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Paul Jost: The First Thing is Heart

Chris M. Slawecki By

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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 Bennett knocking 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 & Simpson for 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.

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