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Paul Ahlstrand

When the hectic summer touring season cools down, things begin to heat up in a cozy Cambridge, MA music venue. On Sunday nights you may find saxophonist Paul Ahlstrand at Toad in Porter Square, leading his stellar quartet through jazz as rich and satisfying as the dark brews on tap at this favorite neighborhood pub. The Sunday night shows have been a welcome wintertime hang for the past few seasons, and now Paul Ahlstrand and quartet have recorded a brilliant new CD titled, appropriately enough, “The Sunday Hang” (Gibraltar Records).

“The Sunday Hang” exhibits a sweet, soulful elegance that evokes at once serious jazz talent and also a casual cool of a very seasoned all-star band. Aside from Ahlstrand on tenor, the band features drummer Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention, Paul McCartney, Elton John), bassist Jesse Williams (Duke Robillard) and pianist Ryan Claunch (Hal Sherfey Band, ex-Groovasaurus). Six of the eight tracks recorded by Nate Dube at Rear Window Studios are Ahlstrand originals and indeed "The Sunday Hang" makes clear that Paul Ahlstrand is a major force as composer, arranger, band leader, and producer.

When Toad was seeking the perfect fit to fill wintry Sunday nights, approaching the ubiquitous Paul Ahlstrand seemed ideal. His long and diverse career had well established Ahlstrand as one of the Boston area’s best session players and sidemen. His distinctive tenor melodies, from rollicking to subdued, from traditional to original, have graced the recordings of amazing artists too numerous to count.

So familiar is the sight of the lanky, flat-topped Ahlstrand armed with his ever- present sax, churning out dazzling solos, that his fans may be surprised to learn that his first instrument was piano. One fateful day during elementary school, a music store representative showed up for, as Ahlstrand muses, “the annual wind instrument petting zoo.” Young Paul fell in love with the saxophone. The instrument looked and sounded “cooler than the oboe or euphonium,” and, he wryly adds, “the demonstrator was far less geeky.” By high school Ahlstrand was performing in two professional bands.

Majoring in Music Education seemed a natural choice, and Ahlstrand obtained his degree from Syracuse University. At Syracuse he learned from artists such as Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Toshiko Akioshi and Lew Tabakin, Nick Brignola and Phil Woods. It was Woods who gave him a most valuable piece of practical working-musician advice: “Shut up, drink a beer, play a song.” The city of Syracuse teemed with countless gritty venues where he plied his craft on a nightly basis. After graduation, he earned his road stripes touring the country for a year with a Top-40 band before returning to Boston to freelance and teach privately.

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Primary Instrument

Saxophone, tenor

Willing to teach

Advanced only


Currently teaching jazz improvisation at Tufts University. Also taking private students os all levels and in all styles.

Album Discography


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