Jazz as Connective Tissue with Vocalist Paul Jost

Paul Jost Eric-Loken

Telling the audience of his pain, love, joy and optimism comes naturally to singer/songwriter Paul Jost. His method of conveying emotion is personal and gut-based. Take his new CD “Simple Life,” named for the introspective philosophy many of us build through our maturity. The songs on this project throw lifelines to the listener and offer beautiful pictures in his words. His style pushes through the boundaries of expression and brings us to different dizzying perspectives.

The amazing Jost phrasing weaves throughout the classic “Blackbird” to a shimmering climax (piano is blinding); he brings a fresh, deep wistfulness to “If I Only Had a Brain” and a sad, dark, almost tortured feel to “Everybody’s Talkin’” (you’ve never heard it like this before). Loveliest perhaps of all is “Shenandoah” where his depth of texture defies vocabulary.

What was your first public performance and how did you get hooked on a musical life?

I suppose music is just part of my DNA. I started playing drums at 6 years old and working professionally at age 12. I honestly don’t remember my first public performance, though I do remember playing at my mom’s second marriage with two of my friends. It was snare drum (snares off) trumpet and sax and one of the songs was “Tango Tropical.”

What is the biggest challenge in teaching vocals, particularly something abstract like scatting?

Mainly getting students to accept their own vulnerability which is something we ALL share. For younger students who aren’t yet as sophisticated musically, I reinforce that music is all around us. The hum of the refrigerator, a light bulb, the heater etc. We should use our voice and bodies as instruments to make music with those things.

I want them to open up and express themselves without concern for the “right” notes. Music always has to be fun no matter what stage we’re in. Students who have musical knowledge simply need to understand that scatting is the same as any other instrument in regard to note choices and styles, and also look at interpretation so that what you do becomes your defining fingerprint.

I hope to touch on a certain fearlessness which is doing your homework and practicing so you can be comfortable in your own skin. Then, you can let it fly, be in the moment and connect with the music and the audience.

How did you find your inner scatter?

We all scat to one degree or another when we internalize or express a line, melody or rhythm to ourselves and others. A wonderful teacher (Marc Jacoby) I work with sometimes says if you can hear it, you can sing it, if you can sing it, you can play it. And I think that’s great because it keeps what you play grounded and organic as a direct link to your spirit.

Who were your first idols and influencers?

Because I came to music first as a drummer, I think I was influenced by instrumentalists more than singers. But I’ll say Doris Day, Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Ray Charles. They were in my house growing up as music my mom and dad listened to. Of course, I was influenced, too, by all the music on the radio like Elvis, Beatles, Hendrix, Cream, Procol Harum, Zappa, Randy Newman, etc., and, of course, all the pop stuff. Then Miles, Bird, Cannonball, Trane, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff. It’s a long list and grows more every day. And I’ve had tremendous opportunities to play for some great singers like Frank D’Rone, Bobby Scott, Mark Murphy, Billy Eckstine, Morgana King, Ann Hampton Callaway, Miss Lou Elliot, etc. (I hate naming names because I always leave out someone really important).

How do you take care of your voice?

The most important thing for me is to stay hydrated. I’ve never been properly trained. I just try never to let music hurt me or to hurt the music 🙂

What inspired the name of your new CD “Simple Life”?

Really about some things my stepdad had said to me about life being about common sense. It’s pretty much how I’ve tried to live my life and how I think most people do as well. You know, if you can keep an ear on the voice inside your head, it almost always tells you the right thing to do. It’s just whether you recognize it or hear it (or want to hear it). That we inherently know right from wrong without it needing to be defined by anyone else other than that voice in our head. To not “complicate” everything.

What was the most rewarding part of the creation process for this CD?

Certainly, the opportunity to bring the music to life so honestly with Jim Ridl, Dean Johnson and Tim Horner. Joe Locke was so fantastic on the tunes he played, and, also, as a sort of guide at times, and my incredible engineer Chris Sulit who has such great ears and intuition.

What makes for a challenging song? Which was the most challenging on this CD?

Well every song has its own challenges and rewards. The most challenging, maybe in a technical side, might be “Blackbird.” Emotionally, probably “Everybody’s Talkin’.” Politically, “Livin’ in the Wrong Time.”

How would you compare this body of work to your first solo CD “Breaking Through”?

I’m very proud of my first solo CD “Breaking Through.” There are great musicians on that record and some interesting takes on things. “I Got Rhythm” is a fun little puzzle that Frank Strauss, Steve Varner and Dan Monaghan realize in such an incredible way. And I think in its own way that “Waltz For Debby” might be the best thing I’ve ever sung and Frank Strauss is extraordinary on that.

But I don’t have a “band” on that record. I was making it happen on my own dime and trying my best to come up with things I could do and be cost effective. I arranged an orchestral intro on “Singin’ in the Rain” as a tribute to George Mesterhazy that I’m proud of but God would I have loved to do it with real musicians.

So, like the saying “necessity is the mother of invention,” we find our way as we can. On this record though I’m with a fantastic trio that’s played together a while, and we have our own language and groove. There’s a cohesiveness in concept and in sound I don’t think I had on the first record.

Do you prefer performing solo or with other singers, or does it depend on the project?

All in all, I just love making sincere music in any capacity. It’s not always a perfect fit with other people (instrumentally or vocally) and that’s no knock, it’s just sometimes you hear or feel things in a different way and as it should be. I did a gig not too long ago with Marianne Solivan. She’s incredible, and there were some notes we’d hit that sounded much more than the sum of its parts.

Favorite collaborations?

Well, like I said, vocally Marianne Solivan was a lot of fun. I loved the few times I had a chance to sing with Roz Corral. Kathy Fowler, damn can she sing. Gina Roche and Geri Mingori. I was just asked by Dena Derose to sit in on a gig at Birdland at the end of April, and I’m salivating. She’s been one of my favorites for a long time. What a great musician.

One of my favorite non-vocal collaborations has been with Orrin Evans. He just brings things out of you. Talk about fearless. I love where we go.

Another great collaboration for me has been with Tony Miceli and Kevin MacConnell. We have a group called TJP, and we do classic rock but in a jazz way and that’s really fun.

I’m lucky to say I’ve had the privilege to do some collaborating with Ron Thomas as well as Barry Miles, Jim Tullio and the late and great George Mesterhazy.

Venue or event/festival you have always wanted to perform that you have not yet?

Of course, everyone would like to do Newport but honestly, any that will have me. There are really good festivals everywhere. I did the Rochester Festival last year and that was great. And, this year the quartet played the Exit Zero Festival in Cape May and we’ll do the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival on June 22.

Favorite small club ever and why?

The 55 Bar, for sure. I love Mezzrow too, but 55 is the place that gave me my first opportunity. Jim Ridl had brought me in as a guest and Scott Ellard (the owner) asked me to do three more gigs and then offered me a residency playing the last Wednesday of the month. I told him, and it was obvious, of course, that nobody knows me and I can’t guarantee an audience, and you know what he said? He said, “Don’t ever worry about that. You just sing and eventually people will find you.” That meant the world to me and always will.

There’s a certain romance that speaks so strongly to me in places like The 55 Bar and Mezzrow. They’re different from each other but similar in that they’re both underground and where the hidden currents flow. It’s so immediate, so intimate and intense in a good way. This for me is what music was meant to be. The opportunity to connect our vulnerabilities and share moments and real time experiences together.

What do you hope to elicit from your audiences?

Connective relationships through music.

Where do you go in your head when you compose — and when you improvise?

I try my best to stay open to possibilities. I try to hear what the lyric or the music is offering. Once hooked in, it’s like you can see the whole thing calling you. It’s beautiful. It’s almost like a dream, you know. But once you acknowledge it or try and touch it or control it or even think about it, it’s gone.

What is the biggest way the music industry has grown for jazz vocalists?

We were just asked at an audition the other day, what would we do if there was no electricity for the keyboard? I said no problem. I’ve done a lot of gigs just bass and vocal, or bass, drums and vocal, or I could pull something together with body sounds/vocal percussion etc. Even a simple sound like chorusing that I do using my hands and turning my back to the audience, so the waves hit the mic. But I’ve heard incredible things by Jacob Collier! He’s on another planet. Unbelievable. Also, Theo Bleckmann is so creative and inventive.

What do you want people to know about your music that they might not know?

Just that it’s honest and thoughtful. That it’s rhythmic and swings and has a fearlessness and vulnerability about it and that the musicianship supporting me is world-class. We tell the story together, and I hope people can tell in the music just how sensitive this group is, too…not just as musicians which is obvious, but that they’re also really good people who just happen to be extraordinary artists as well.

Plans for the rest of 2019?

Just launching the CD and trying to find gigs!

Other comments?

My only other comments are that I’m grateful to you for taking the time with me. And, that I’m a very lucky man to have made it this far in a journey that now finds me with an incredible group of musicians, a great team at my back supporting me every step of the way, and the most loving family anyone could ever hope to call his own.

For more information, visit www.pauljostmusic.com.

Photos courtesy of and with permission of Paul Jost. Top photo (c) Chris Drukker who will be featured in a future article. Second photo (c) Eric Loken.
(c) Debbie Burke 2019

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