, and Sieberth, Caine, and Lott clearly considered it an honor and a privilege to share the bandstand with her. Everyone was getting stretched up there, and Bazzle was absolutely fearless about taking risks and challenging them and herself. Musicians love that.
Bazzle is greatly underrecorded (her only solo CD, "Standing Ovation," was released in 1992) and almost never performs outside of the city of New Orleans. But if you want to see someone totally inside of what they do, someone who's been doing it a long time and has honed her focus to a fine pinpoint conception, come here and catch her. There are days when I think Ms. Bazzle is the best jazz singer in America, and last night at Snug Harbor, she was.

Comments on "Germaine Bazzle."


post a comment