Listening to Linnzi Zaorksi is like taking a trip back in time—with your grandparents' radio as the transporter.
That's because Zaorski's brand of '30s swing is startlingly authentic-sounding. For years, people have been telling her that the microphone makes her voice sound old or wondering what effect she uses to make her voice sound that way.
“I would never say I have a pretty voice,” said the New Orleans singer who moved to Southern California late last year. “It's not a pretty voice. It's an old-style voice.”
It's the voice Zaorski discovered in 2000 when she left the small town of Alexandria, La., and went to see a jazz band in a dank little bar on Decatur Street in New Orleans. She asked the band to play a song. They asked her to sing it.
“I had had quite a few drinks,” she reminisces. “I knew about 30 percent of the song. The four toothless men in the bar seemed to like it.”
More importantly, so did the band. Zaorski learned the song and came back the following week. They invited her to join the band, and, eventually, they became the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. That's when Zaorski started to think of herself as a singer.
“The fact that someone liked my singing and the guys in the band were receptive to it was surprising and great to me. I decided that this was my thing. This is what I'm going to do.”
Though Zaorski is partial to the jazz music from before the big-band era of the '40s and loves it when swing dancers strut their stuff at her shows, she's not overly nostalgic about the time. Onstage, one could be forgiven for thinking it's the role she was born to play. Decked out in a vintage cocktail dress with pin curls and pumps, she looks every bit a torch singer from a bygone era. She doesn't belt out the songs so much as let them out of a bottle to work their magic on the audience. It's not a whiskey-and-cigarettes kind of voice, suffused with sorrow, redolent with heartbreak.“Not yet!” she says with a laugh.
When she sings such classics as “Devil and the Deep Blue Sea,” “Rhythm in Me” and “When I Get Low, I Get High,” the audience finds itself transported back to the days when men wore hats and women wore lipstick and everyone smoked wherever they damn well pleased.
Improbably, the girl who grew up wanting to be Cyndi Lauper and singing Judy Garland songs in the shower was playing d.b.a. New Orleans on Frenchman Street once a week.
Then along came Katrina.
Zaorski's house in the Bywater area took on four feet of water and lost its roof. She gutted the house to the studs and went to work on repairing the damage.
“It took three years and a lot of getting ripped off by contractors, which was common,” she says. “A lot of frustration, a lot stress.”
When she finally finished the house, she realized she didn't want it back. She put it on the market and left the Big Easy for Southern California. Zaorski found her way to Pioneertown, a rural, high-desert community in Yucca Valley northwest of Joshua Tree. Built in the '40s, Pioneertown was the set for western movies. Today, it's a community of artists, entertainers and performers, making Zaorski's transition from swamp to desert an easy one.
“The desert is for survivors,” she insists. “It's an extreme environment.”
New Orleans' loss is San Diego's gain.
Zaorski started performing with guitar player Adrian Demain and bass player Jim Austin, who both have San Diego ties. With residencies at Calypso's in Encinitas and Bar Pink in North Park every fourth Monday and Wednesday of the month, respectively, San Diego has become something of a home away from home away from home.Living in the desert has given her the space to write more original material, some of which will appear on the Christmas album she has in the works with Summertone Records, set for a November release.
So, it seems that the girl from the swamps has reinvented herself as a desert magnolia, singing her timeless songs in a place stuck in the past, using her old-sounding voice to create something new.Linnzi Zaorski and her band play at the Calypso Cafe in Encinitas on Monday, Aug. 24, and at Bar Pink on Wednesday, Aug. 26. www.myspace.com/linnzizaorski.