Sax talk with Michael PauloBy Ruben V. Nepales
Philippine Daily Inquirer
LOS ANGELES – Al Jarreau first spotted Filipino-American saxophonist Michael Paulo jumping on chairs while playing funky numbers in a club. Jarreau remembered Michael’s energetic act when the acclaimed jazz singer later hired Michael to join his touring band.
Michael is such a kinetic performer that he once ripped his pants onstage. “I won’t mention where, but that was it,” he said in our e-mail interview. “Just once. I’ve been pretty careful since then.”
These days, the Hawaii-born Michael still moves a lot when he performs. At the recent “Jazzmopolitan 2012” concert in LA, he wowed the crowd with his excellent playing, showmanship and charismatic stage presence.
The sax player—who has played with virtually the “who’s who” in jazz’s various permutations—has his own string of albums.
Michael is also the event producer of Hawaii’s Pacific Rim Jazz Festival, which is now on its third year. On Nov. 3, he is presenting an array of artists, from Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons, Deniece Williams to Rick Braun, to a day-long festival at the Hawaii Convention Center which raises scholarships for deserving students in the island US state.
Said Michael: “Lani Misalucha is also singing. She is a great vocalist and performer. My father (pianist Rene Paulo Sr.) will perform, too!”
More information about the festival, which offers travel packages, is available on www.pacificrimjazzfestival.com.
Below are excerpts from our interview:
Your exuberance and that smile while you’re performing onstage always move the audience. Where does that inner joy come from?
I smile because I truly enjoy where I am at the moment. I enjoy and love playing music. That is why I pursued it in the first place. Never for fame, money or success. For me, performing is my peace and escape from all the business and work that go with promoting concerts.
What were the highlights when you went on tour with Al Jarreau? Were you with him at his recent concert in the Philippines?
When I first toured with Jarreau, the first place we went to was Europe. I had never been (there) before and what a way to go. First class all the way with a jazz superstar! We traveled all over Spain, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland and England. Man, was I lucky.
The largest number of people I’ve ever performed for was over 300,000 at “Rock in Rio.” That was with Al. It was a huge festival that lasted two weeks with great artists from rock, R&B, jazz, heavy metal, etc. The stage was so huge that they flew us in on a helicopter. I remember George Benson, Rod Stewart and Whitesnake as some of the artists who were there.
I finally made it to Manila with Al after having been there with James Ingram twice. I also performed with Pauline Wilson in Manila back in the 1990s. I am returning in October with David Benoit.
As a musician, you’ve performed with a virtual who’s who of artists. Who among these talents stand out in your memory to this day?
Al Jarreau, of course. And also James Ingram, Bobby Caldwell, Patti Austin, Deniece Williams, David Sanborn, Greg Adams and Harvey Mason. I grew up listening to these artists, so to be able to play with them later in life was incredible. I also got to meet Chick Corea and Grover Washington, and play with Miles Davis.
Sax music is very sexy. What was the naughtiest experience you’ve had while you performing onstage?
I guess the time when I was playing while two ladies took their tops off and started flashing in front of everybody. I must admit that was fun, but that’s as far as it went. When I first moved to LA, I played with a rock band in a strip club. It was pretty wild blowing the sax with a naked lady dancing right next to you onstage. I never ever thought I would be doing that.
You’ve been known for dancing on tables while performing. You also stand on audience seats or kneel.
Yes, a lot of people know me for climbing up on things. When I was a little boy, I climbed on things—trees, rooftops, etc. I guess I couldn’t stop even with a sax in my mouth. When I moved to LA and started playing with the Bobby Watson band (he was the original bassist for Rufus and Chaka Khan), the music was so funky that I started jumping on chairs. That’s how Al Jarreau saw me the first time—playing at Josefina’s jazz club in San Fernando Valley. He used to hang out there all the time.
I get so caught up in the emotion of playing that it’s almost a spiritual thing when I get down on my knees…It just happens.
What are the more unusual or interesting experiences you’ve had with fans after a show?
I really can’t remember anything unusual that stood out after a show. If I did, it probably can’t be printed.
Many folks love the song “Follow Your Road.” What’s it like playing the sax on Pauline Wilson’s version of the song as a solo artist?
It was definitely an honor to be asked to play on Pauline’s record. I respect and admire her, and to be more than friends with her today is a beautiful thing. I recorded it at Yutaka’s studio in Alhambra, California. He produced the record. I love his music, too!
At the recent “Jazzmopolitan” concert, you performed “Follow Your Road” with Louie Reyes and “Footprints” with Mon David. Can you talk about performing with these two artists on those numbers?
Mon is off the hook as a vocalist! I love playing straight jazz, too, and that was a fun jam. As for Louie, her excitement about singing that song matched her performance. I couldn’t help but get caught up in it, too. It was also nice to have my band there. They are great musicians and good friends, too. We have played many years together.
What was your most memorable experience as a performer in the Philippines?
Being there with James Ingram on Valentine’s Day weekend. I think we sold out four nights. That was incredible. I never realized what a big holiday Valentine’s is in the Philippines. I guess the Filipino people are so full of love that they like to celebrate it big time.
Which show or performance with your father, Rene, will you always cherish the most?
As I watched my father play onstage at the First Annual Pacific Rim Jazz Festival, I cried. My excitement as a producer about the event’s success, coupled with my being able to showcase my father in front of a sold-out audience, made it a memorable experience. Another moment was when I recorded live with him in his living room as he played his glass piano for my “Sax for Christmas” CD. It was 3 a.m. and it was just the two of us playing together.
Can you talk about one of your projects—performing your compositions with a 40-piece orchestra with David Benoit as conductor and arranger?
That recent project with David Benoit and the Magenta Orchestra was a new highlight in my career. It was indeed a rare opportunity to record with a full orchestra, thanks to my friend Peter Gontha, chair of the Java Jazz Festival. He made it all possible. David and I have a long history together. I am so fortunate to work with one of the most talented composers, arrangers and jazz pianists in the world.
You are also the event producer of the Third Annual Pacific Rim Jazz Festival.
I got involved because I asked myself to do it. I started producing the event in conjunction with The Kapolei Foundation which helps out students with scholarship programs. The first year was a complete sold out. I would like to see more people from the mainland and around the world come out and enjoy the festival. It’s a full day of international stars, local artists, some of Hawaii’s finest chefs, wine tasting and charitable activities.
Who are the artists performing in the festival this year?
We have the legendary group Russ Freeman and the Rippingtons, four-time Grammy Award winning vocalist Deniece Williams, the No. 1 smooth jazz trumpeter Rick Braun, pianist Brian Simpson, Japanese sax sensation Kaori Kobayashi, Filipino singing great Lani Misalucha, local trumpet man DeShannon Higa, dynamic guitarist Randy Jackson, my father Rene Sr. and more. All in one day!
What better place to enjoy a great festival than in Hawaii, one of the most beautiful spots in the world? Think of a weekend on the beach and fun at a nice festival in paradise. It’s a lot of work. But it’s a great feeling when it all comes together and I see the people smile, and also knowing we are helping young students get an education.
Who are the sax players that you admire?
Of course, David Sanborn, who has always been one of my mentors. I love Kirk Whalum, up and coming Darren Rahn and Eric Darius.
What’s next for you?
I’m working on a new record. I really hope to get it out by next year. I spend so much time promoting others that I forget to promote my own music. And the time to do that is way overdue.
E-mail the columnist at rvnepales_5585@yahoo.
com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/
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