American Blues Scene was recently thrilled to speak with one of Florida’s premier Blues and Jazz performers, Sybil Gage. Sybil’s fans claim to be “Sybilized,” and if you have seen her perform you know why. Raised in New Orleans, she had front row schooling in what makes that city’s music what it is; her teachers all masters including Allen Toussaint, Professor Longhair and James Booker. Her neighbors up the street were the Neville Brothers, and she “chummed around” with the great pianist Henry Butler.
Leaving New Orleans, Sybil headed to Chicago and later to New York. In New York, she attended Tisch School of the Arts at NYU earning a BFA (emphasis in Cinematography and later embracing Photography because “it is more introspective… more my speed [than Cinematography].” Also while in New York, she worked in radio as Morning Drive Anchor with WGSM 740 AM Radio and News Director with WBLI FM. During this period, Sybil won a Folio Award for her coverage of the homeless. In talking of these years, she says: “My job was (is) to plant a picture in your head … give you information and make you see what’s not being given to you to see (like on TV).” While doing all this, Sybil was mastering skills of the performance craft. She played small clubs and other venues and sought advice from her friends Eddie Murphy, Spike Lee, Nipsey Russell and especially Gregory Hines, noting that he was the one that kept her focused.
Since coming to Florida in March 2002, she has quickly gained a large and dedicated fan base. Currently, “Sybil Gage’s Stormy Monday Show” is broadcast as a live stream every Saturday at 6PM (EST) on 1300 WMEL AM Radio playing “great Jazz, Blues and Soul done NOLA style” and chatting with guests. This is a resurgence/continuation of the show she worked on with originators and mentors James Browne and the late David Jackson. Sybil describes them as “earthy people, not fancy… just super musically hip” and shared with them her knowledge of the music of New Orleans, as they shared their knowledge of Jazz and Rhythm and Blues.
Sybil also performs in Jazz and Blues venues in Florida and New York City. She is a regular at Heidi’s Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach, FL. She says “Lately it’s just me and the piano; there’s no hiding behind a drum roll or… it’s me, voice and a piano… what you see is what you get! no (backing) tracks or tricks. Never anything like that.” Because Heidi’s is a “proper Jazz club… acoustically proper, not a restaurant with music as an afterthought, I have to keep myself fresh and the music fresh.” Her club shows are more like Jazz and Blues vaudeville type reviews, complete with costumes and all the pageantry of a Big Chief leading a Second Line through the streets of New Orleans. She has also performed at several festivals including four years at the New Smyrna Beach Festival (with her band, Sybil Gage & Her Catahoulas). She has also been Master of Ceremonies at the Daytona Blues Festival.
Sybil has recorded two CDs on her own label, Third Boxcar; her debut, Red, and NOLA Calling. NOLA Calling was nominated for Best Self Produced CD by the International Blues Challenge of Memphis 2011. Both have Blues, Jazz and even Swing on them, all of which are infused with the flavor of New Orleans. All songs on both CDs were written and arranged by Sybil with the exception of one (“St. Louis Blues” by W.C. Handy). She has started working on two new CDs due out this fall: Requests From The Bar and Sybil Darling. Requests From The Bar “will be requests of songs that I have not written that people have asked me to record.” Sybil Darling (because everyone calls her “Sybil darling”) “will be new original music.”
Speaking about the music industry today; self recorded, produced and issued music she says: “I am watching to see what’s going on. I think it gives us entertainers a lot of carte blanch; I mean we can be as creative as we want. It makes us the pioneer of everything and it’s hard work; some people fall by the wayside. I’m watching to see where the industry goes with us taking control of it. It’s good and it’s bad.” When asked her opinion of Blues today she says “Even Blues is changing. Blues is becoming more rock. There’s even Rockabilly in there sometimes; I mean all of it is enjoyable but call it what it is. …Blues is Blues to me. It is such a fine art; such a moving art.” She has recently received her second Brevard Music Award: Favorite Vocalist nomination and says “I am honored to even been nominated.”