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There’s a unique timbre to Gaby Paul’s voice that makes it hard to describe; rich and sweet but with layers of character, like burnt caramel. At its core is a titanium-strength midrange and depth, but it can easily shoot to the higher registers with sniper-like accuracy. Hot and bluesy on originals like “The Record.” Mournful but not needy in “Autumn Leaves” with the occasional defiant growl. And in “Summertime” (with its impeccable and gorgeous piano), she glides through transitions to impart the feel of a lazy afternoon. Pulling it all together soon? Yes, thankfully: an EP is in the works. Watch for her. A voice not easily forgotten.

When did you first fall for jazz and what was the song?

I was 14 when I first heard Sam Cooke’s rendition of Summertime. I fell in love right away with the buttery vocals and the haunting chord progression in the melody. It’s a beautiful song. I heard how it was originally sung in operatic style from Porgy and Bess, so I did a cover of it. I was originally trained in classical music and that’s why I wanted to showcase the different genres.

How did you discover your voice?

I have been singing since I was a little kid. I was about 3 years old when I first started to express myself through music. It was just a natural thing that came to me. The more I sang, the more my passion grew for it.

Who were your influences in choosing a career in music?

Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Amy Winehouse, Lana Del Rey, Erykah Badu and so many more. However, my father was always instrumental in his continued support of me and telling me to follow my passion and love, which is music.

What did you sample in the beginning of “Don’t Know Why” and why did you choose it?

It was a Nina Simone interview. I think her music is so raw. She always kept it real when she expressed herself through song and conversation. “Don’t Know Why” is about not knowing how to explain a feeling or why someone makes you feel a certain way. I think Nina described that perfectly.

What was the worst experience you ever had with your voice and how did you heal it?

I used to deal with a lot of sore throats and strep throats where it got to be so excessive, I was getting sick 5-6 times a year. As a vocalist, you have to take care of your instrument, which is your voice. I changed my eating habits into more nutritional food options that were very beneficial to my health. I’ve been in much better health ever since I made that lifestyle change. 

What was the most helpful aspect of your training?

I began singing in various choruses since the age of 10. I then started professional vocal training at the age of 14 at the MacPhail Center for Music in Minneapolis, MN. Through my nearly 10 years of training, I have learned various breathing techniques and exercises when warming up that have contributed greatly in strengthening my voice.

I follow a strict regimen when warming up to preserve my vocal cords for the long term. 

What was the most important thing you have taught yourself?

Over the years, I have learned how essential it is to push yourself artistically. If you want to succeed and challenge yourself in a positive way, you have to try things that are outside of your comfort zone.

You can’t chase after your dreams with a constant fear of failure or what people will think of you.

What themes inspire you when you write?

I find myself grabbing inspiration from the 60’s, not just the music, but the entire aura of this part of American history. I also have found inspiration through my numerous road trips in the American Southwest. And of course, people and my relationships with them are always a great influence on my songwriting.   

What instruments do you most like to perform with?

Piano is and always will be my favorite. It is my go-to instrument I use when I write. I’ve also recently been enjoying working with the music stylings of the flamenco guitar. 

What is the hardest challenge in being a jazz musician today?

Being a jazz musician can be challenging when it comes to performing, as there are many venues that want to hear a certain genre of music. It really comes down to knowing who you are and having confidence in your talent.

Favorite venues in your area?

I really enjoy performing at The Nash in Phoenix, AZ. The people there are all very supportive and have a deep appreciation for the art of jazz.

Where in the world would you most like to play?

I’ve always wanted to play at the Chicago Blues Festival or Lollapalooza. The music scene in Chicago has always been huge and I can only dream of being a part of it someday. 

How would you characterize your brand – and your sound?

My brand and sound collide together as a mix of who I am and what I have experienced in my life. It is a form of storytelling that enables listeners to reflect on their own lives.

What projects are you working on?

There is an EP currently in the works. It has a range of sounds that the public has yet to hear from me. While a couple tracks have some hip-hop beats, the other two tracks have a distinctive bluesy and Americana feel to them. 

What unexplored territory lies ahead?

There are definitely some new collaborative ensembles in the nearby future which I am so excited about. My future recordings consist of more upbeat tunes that still convey a signature soul sound, but also depict and tell an honest story of freedom, lust and the deserts of the Southwest that I call my home. 

For more information, visit https://soundcloud.com/gabypaul.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Gaby Paul. Top photo (c) Presley Jude.
© Debbie Burke 2019

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