By Shelley Koppel
Singer Sybil Gage grew up in New Orleans and fell in love with the music around her.
"I grew up at a time when there was a lot more traditional jazz," she said.
"The Neville Brothers lived a few blocks from where I grew up. I sang with Henry Butler and Deacon John. My dad listened to Smiley Lewis and other great R & B artists. I liked the piano players. It's the sound I grew up with. The piano is my favorite instrument and I do play."
Ms. Gage has been recognized for her work by the International Blues Challenge. Her latest CD, "NOLA Calling," was nominated as best self-produced CD in 2011. She has opened for singer John Waite, zydeco queen Rosie Ledet and Dave Mason.
The artist has performed at the New Smyrna Beach Jazz Festival four times, and Space Coast Living Magazine named her to its "100 Great Things about Brevard County" list in the June 2008 issue. She also won three awards for performance and songwriting from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers.
This year, Ms. Gage and her band, the Catahoulas, named for the Louisiana hound dog, headlined at the Cocoa Village Mardi Gras. Cocoa Village is where she calls home these days.
"It's the French Quarter of Melbourne," she said. Even over the phone, you can hear the twinkle in her voice. She holds forth every Tuesday night at Heidi's Jazz Club in Cocoa Beach. This year, the club was honored by Downbeat magazine as one of the world's top jazz venues. Ms. Gage thinks it's a good fit.
"When you walk in, you feel you're in New Orleans in a saloon, with very spirited boogie-woogie, Bessie Smith-type music," she said. "It's almost like dinner theater, just me and the piano."
Ms. Gage writes her own music, and her previous CDs contained her own work.
Now she is working on a CD called "Requests from the Bar" that will include songs people wish she had recorded. Her fans, and they are many, say they've been "Sybilized."
Ms. Gage's last CD, "NOLA Calling" was about New Orleans; but even though it was written post-Katrina, there is only one song about the disaster that affected her so deeply.
"It was devastating and unbelievable to those who like New Orleans and appreciate its history," she said. "It was incredible to watch. I lost a house. It was one of the ones where you see a street sign and nothing but water.
"We had just buried my dad and then my great aunt. I was there with the family in August, and we managed to make it happy. Then September happened. It was completely unbelievable. That was where the idea for the CD was born, but I didn't want to write a CD about Katrina. Some write a poem or a song. I wrote that one song. People want me to sing it almost every night. I don't sing it unless I'm asked."
In addition to her gig at Heidi's, Ms. Gage plays at other events.
She will be at the grand opening of the Green Mango Restaurant in Stuart May 11-12. She recently completed her first sea venture, Sybil Gage's Jazz & Blues Cruise to the Bahamas on the Monarch of the Seas. It was fun and she may do another one, but it won't be anytime soon.
"It was hard work and took a year to put together," she said. "I got off the ship on Monday and was working on Tuesday without having exhaled."
It's a problem most musicians would love to have.
Sybil Gage appears at Heidi's Jazz Club, 7 N. Orlando Ave., Cocoa Beach, on Tuesdays from 7-11 p.m. Call (321) 783-4559.
You can join her on Facebook or visit her website at www.sybilsings.com.