A lifetime veteran of big-time gigs
By Melanie Maxwell
Michael Paulo is as energetic offstage as he is when performing for an audience. He has to be. He's promoting a new CD, which he recorded with the Magenta Orchestra in Jakarta, Indonesia. He just finished Smooth Jazz Nights, a series he's been co-producing in Hawaii since 2009, and is presenting the final three shows of the Grooves in the Grove Fall Jazz Series at the La Quinta Resort & Club near Palm Springs, California. And this month, he's also presenting the first annual Pacific Rim Jazz Festival at the JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa in Oahu, Hawaii.
In between all of this, Paulo tours with his own band and performs with other artists such as Peter White and Jeff Lorber. We met up with him after a show he did with the Jeff Lorber Fusion at last month's Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival. It was an unexpected treat to see Paulo on stage with Lorber, Jimmy Haslip and Will Kennedy, seriously concentrating on the complicated compositions that this type of jazz demands. But he did it well.
"You know me, I just want to get up there and play melody and soul from the heart, and dance on the tables," said Paulo. "But you can't do that when you've got to play 10,000 notes and are reading his (Lorber's) music.
"Jeff calls me every once in a while to fill in for Eric (Marienthal) when he gets stuck. And it's an honor to play his music with these musicians. Jeff has been around for a long time, so for him to want you to play with him is respect enough, right? He's played with all the greats, and his music is very demanding. He kicks my butt every time I'm with him. People don't know, but I used to play like that all the time. That's how I cut my teeth as a young jazz musician, all the straight-ahead jazz and fusion stuff. When I first moved to L.A. that's all I played. It's very complicated, very demanding," said Paulo, who, as a 19-year-old student at the University of Hawaii, left his studies to go out on the road with the band, Kalapana.
"When I joined them in 1975, they were the biggest pop group that ever came out of Hawaii. They were kind of like the Hawaiian version of the Beatles," said Paulo, who was born in Pearl City on the island of Oahu. "When they were at their peak, they were selling out major concert venues with 10,000 people. That's how I got my experience on tour, in the studio and playing in front of an audience. Up until that point I was just playing in Top 40 bands in Waikiki."
That association led to a record deal as an artist. And in 1978, Paulo released his first solo album, Tats in the Rainbow, on Japan-based Trio Records, which featured Herbie Hancock. "Tats" comes from Paulo's Japanese middle name, Tatsuo. His mother (Akemi Paulo) is Japanese, and his father (Rene Paulo) is Filipino.
"Our sound engineer/producer, Brian Bell, was Herbie Hancock's main keyboard tech and engineer at the time. He was a genius guy, and I hired him to produce my first record. He called Herbie and said, 'Hey, man, I've got this young saxophone guy doing a record. Can you help me out and play on it?' So I was 19 years old playing with Herbie Hancock and releasing my first record," said Paulo, whose commercial introduction to jazz was as Al Jarreau's sax player from 1983 to 1995.
The following year, Paulo left Kalapana. He started his own jazz group, Watercolors, in 1980, with his sights set on moving with them to Los Angeles. The band––which included Kimo Cornwell, now the long-time keyboardist with Hiroshima––broke up a year later. So Paulo packed up and moved to Los Angeles by himself.
"I landed a gig playing with the members of Rufus: Bobby Watson, Andre Fischer and this guy Tony Maiden. We played around L.A. and used to play at Josephina's every other week. Josephina's was a popular jazz club in the San Fernando Valley at the time. Everybody went to hang out there, including Al Jarreau, and he saw me dancing on the tables back then. In 1983, Al decided to take a horn section on tour, and my name kept popping up with Jerry Hey. So they hired me," said Paulo.
That gig lasted 12 years, until the economy took a dive and Jarreau had to trim his band. The horn section was the first to go. But through that association, Paulo made a lot of contacts in the music business. He bounced back with a record deal on MCA/Universal in 1988, which sprang from playing on Vonda Shepard's first Warner Bros. release. "Robert Craft was the producer. I invited him to some big jazz competition I was playing in at the Hollywood Palace, and he invited all these guys from Sony Records and Universal. I came in second, but I got a record deal out of it. When GRP started cutting people from their roster, they cut me. When that happened, I had an opportunity to start a label with a friend of mine. He put up the money, and we started Noteworthy Records in 1994. I put out Save the Children, then Heart & Soul, which did pretty well. And then I put out Brian Simpson's first record, Closer Still. And we did a record with Michael White and a Seawind compilation," said Paulo.
During this time, Paulo met his future wife, Terri. "I was living in a big house full of musicians in Hancock Park. One of my roommates was from Seattle, and Terri actually came down on vacation to visit him. When she knocked on the front door, I answered it, and it was love at first sight. I opened the door and went 'Haaayyyy.' And she looked at me and went 'Haaaayyyy.' And you know what? Three months later we were married. That quick. We've been married 25 years, and we're still in love."
The couple has two daughters, Melissa, 25, and Natasha, 19. Melissa, who lives on her own, is an actor and model who has appeared in several commercials and had parts in movies and TV shows. Natasha is attending junior college and lives with her parents at the home they built two years ago in Murrieta, near Temecula, California.
Terri is also Michael's partner in business. "It's been great. We've been working on the Palm Springs series (Grooves in the Grove at the La Quinta Resort & Club) together; we've had three shows there. The first one was with Rick Braun and me; then Marc Antoine and Paul Brown; then Hiroshima on Friday night. We finally got over the top as far as crowds, we basically sold out," said Paulo.
When Jim Pedone was hired as the new director of sales and marketing for the La Quinta Resort & Club, he called Paulo to help him produce it. "Jim used to be at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel in Santa Monica, where he did a jazz series for the WAVE maybe nine or 10 years ago. I played there with my band and got to meet him, and we never lost contact. He went to Hawaii to manage the Halekulani Hotel, which is one of the most exclusive in Waikiki. So every time I'd get into town, I'd give him a call. When I did Smooth Jazz Nights, he'd come out to see the show. And I was also going back and performing with the Symphony Pops series. The Halekulani Hotel was a big sponsor, and I'd stay there. And I stayed in touch with him. When he left the Halekulani earlier this year and landed in La Quinta, he called me and said, 'Let's do some jazz concerts.' And I basically assembled the whole thing from the concept to helping them with ticketing through Tix.com, and the whole production."
The weekly series, which began Oct. 1 and runs through Nov. 26, will take a night off on Nov. 12 so that Paulo can fly to Hawaii and prepare for the first annual Pacific Rim Jazz Festival he's promoting with Honolulu-based radio station Smooth Jazz 101.1 KORL-FM on Nov. 13.
Paulo, who was the musical director for Dolphin Days at the Hilton Waikoloa Village during its 10-year run, was looking to recreate a similar festival after the hotel was sold and the new management decided not to continue with Dolphin Days and the Great Waikoloa Food, Wine & Music Festival, which raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Paulo began searching for a venue to start a new jazz festival in Hawaii. He found that venue at the JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort & Spa on the island of Oahu.
"I was in negotiations with the JW Marriott Ihilani hotel, but the timing never worked out. The catalyst was the new catering manager there, Raymond Donato. He used to go to Dolphin Days all the time. He was hired by the Ihilani this year. When that happened, he immediately called me and said, 'Let's do something like Dolphin Days.' In the meantime, he was contacted by the Kapolei Foundation to do a benefit there, too. So he put all of us together," said Paulo.**
**The complete Michael Paulo story can be found in the November issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today.
For more information on Michael Paulo, visit www.michaelpaulo.com.
Pacific Rim Jazz Festival
JW Marriott Ihilani Ko Olina Resort Resort & Spa
92-1001 Olani St.
Ko Olina, Oahu, Hawaii
Grooves in the Grove Fall Concert Series
with Patrice Rushen, Paul Jackson Jr. and Harvey Mason
La Quinta Resort & Club
49-499 Eisenhower Dr.
La Quinta, California
1978 Tats in the Rainbow (Trio Records, Japan)
1989 One Passion (MCA Records)
1991 FuseBox (MCA/GRP)
1994 Save the Children (Noteworthy Records)
1996 My Heart and Soul (Noteworthy records)
2001 Midnight Passion (Michael Paulo)
2003 Sax for Christmas (Apaulo Records)
2006 Beautiful (Apaulo Records)
2010 Michael Paulo with the Magenta Orchestra (Apaulo Music Productions)