Published: October 15, 2014 |
Even for a musician who has been playing and singing since age six, Paul Jost has just come through one exceptional year.
First, he released his debut with The Jost Project, Can’t Find My Way Home (2013, Dot.Time Records), featuring the leader on vocals, harmonica and guitar, with drummer Charlie Patierno, double bassist Kevin MacConnell and Tony Miceli on vibes. On Can’t Find My Way Home, Jost remakes and remodels several classics from 1960s/’70s pop and rock FM radio playlists into genuinely inventive jazz—and not just some obscure bootleg or B-side tracks, but such iconic tunes as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” Simon & Garfunkel) and “Kashmir” (Led Zeppelin), all jumping off from Miceli’s funk-thumping arrangement of “Walk This Way” (Aerosmith). “So if jazz is something you weren’t familiar with before—this is a rock fan’s primer to jazz,” Jost wrote in this set’s notes. “If you’re a jazz fan, we hope you’ll appreciate the diverse repertoire of songs performed in the modern jazz idiom.”
Jost’s subsequent Breaking Through (2014, Dot.Time Records) features the same type of adventurous jazz, often from reconstructed pop standards, with Jost adding keyboards and body percussion to his vocals and guitar. “I’m hoping to connect with you while presenting my music as a kind of balance between accessibility and risk… if that makes sense,” wrote Jost in its notes. Along with MacConnell and Miceli, Breaking Through also features two of Philadelphia‘s finest and most longstanding musicians, pianist Jim Ridl and drummer Dan Monaghan. Gloria Krolak wrote in her review of Breaking Through that, “There is not a word that does not sound real or felt, even in standards which we’re danger of not really hearing.”
Breaking Through opens with Jost “Singing in the Rain” to honor his dear and departed friend, pianist and arranger George Mesterhazy. He later dances through “I Got Rhythm” and a duet on “Sweet Loraine” with pianist Strauss which strongly suggests Tony Bennettknocking off a merely perfect take with pianist Ralph Sharon. Other tunes include a Saturday night joyride through “I Don’t Need No Doctor” written by Ashford & Simpsonfor Ray Charles and fueled by its percussion and a funk guitar hook, and vocal takes on McCoy Tyner‘s “Blues on Corner” and Jim Hall‘s “Waltz New.” Strauss and Jost also team for a reverential prayer on Bill Evans‘ “Waltz For Debby” whereby the pianist more than honors Evans’ playing through his own while Jost extracts and amplifies every bit of longing from Gene Lees‘ poignant, beautiful lyric.
Breaking Through also features Jost’s original “Book Faded Brown,” which has been covered by Carl Perkins, The Band and Rick Danko, who simply says, “‘Book Faded Brown’ is one of the best songs I’ve ever heard or done.” (Jost is also a four-category blue-ribbon Billboard Song Content winner.) It’s hard to explain but this song sounds the way that a soft chilly autumn night feels, and his phrasing and delivery are so simple, direct, unadorned, and pure—so emotionally and intellectually honest—that Jost becomes transparent and dissolves, leaving you alone in the story told by his song. It is simply brilliant.
“This is the best male voice I have ever heard in my life,” Dot.Time Records Founder Johanan (Jo) Bickhardt confided in between Jost’s sets at the Breaking Through CD release party at Philadelphia‘s jazz landmark Chris’ Jazz Café. “What he does is vocally illegal.”
In the course of his career, Jost has also performed and/or recorded with Ron Carter, Billy Eckstine, Joe Farrell, Dr. John, Teo Macero, Mark Murphy, Bucky Pizzarelli and dozens more, and has composed and performed music for major music libraries and commercial jingles. He also served as drummer in an off-Broadway production of Andy Warhol’s Man on the Moon featuring John Phillips (The Mamas & the Papas) and serves as guest lecturer and instructor for West Chester (PA) University and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. He will appear at the 55 Bar in New York City on February 20, 2015.
“Music spoke to my heart the instant I was exposed to it, and each experience has added to a continuing dialogue that becomes more beautiful and more meaningful in my life,” Jost explains. This dialogue continues in the following interview.
All About Jazz: Was there much music in your house growing up?
Paul Jost: I wasn’t really raised with much music around me. There was a piano at my grandmother’s house where I’d visit my father on weekends. I played it from the time I was about four years old, same as any kid gravitates toward an instrument. But it wasn’t like anyone played in my family. I was an only child up until my mom remarried when I was twelve.
AAJ: What are your earliest memories of music?
PJ: I remember at five years old I really wanted to play the drums. I’m not sure exactly why. Gene Krupa was an early influence and he popularized the instrument. God bless my mom for buying me a kit because the last thing a parent wants to hear is a kid banging on drums. But she did and I just took to them, practiced all the time and started taking lessons at five or six.
I listened to music from a very early age, mainly the same popular music everyone listened to on the radio at the time. My mom had Frank Sinatra, Nat “King” Cole, Doris Day, Sammy Davis Jr., Andy Williams and Johnny Mathis records at home. My step dad really loved Nat King Cole and could actually sound just like him. I was a TV kid too, so all those themes entered my brain. Earl Hagen wrote such great stuff. Some of the underscoring on The Andy Griffith Show was so beautiful. It was from TV that I started to sense how music affects the scenes and my emotions.
AAJ: Did you have your own favorite cover versions (songs subsequently done by other than the original artists) growing up?
PJ: I can’t think of anything that jumps out to me. For the most part, the majority of what I heard growing up was different vocalists singing a lot of the same literature. I didn’t really hear a whole lot of departure or the deconstruction of stuff. But when I would hear tunes like “Big Bad John” (Jimmy Dean), “Sixteen Tons” (Tennessee Ernie Ford), “Ode to Billy Joe” (Bobbie Gentry) and my all-time favorite “One For My Baby” (Frank Sinatra), they just opened up a whole other side to me of storytelling and imagery, and I really loved that. I used to mime “One for My Baby” in the mirror. In fact when my brother Rusty and I sold my parents’ house, the last thing I did before I left was mime that tune one last time into the mirror still on the other side of my bedroom door.
I realized then that I don’t always want things to be defined for me. It’s one of the things that I didn’t like about song videos and what I sometimes don’t like about a movie. When you read a book or hear a record, you can create your own imagery and bring your own life into it. A lot of songwriters don’t like to say what their work is about—they’ll put it out there and ask, “What did YOU think?” The feedback can be really eye opening.
AAJ: We hear on your CDs and at concerts the successful rearrangements/cover versions that you’ve done. But what’s the craziest take you’ve tried on a cover song that didn’t work?
PJ: Well, something “working” is really a matter of opinion.
Honestly, I don’t start in on a new song or arrangement unless I have an idea that’s leading me somewhere. Once I get onto something, there’s an excitement that compels me to chase it down. I’m not saying that everything I pursue becomes a diamond, but the effort of it, of trying to do it, is always rewarding. Bobby Scott, a dear friend and mentor, told me to always and only polish a diamond.
I associate it with sculpting. Some sculptors say that when the inspiration strikes, it’s like looking at a pile of clay and you immediately see what you want to do. When I get onto something, from the minute it hits, I can almost see the end before I start. You just can’t get there fast enough, you know? When I’m dealing with my own interpretations, I’m looking for my own voice and asking is this something that feels true to me? If it does, then I’m satisfied because I’m going to be much more critical than anyone else.
I have this deconstructed arrangement of “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was.” I’ve heard people say, “That’s my favorite song on Dialogues Part 2,” the album I did with the The Antfarm Quartet (2007, Dreambox Media); some others say, “It’s too disturbing.” I love that. That’s what I want to do: Invoke a reaction with something different that feels true to me.
AAJ: You’re right in that you need to first write for you.
PJ: Sure. If you’re hired to write a jingle or specific style of tune for a particular purpose you still want it to ring true, always, but you have to deliver it within certain guidelines. When you’re writing for yourself, the edges of the canvas aren’t defined until you set them. I just thought of that artist and lovely man, Bob Ross, who would always say, “Because in your world, it can be anything you want it to be.”
AAJ: Your duet with pianist Frank Strauss on “Sweet Lorraine” sure sounds like a Tony Bennett duet with pianist Ralph Sharon. You may sing from different “American Songbooks,” but you and Bennett both seem, from time to time, to swing that blues jazz barrelhouse thing. Where do you think your common points are?
PJ: First of all, to be mentioned in the same breath as Tony Bennett is an incredible honor and beyond my comprehension. “Sweet Lorraine” is a lovely tune and Frank sounds so wonderful, but honestly I didn’t think about Tony with Ralph Sharon on that at all. Our take on “Waltz for Debby” is a definite nod to Tony and Bill Evans. I love their version and really proud of what Frank and I did together. “Waltz For Debby” is a particular favorite because I used to sing that song for my daughter when she was just three years old. I’d come home late at night from a gig and I’d see her little shoes at the bottom of the stairs and would project about the time she would leave the nest. That time has come and gone, and now I sing it to her daughter, my beautiful granddaughter, Olivia Grace.
“Waltz For Debby” is one of the best things I’ve ever sung or probably ever will sing and much of the reason is because of the beautiful way Frank framed the picture. We were on the same page and reading the same story without saying a word to each other.
I do hear people mention they hear Tony Bennett in my voice but I think it may have more to do with the intensity or interpretation of the lyric. I absolutely love Tony Bennettbut I’ve never studied him closely or tried to pattern myself after him.
One of the singers I actually have studied may not even be considered a “singer” by many people, Randy Newman. He’s one of my favorite writers and stylists.
How we sound has a lot to do with the material we choose and the environment we’re in. I’ve done a lot of jingles, and I’ve heard people say that I sound like Sting, Harry Connick Jr., Louis Prima, Louis Armstrong, Randy Newman, Mark Murphy, Tom Waits, Mel Torme, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow and a lot of other people I don’t even know. If you do a signature Sinatra tune, you’re already kind of in that thing, you know? You’re not doing impressions but you’re projecting from a very familiar landscape. The goal is to find your own voice and as I’m feeling more and more comfortable in my own skin, I’d like to think I have my own identity so people hear me, no matter what I’m doing. I sing Ashford & Simpson‘s “I Don’t Need No Doctor” on the new CD and I doubt someone hearing me sing that would confuse me with anyone I’ve mentioned. People may hear different elements of others in me because we’re all connected, but I hope that my sound and my heart reaches them through my prism.
Dot Time encouraged me to make my CD eclectic and to show some of the elements that make me what I am, and I’m proud of the diversity of the record, but I hope that from song to song you can still hear me in there.
AAJ: You’re both very transparent emotionally with the lyric—you’re very honest emotionally and true to the lyric.
PJ: I don’t want to sing a song just to sing it. I want to find a way to make it mine. When you’re doing your own record, you make the call about what songs you do. You can ask yourself if there is something in this lyric that has a tie to your life experience. Is there some phrase or word that means something to you? That’s something I heard Tony Bennett say about the word “love,” that he always thinks about the power of that word when he sings it. That doesn’t mean he sings it over the top any time the word pops up, just that he never throws it away. You just want to be emotionally invested in the song. Maybe that’s what people hear and feel, the honesty or vulnerability in the interpretation.
AAJ: I will only ask you about one more singer—Van Morrison, because you two sing with the same kind of style that’s neither blues nor jazz but somehow both, and you both sound very spiritually in communion with the songs you sing.
PJ: Honestly, Van Morrison is a singer I don’t really know. I hate to say that. I only just really discovered Joni Mitchell a few years ago—isn’t that unbelievable? Thank God I finally did! But we all miss something here and there, or the timing isn’t right. I do know “Crazy Love” because I did an arrangement of it and sing it sometimes on gigs, and “Someone Like You.”
AAJ: Are you familiar with “Into the Mystic”?
PJ: I’ve never done it but I love that tune. There’s another one of his songs I know, “Moondance,” though I don’t think I’ve ever sung it. I do like him but I don’t know his music well enough to have been influenced by him.
AAJ: Who would you name as some of your influences?
PJ: I love Ray Charles. Who wouldn’t? Who wasn’t influenced by Ray Charles? He was one of the greatest singers ever. And Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong—my gosh, what an incredible force he was to all of us—Bobby McFerrin, Randy Newman, Shirley Horn, Johnny Hartman, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Rickie Lee Jones, Tom Waits, Kurt Elling, Roger Miller, James Taylor, Paul McCartney, Anita O’Day, Marvin Gaye, Jimmy Dean, Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Sammy Davis Jr., Chet Baker, Stevie Wonder, and how could anyone not be floored by Jimi Hendrix? God, there are just so many.
But, you know, the very first and strongest impression on me came from a singer I met in NY, John Branca. I’d recorded one of my tunes at Media Sound and was just starting out as a singer. I wouldn’t even call myself a singer then. Harvey Goldberg was the engineer and I think he’d just done a session with John for a McDonald’s commercial. He asked John to sing just four words in my song. It was the peak and the plea of the tune and the words were “when you told me.” He was flat out unbelievable. I was standing right next to him and I’d never heard anyone sing like that and he just killed me. In just those four words I knew right then that I wanted to sing!
Because I came to singing after being an instrumentalist, a lot of things that influenced me come from the music of Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Sonny Rollins, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Tony Williams, John Coltrane, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, Wes Montgomery, The Beatles, Stuff, Soft Machine, Don Ellis, Eddie Palmieri, Sergio Mendes, Johnny Mandel, Nelson Riddle, Quincy Jones, Oliver Nelson, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Bartok, Stravinsky, Berg, Debussy…I don’t know where to stop. My music teachers in junior high school—Ross Ippolito—and high school—Dr. Arthur Harvey—were huge influences on me.
You know, this is such a hard question because I feel like I’m always being influenced, always keeping myself available. There are so many great composers, arrangers, producers, bands and musicians. As I name one, like George Mesterhazy, three more come to mind. The musicians on my CD alone have inspired me for years—Jim Ridl and Tim Lekan have had a great influence on me.
AAJ: You really hear the influence of Paul Jost the drummer come out through Paul Jost the singer in your cover of “The Days of Wine and Roses.” How would you describe your approach to rhythm as a singer?
PJ: Drums are my first instrument, so that’s always going to come through. I’ve developed some writing and arranging chops and I play guitar, and even trumpet for a little while, too—I couldn’t wait to play through a Harmon mute!). But bringing rhythm to what I do comes from my love of the drums. My arrangement of “I Got Rhythm” is an example of that. “All of You” is a cool arrangement I did with Tim Lekan that has a metric modulation in it and I love those things.
Because of my background, sometimes when I’d sing in a group, I’d sing things so rhythmically on it that I would sound a little bit clipped and percussive. I’d be singing with some really great vocalists and they’d ask me to try to lay back, to be a little more legato and breathe with it a little bit more. So I still have to be careful because I always default toward the rhythmic side of life. I use it in my arrangement of “The Days of Wine and Roses” with just vocal and flute from Marc Adler, or in “I Got Rhythm,” which is purposely drum-like. That’s where it comes from. That’s my beginning and that’s why you hear it.
AAJ: There’s a genuine sense of drama, of theatre, to your arrangements of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “I Didn’t Know What Time Is Was.” Are you a fan of composers such as Bertolt Brecht and/or Kurt Weill?
PJ: I know who they are and aware of some of their music, but definitely not enough to call them an influence.
You picked two arrangements that are deconstructed versions which flip the song’s original intent 180 degrees. From some of the influences I mentioned earlier, I do love the sense of theatre when telling a story.
“Bridge Over Troubled Water” began while at a rehearsal with The Jost Project, which is a group I’m in that was founded by an amazing vibraphonist Tony Miceli and bassist Kevin MacConnell. We tried a version but it was just laying there and we pretty much all decided not to do the tune. I was going through some personal, emotional problem at the time, and when I got home after rehearsal, this ostinato pattern arrived. Then I started to think about and project the failure and insensitivity we saw in the Hurricane Katrina disaster. It didn’t feel like we rushed to the aid of the people there and I remember that some people discussed it like it was some sort of just punishment, like all these people trapped in the Superdome deserved it. It really brought home the distance between the haves and the have-nots. And so I pushed it to a sardonic interpretation, sarcastic about the fact that there wasn’t really a “bridge” of help. The original song’s intent, I believe, was saying, “I’ll be there for you. I could be your path to comfort and safety over troubled water.” And my version was saying, “No, you really can’t count on us to be there to help you. Nobody’s there.” I whistle that ostinato pattern at the end, and in my mind that was a vision of the backs that had turned on these people. To me, it’s really eerie and it hurts. It really hurts. That’s what was playing in my head when I was coming up with that. I was thinking about the people who had lost their homes who were now alone and isolated and truly devastated. It was difficult to see how we handled it as a society.
I kind of flipped “I Didn’t Know What Time It Was,” too. The original intent of that song, as it’s usually heard, is: “I didn’t know what time it was until I met you. When we met each other, the heavens opened and now life is really swell.” Well, my version is the exact opposite: “Shit didn’t fall apart until I met you. Once I met you, everything got fucked up. And now I know what time it is, for sure.” In my mind, this guy has been vanquished—bereft of emotional strength, torn by a love that just completely fucked him over, and he has nothing left. Man, that’s a completely different interpretation. But I love doing that. I LOVE doing that.
These are two really extreme cases but there’s nothing I like better than doing a song and hearing somebody say to me afterwards, “Wow, I never really heard that lyric before.” Or, “I never really heard or thought about this song that way before.” I just love that because I know that I’m communicating something and I’m connecting different dots in an organic way. I want to do things a little different. Didn’t Duke Ellington say, “There’s two kinds of music—good and bad”? And I would add to that (if he hadn’t already): “And it’s up to you to decide which is which.” So if you like that painting of Elvis on the black velvet canvas or the dogs playing cards, if that really moves you, then buy it, put it in your house, and don’t ever apologize to anyone about it. Just enjoy it and be honest about it. I just heard Bill Murray on an interview with Charlie Rose and he quoted someone who said, “This is life. This is it. This isn’t a dress rehearsal and you don’t get a second chance at it.” There’s no “Take Two!”
AAJ: Is there a true story behind “Book Faded Brown”?
PJ: I wrote that at a time when things were a little bit hard for me. It happened at a time in my life when I seemed to be watching the morality that I had grown up with start to water down. My stepdad had such great common sense. He didn’t need religion, he just needed to listen to that voice inside his head and that voice always knew the right thing to do. It felt to me like the fabric of our society was turning a deaf ear, and that things seemed to be moving away from the ideas that had brought me the most comfort. We’re all guilty of so many things but look at what just happened in France. We’re killing cartoonists now? Really? Or sending three young girls into a crowd with bombs strapped around them—what philosophy, what world would embrace that? My world? Ohhhhh…shit! Are we evolving or devolving?
So I wrote that song about this family that was holding onto their sense of morality—not that theirs was a “better” morality, but that they still embrace what they feel is right, and what they feel and know is right, is to love one another. Some people have equated the “book faded brown” to the Bible, and I do mention God, but it’s not meant to have a heavy-handed religious overtone. They walk through town holding hands, and in spite of the winds that are blowing against them, they’re staying true to their belief in common sense and fairness and a hard work ethic. Like my dad.
That’s what I was raised with: You do an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. You treat people, all people, fairly. I started out confused living in a broken home and much of my sense of belonging came from sports and music—the two ultimate “team” endeavors where all that mattered was if you could play, if you could deliver. I understand the temptation and intoxication that a gang can offer. I know at my core why lost souls often turn the way they do. It’s about the lack of hope, the lack of options. Look, I’m not saying we were without fault either, but there was a decency I was aware of, you know? So I wrote it about this family, and in a lot of ways I think it was my own family. It begins with this kind of rudimental drum thing which for me represented a funeral march—the death of this morality—but at the same time a drumbeat that was insistent on keeping this morality alive.
That’s what I was feeling when I wrote this tune. It just felt like a nice family. I come from some of that farming ground. I know how important farms are to the world, and especially to those that till the soil generation after generation. Still, a lot of farmers, like my uncle, understood that the land isn’t ours to keep, just to borrow for a while and growing crops isn’t just about making money but also comes with a sense of pride and worth that they’re giving something to the world—the way we like to feel as artists. It’s important to make money of course, but it’s also good to feel like you’re contributing something. This tune was holding onto something that I felt was slipping away.
AAJ: Do you know how the cover versions came about?
PJ: I was so lucky to have Carl Perkins, The Band and Rick Danko record it. That was really tremendous. I mean, I can’t believe it. Carl Perkins, what a good man. What a wonderful writer and human being. He did two of my tunes—this one and another song called “Half the Time.” Rick Danko recorded “Book Faded Brown” on two of his albums, and it was on his video called First Waltz and also on The Band album Jubilation (1998, River North).
Rick and I never had the opportunity to meet each other. We worked on a Budweiser commercial; he played bass and sang, I added harmonica, and a mutual friend of ours, Jim Tullio, who was the producer and writer of this jingle, was doing some hand jive stuff on it. Jim thought that “Book Faded Brown” would be a great tune for The Band so he presented it to Rick and he fell in love with it. We spoke on the phone a couple of times but we never met. I’m told that the lyric to the tune was recited at Rick’s funeral. Carl Perkins thanked me for “letting” him do the song. Can you believe that? And Rick told me it was one of the best songs he ever did. Every so often I’ll read or hear someone say they think it’s one of the better Band tunes written, and I am so honored by that mistake. It’s a lot to hear or accept when I feel like a blind squirrel who found a nut.
AAJ: They did so many great records: Where’s the Burt Bacharach/Hal David song?
It’s funny but sometimes there are things that I just feel I don’t want to touch. Like Dionne Warwick with Burt Bacharach and Hal David, it’s such a beautiful marriage. Or Glen Campbell and Jimmy Webb together. Jimmy Webb, what a writer, but I always think of Glen doing such a great job interpreting his music. Shirley Horn and Johnny Mandel—whew! Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb are two real favorites of mine. “Alfie” is such a beautiful tune, they both have so many. You know, that’s a good idea. I should definitely look into that.
AAJ: Roughly speaking, the first Project album was classic 60s/70s pop and rock and Breaking Through, your second release, primarily covers the “American Songbook.” Have you begun formulating a vision for your third release?
Well, even though there’s a majority of standards on Breaking Through, there’s also “Blues on the Corner” (McCoy Tyner), “Waltz New” (Jim Hall ), “I Don’t Need No Doctor” (Ashford & Simpson), and my tune, “Book Faded Brown.” I don’t know many people who’ve done “Singing in the Rain” in a while and my treatments of the standards on there are different so I don’t think of my second album as primarily the American Songbook or want people to think that way either.
Third album, I’ll probably do more of the same in that I’ll make it eclectic and do one or two of my original tunes. I have a nice treatment of “The Folks Who Live on the Hill” that I really want to get out, and I have a thing on Sonny Rollins‘ “Oleo.” There’s so much great music out there and I have a lot of the things already sketched out, but I might have to revisit Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb and reconsider a couple of things now because of you.
AAJ: You’re a big proponent of musical education especially for children. Would you take a few minutes to explain your “Scatting Outreach” project?
PJ: You know, when I was starting out, the elders encouraged us and passed on knowledge. Each generation passes the torch to stronger hands, the next young lions. And each new generation has greater access to more things allowing them to assimilate quicker. A lot of the college students I hear now not only have all the technical sides together but they actually have their sound together. Developing your sound can take a long time. They already know about using space. They’re much more mature, because every generation has more to receive and because of that, more to offer.
So I do this with college students and also with younger kids, down to eleven or twelve years old—although I do stuff with my granddaughter, who’s only two. Music is the universal language, right? What I do with the older group is a little bit of what we talked about before: It takes a lot of work and effort and discipline to get yourself to the point where you’re able to read music or play in tune, play in time, play with dynamics, all that stuff. But after you’re able to do that, whether it’s as an instrumentalist or as a vocalist or whatever, what can you find that brings out who YOU are? How do we find YOUR voice? I don’t mean just your voice literally but your voice on any instrument. So I try to tap into those things. I change it, of course, for 12-year olds as opposed to 19-and 20-year olds but it’s really very similar: It’s about being fearless, being open to things, and being aware of sound around you.
In what I call my “triad for creativity,” the first thing is heart. That’s always the most important thing to me because it’s through our heart, an organic way, that we first came to music: We heard something that made our feet dance or made us laugh or cry or think, and it touched something inside of us. That’s what drew us to music. The second step is knowledge, because no matter the field, the more you learn the better you’re able to express yourself. The third step is technique because that’s what you need to more clearly define the first two steps. But the bottom line is heart. If you only had one thing to deal with, it would be heart. It’s always got to connect on an organic level for me.
That’s what I want to get across to the kids: I want them to feel that, at this point, there’s nothing wrong to try. It’s about finding your sound, your fingerprint. How do you make your sound liquid? How do you connect your sound to your heart? To your voice? How do you say more with less? I’m just trying to get students, children and adults, to open up, to be fearless and have fun, and scatting is one of those ways.
We might work with a major scale—everybody knows “do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti, do.” So we use those notes and we go through a common chord sequence everyone recognizes. Then we experiment with any one of those notes—they know it’s going to work, because there’s no “wrong” notes and it’s not about navigating through chords. We experiment with rhythm, tone and volume. We can break into groups, with one providing rhythm, another providing a chord or pedal and another improvising. It’s just connecting people with sound and communicating with sound, eliminating the fear and having fun. We can play our body, like the body percussion I do on “The Days of Wine and Roses.” Music is all around us. The music stand is not there to just hold music—if you bang on it, it makes a sound and you can tap it with your feet, with your hands, with all kinds of stuff. Hear your refrigerator humming? Sing something against that note. Just open yourself up.
AAJ: Finally, what didn’t we talk about that you’d like to discuss?
PJ: That we’re much more alike than we are different. We’re not too far apart from each other. We’re all just a few molecules away from being plastic wrap. I have a song we didn’t talk about called “How My Blues Was Made.” For me, it was cathartic, expressing about my life in the beginning, coming from a broken home, not having two parents and feeling different. In that moment, that’s how my blues was made, that moment when the universe says, “Paul, here’s your bag. Here’s what you’re going to carry through life.” And what I came to understand is that I’m not alone, I’m not that different because everybodygets a bag when we come in; some get a little more weight to carry than others, but we all get a bag and we all have to carry some weight. That’s really what I want to touch on with music. I want to vibrate that cord that ties us together. We all have our blues. We all know a certain amount of pain—and a certain amount of joy, too. I want to touch on those indefinable things we have in common.
The last thing I want to say is I hope we’re able to come together and see how we’re more alike than different and allow ourselves to be open enough to accept it. We can’t save the world I guess, but we can save our little corner of it and try to be the best people we can by trying to keep an open ear and an open heart to our neighbors, engaging in those “random acts of kindness.” I think sometimes we trample through life with this sense of entitlement and a lack of perspective and compassion, and fussing more about being different than accepting that we’re really so damned similar. I think it’s unsettling for a lot of us to acknowledge that, and I’m afraid that for many of us the clarity probably comes right at the end, as you breathe your last breath and realize, “What was I so afraid of?”