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St. Paul, Minn. — Greg Paulus is the son of esteemed Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus. However, he says he found jazz pretty much on his own.
Jazzy motifs began to seep into Paulus's head when he listened to underground hip hop in elementary school. He joined his school jazz band in 7th grade, and within a year was listening exclusively to big band and bee bop music from the '40s and '50s. Like all jazz artists, Paulus says he became addicted to the exhilaration of never having to repeat yourself musically.
"I mean improvising, you can play a song 15,000 times, and every time you play it, it's gonna be completely different," he says. "I mean, the same is true for classical music. But it's more about the interpretation of what the composer has written. Whereas in jazz, it's like you can take it in a million directions and half the time not even recognize it's the same tune you just played."
As a young teenager, Paulus became a regular at the Artists' Quarter in St. Paul. At first, his mom served as chaperone, then just began dropping him off after owner Kenny Horst agreed to keep an eye on him.
"He'd put on his little sport coat and come down and always come back and introduce himself to the bands: 'I'm Greg Paulus, trumpet player," Horst says. "I accused his mother of using me for a babysitter. I would walk him up to the top of the stairs at the designated time which was usually about midnight and see that he got in his mom's car."
This went on for a number of years. When Horst first heard a Paulus audition tape, he told him 'That's good. Now go back and make another one.'
About a year ago, Horst happened to see the teenager performing at an open stage in New York, where Paulus was going to school. Horst offered Paulus a gig at the Artists' Quarter the next time he came home, playing with the house band. When Paulus performs this weekend, the house band, with Horst on drums, will again be backing him up.
When asked about his composer father Stephen Paulus, Greg Paulus says he can't help but be influenced by his music. He believes he inherited his father's knack for creating dissonant sounds which are pleasant to the ear.
"His music is not atonal or really out, but he uses a lot of really interesting harmonies and dissonances that I've kind of picked up on," he says. "You have to kind of revamp your mind into thinking like 'Oh well, that's not a right note but it sounds interesting.' And that's been fairly easy for me to do I think mostly because of the way he writes and I've heard so much of his music and it doesn't sound wrong, I guess is what it boils down to."
Sometimes you go to a club to play, and you're 19, and your entire audience is between 50 and 90, and it's like 'Wow! This is strange, I'm not playing for any of my peers whatsoever.'
Greg Paulus hasn't become a regular presence in the Twin Cities jazz scene because he spends three quarters of the year in New York. During the day he attends classes at the Manhattan School of Music. At night he scours the city for open stages and jam sessions, be they jazz, hip hop, funk, or even jam band music. Paulus says his artistic voice is starting to take shape, mainly because he's learning how to follow his own instincts.
"Really you just have to train yourself to always play exactly what you're hearing in your head," he says. "I mean that's tough, it takes awhile. Everybody listens to different things, so every person is going to have an original voice. If your head is translating perfectly to your instrument then it works out pretty easy and you can develop a whole lot faster, I think."
The Artists' Quarter's Kenny Horst says Paulus still has some developing to do, but thinks he's miles ahead of most musicians his age. He says Paulus has the talent, but more importantly the temperament to make music his job.
"A lot of kids just give up because it's hard," Horst says. "Depends how hard you want do it and I see him as wanting to do it pretty badly. So, Greg will play his whole life, I mean I know that one way or another. You know, he's got it in him. You can't get it out. It's incurable."
Unfortunately, Paulus is probably not long for the Twin Cities. He says New York offers far too much artistic stimulation and too many opportunities to stay away.
"What the best musicians are doing out there right now is absolutely unbelieveable, and I've never heard anything like it any place else," he says.
While Paulus is immersed in jazz right now, he refuses to be tied to any genre. He thinks of himself as a musician, not a jazz musician. He says in the future, you may find him playing in a jazz band, or touring with a hip hop group, and hopefully, releasing some recordings. Paulus says his long term goal is to play with the best musicians he can find, for the rest of his life.