Take Five With Paula Harris
Meet Paula Harris:
A professional vocalist for 20 years, Paula has worked with several Symphony Orchestras including the Long Bay Symphony (South Carolina)and the Atlanta Pops Symphony (Georgia). She fronted one of the most well-known orchestras in Georgia, with the Carere Orchestras for a decade. Paula has won five national and international singing competitions. For the last two years she has been performing with Grammy and People's Choice pianist Ricardo Scales and at San Francisco's Top of the Mark jazz club. Paula regularly works all over California and Nevada, as well as throughout the southeast.
Teachers and/or influences?
Diane Schuur, Etta James, Phyllis Hyman, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Francine Reed...also Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand (mainly in phrasing).
I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I picked up a hairbrush at age six and sang almost the entire Helen Reddy I am Woman album for one of my parents dinner parties! My parents' friends were so enthusiastic that I encored with Ray Charles "Hit the Road Jack," complete with choreography. Maybe they were just being polite to a six year-old, but I believed it at the time. Since that day, I have never questioned that I would be a vocalist.
Your sound and approach to music:
Lawd, I'm a musical mutt. I would say that the most obvious influences would be that of Diane Schuur, Phyllis Hyman, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. I love to take songs that everyone has heard a million times and twist them into something completely new....especially standards which have been done and done again! People say that "copying" someone is the best form of flattery, but I think it's the easiest way ensure that you never grow past what your "idols" have learned. I also think it's a surefire way to disappoint your audience. If they wanted to see (fill in the blank), then they wouldn't have come to your concert. It's your responsibility as a musician and artist to bring something new to the music.
Your teaching approach:
I very rarely teach, and then it's only when I see something special in an up-and-coming singer. I would say that when I do work with a student that it's to fine tune a talent they already have. Nine times out of ten I end up working with them on phrasing or microphone technique.
Your dream band:
My dream band would be a 12-piece band of piano, bass, drums, four horns, four strings, and a percussionist. I'd love to work with Brian Bromberg on bass, Dave Koz on sax, a drummer I already work with, Tez Sherard (he is one of the best), and even though it's blasphemy to have her play without singing and I would probably be mortified to sing in front of her, Diane Schuur on keys. I love her sense of timing and the open way she makes the piano frame the melody of the song.
Road story: Your best or worst experience:
The best experience would be the times I worked with a 72-piece symphony orchestra. It's like manning the most powerful rocketship ever. There is so much power in that many musicians coming together. It's a combination of exhilaration and a bit of intimidation mixed together. But oh my, the adrenaline is unbelieveable; it's like the holy cow of performing.
My worst experience woukld be the time I was performing in front of 3000 people in Atlanta, doing "Georgia on My Mind," and I inhaled a fly through my nose; it came out still alive in my throat. Beleeve it or not, it actually (and thankfully!) flew out of my mouth as I was singing the bridge. I still don't know how I resisted the urge to hack it out in the middle of the song...and I don't want to think about what I would have had to do had it not flown out on its own.
The Top of the Mark In San Francisco has great acoustics because of all the glass that surrounds you on all sides (not to mention a gorgeous view everywhere you look). I also loved having that as a weekly gig for the last two years. Burgundy Blues Jazz Club in Anderson, SC is probably my favorite venue right now (yeah, I know, can you believe that Anderson, SC has something like that?). Cindy Whitfield, the lady who created it, sunk half a million dollars into it and the place is gorgeous. Not to mention fabulous acoustics and house-wired sound! And the crowds are so nice it's just a joy to play there. I look forward to seeing the jazz scene in the southeast expand solely due to Cindy's dedication towards that end.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Diane Schuur's Count Basie disk. I was brassy enough to walk up to the Clemson University Jazz Bands director in 1987 and say, "You need a vocalist with your band!" He looked at me and said "Well...who'd you have in mind?" I said "me!" He asked me what I sang and I said, "Any jazz singer you want me to!" He asked me if I could sing a song called "Travelin' Light," by Diane Schuur. I had no idea who she was at the time but I said, "You give me a recording of the song and I'll have it ready tomorrow." He did, and when I heard her voice singing that song, I had an epiphany. I had always known I wanted to be a singer, but that day set the course of my life towards jazz.
Oh...I did become the vocalist for the jazz band after I auditioned the next day, and the following concert was the first time I performed as a jazz singer.
The first Jazz album I bought was:
Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra (1987). The second, third, and fourth albums I bought were Deedles, her first album from 1985, Schuur Thing, also from 1985,and Timeless, her 1986 release. I can now say that I own every CD she has ever released (that I know of). I'm kind of OCD like that; I tend to do that with an artist I really like. Sad thing is some of the great ones have more than fifty CDs available. You could bankrupt yourself trying to collect them all; granted, you'd enjoy yourself right to the poorhouse...
What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Passion. I love all types of jazz and blues, but lately so much of it is so cool, it loses its fire. Right now, I am trying to walk to fine line between over-singing and expressing myself with passion. I've just had to learn to do what my heart and ears tell me is right. I hate the way so may people who are uneducated about jazz as a genre, classify it as some sort of audio wallpaper, to be played softly in the background for a dinner party. I'm not background music; I'm something you can't ignore, and interesting to listen to even when I'm singing softly.
Did you know...
I'm a gourmet cook and an artist too. I also have a three pound furry thing (also known as a Yorkie) that believes she is my child. Sad thing is...she has almost convinced me that I actually did give birth to her!
CDs you are listening to now:
Della Reese, On Strings of Blue (ABC Records, 1967);
Queen Latifah, Trav'lin Light (Verve, 2007);
Michael Bublé, Call Me Irresponsible (143/reprise, 2007;
Adele, "Fool that I Am," the B-side of her Hometown Glory single, downloaded from iTunes;
Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women: Havin' the Last Word (Alligator, 2009).
Desert Island picks: I'd also have to have some instrumentals like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock or.....damn! How the heck do you pick five? How would you describe the state of jazz today? What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing? What is in the near future? Ultimately I want an album that is pared-down, overall elegant (jazz), but at times impudent (blues). I'm trying to do something that reflects my personality. My goal is to get into the jazz and blues festivals. By Day: If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
Diane Schuur, In Tribute (GRP, 1992);
Phyllis Hyman, Legacy of Phyllis Hyman (Arista, 1996);
The Jazz Singers 1919-1994 box set (Smithsonian, 1998) (yeah, I know it's cheating!); Incognito, Remixed/101 Degrees and Rising (Mercury, 1997);
Exposure to younger audiences, incorporation of new elements to keep it fresh, dedication and passion to jazz as an art form by the people who play it.
I'm going into the studio with two of my favorite pianists to do some stripped-down jazz standards. I am also looking for a lead jazz guitarist and upright bassist to collaborate with on a few "strings only" recordings. And I also have penned two new songs, one a blues and the other one jazz. They're kind of naughty so I'm keeping them on the DL from my Mom (she's straight-laced, if ya know what I mean).
Housewife (ain't life grand?).
Shop for jazz:
I'd also have to have some instrumentals like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock or.....damn! How the heck do you pick five?
How would you describe the state of jazz today?
What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
What is in the near future?
Ultimately I want an album that is pared-down, overall elegant (jazz), but at times impudent (blues). I'm trying to do something that reflects my personality. My goal is to get into the jazz and blues festivals.
If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a: