|Born in 1966, Paul grew up near Utica, New York. The details of his earliest involvements with music are sketchy at best. “I can’t really remember how I got my first guitar or why I wanted it.” But he showed some aptitude, and soon the cheap nylon string acoustic was replaced with a blonde Strat copy and a tuck-and roll Kustom amp “as big as a refrigerator.” So armed, he began taking lessons with local legend Carmen Caramanica.
“Carmen was very busy at the time, fitting in students between his road gigs with high-profile acts like Lou Rawls and Tony Orlando. I feel lucky he made space in his schedule for someone as inexperienced as me. Actually, the fact that I was so inexperienced really worked in my favor. I had no idea what a great player he really was and sort of adopted a ‘if that guy can do it, why not me?’ attitude.”
Paul’s involvement with Caramanica offered him exposure to other players on the surprisingly vibrant local scene. “I got to hear J.R Monterose, Sal Amico, Nick Brignola, and of course, Rick Montalbano and Jim Johns. In those days, the legal age was eighteen, and a sixteen year old could walk into a jazz club, not cause trouble, and probably not get kicked out.”
The guitar remained a hobby for the rest of Paul’s high school tenure, mostly due to the lack of like-minded peers. “I was no where near good enough to sit in with the real guys, and I couldn’t find anyone my age interested in hacking through Autumn Leaves or Take Five.” That changed upon his enrollment in Hamilton College. An invitation to join the campus jam-band PIE put Paul in front of packed houses every weekend, and the performing experience gave him the confidence to audition for the college’s Jazz Ensemble.
“I owe a lot to Hamilton. Everybody was very supportive of what I was trying to do. Even though I didn’t go there intending to study music, and there was no jazz program to speak of, the liberal arts based curriculum allowed for the development of some independent studies that really helped me get things together.” One such course involved travel to Philadelphia for lessons with Pat Martino.
After graduating Hamilton with departmental honors in mathematics, Paul faced several choices of career path. He accepted a full scholarship for graduate work in computer science at the University of Denver, but continued playing gigs and hanging out with local guitarists Dale Bruning and Neil Haverstick. “I knew about two weeks into the program that it was the wrong place for me. I was rushing through the coursework as fast as possible and spending the rest of the night transcribing another chorus of West Coast Blues.”
Fully committed to jazz, Paul dropped out and relocated to Chicago, establishing himself on the city’s lively jazz scene. “In the late 80’s and early 90’s, there were a lot of great musician hangs in Chicago: The Get Me High, The Bop Shop, Déjà vu, Chic Rick’s. I played at a place called Heart of the City with Charles Earland.”
Around this time came another major event in Paul’s musical development. “I had studied with Pat Martino some in Philly, and was going to catch up with him at a week-long seminar in Connecticut. Pat had to cancel last minute over health issues, and Mick Goodrick subbed for him.” Mick is the Boston-based guitar guru who counts among his former students Pat Metheney, John Scofield and Bill Frisell. “Mick exposed me to a ton of new stuff, which was great. But probably more important than the new stuff was the fact that some of his approach to organizing music on the guitar, I had already begun to stumble across on my own. I learned to trust my instincts and approach things in my own way.”
After a few years in Chicago, Paul moved to New York to attend the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, placing into the Master’s program despite having completed relatively little undergraduate coursework in music. While attending, Paul performed in composer Harold Danko’s National Endowment for the Arts -funded pianoless quintet, and was chosen, along with Jason Moran and Stefon Harris, to represent the school in their Jazz Outreach program. He could be found performing at venues like the 55 Bar, Augie’s and the Zinc Bar, and spent a week as accompanist to Clark Terry for his artist-in-residency at Hamilton College.
Upon graduation, Paul continued his busy performing schedule, playing around New York City as well as returning to the Utica area for gigs, concerts and clinics at Hamilton College. During this time, informal jams with friends turned into the band Ant Ester. Ant Ester attracted some high profile fans, among them the Allman Brother’s Warren Haynes and Blues Traveler’s John Popper, but eventually fell apart. “We had all the clichéd rock-and-roll conflicts. I don’t miss some of the headaches, but I’m still proud of the music we made.”
Hamilton College had been steadily building a jazz program, and upon leaving Ant Ester, Paul joined the faculty as lecturer in jazz guitar. In addition to a full load of private students, Paul served as artistic director for the Jazz in the Valley Festival and Jazz in the Pub, supervising the booking and production of featured artists Chucho Valdez and the John Abercrombie Trio, among many others.
Seeking out further performing opportunities, 2003 found Paul returning to Chicago. An in-demand sideman, he also led a trio with organist Steve Million and drummer Tim Davis, and a duo with bassist Kelly Sill. The latter led to his second Blujazz release, Peace, where Paul and Kelly explored the music of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Steve Swallow and Chick Corea. In addition to his Chicago performances, Paul began to appear regularly at Manhattan’s renowned 55 Bar and was featured in a in-depth interview and live-on-the-radio concert on Houston’s KUHF.
In 2008, a family health crisis pulled him away from music, he spent most of the next several years caring for his parents. Recently, he’s returned to performing, with successful appearances at the Inntone Jazzfest Austria and Brooklyn’s Red Hook Jazz Festival, as well as club gigs at Chicago’s Jazz Showcase, Nighttown, Cleveland, and Chris’ Jazz Cafe in Philadelphia. The 2012 release of Turn Of Phrase(Blujazz), featuring George Mraz and Lewis Nash, marks the next chapter in his story.