2014-03-05 / Features


Paul Joseph

Composer/pianist Paul Joseph has performed extensively throughout the Long Island/New York City region, most recently as leader of his jazz quartet. The Paul Joseph Quartet (PJQ) is known for its unique jazz arrangements of classical music, as exemplified in their performance with New York’s Nova Philharmonic of “Mozart Meets Jazz”.

As well as their classical jazz programming, they have performed extensively the past several years, doing a variety of American songbook composer-themed programs featuring Gershwin, Rodgers, Porter, Kern, Ellington and even holiday jazz.

As a symphonic composer, Joseph has taken enthusiastic audiences on an inspiring musical journey through the passionate world of his classically oriented compositions in orchestral, choral and ballet performances, as well as alloriginal solo piano concerts. His compositions have been performed by many orchestras locally as well as nationally, including the Queens Symphony Orchestra, led by world renowned maestro Arthur Fagen, who states, “Paul Joseph is certainly a composer whose music deserves to be heard. His music has a beautiful, deep-felt lyricism which has an immediate emotional impact upon its listeners.” Joseph’s full-scale ballet, “The King of the Mask”, has been choreographed and performed by Ballet Long Island and Dance Visions, with whom he performed his compositions at Tilles Center. His patriotic song, “The Land of the Human Dream” was performed Independence Day, 2003, by the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony on the steps of the North Dakota capitol building and his “Cry of a Butterfly” (arranged for guitar) has been recorded by one of Italy’s finest virtuosos, the national competition winner, Fabrizio Ferraro.

Composer/pianist Paul Joseph. Composer/pianist Paul Joseph. Joseph has enjoyed extensive media coverage, including radio airplay (including WNYC), television interviews (including NBC’s Bismarck affiliate), and numerous feature articles. For more information, visit www.pauljoseph.com.

The Paul Joseph Quartet will be performing St. Patrick’s Day Jazz at Mary’s Nativity Church in Flushing on March 23. The Paul Joseph Quartet will be performing St. Patrick’s Day Jazz at Mary’s Nativity Church in Flushing on March 23. Barsamian: On March 23, the Saint Patrick’s Day Jazz with The Paul Joseph Quartet will be performing at Mary’s Nativity Church in Flushing, why Saint Patrick’s Day Jazz?

Joseph: On the surface, there doesn’t seem to be much commonality between an Irish holiday and an African American art form. But when the Irish first arrived in the U.S. in the 19th century, they were victims of negative stereotyping that was very similar to that of enslaved African Americans. In addition to these two cultures sharing an underlying form of cultural oppression, there’s also some underlying musical similarities as exemplified most strikingly by the Irish jig’s relation to the African polyrhythms.

NB: How did you select the songs that will be performed at this event?

PJ: We picked ones that are familiar to American audiences so they can appreciate our unique interpretations, but also ones that are steeped in the Irish tradition to facilitate a deep musical expression of its cultural roots.

NB: You have received much critical acclaim during your musical career. What event other than The Saint Patrick’s Day performance stands out in your memory?

PJ: Out of the many highlights, I’d have to say that our 2012 Mozart Meets Jazz performance with the Nova Philharmonic in the Lincoln Center area comes to mind first. This is because it was the first time that I brought my classical and jazz styles together in one event. As a jazz improviser and a classical symphonic composer, I’ve always kept these two forms of creativity separate, so as not to dilute either of them. But when I was asked to do a Mozart jazz arrangement with orchestra, I had to figure out a way to retain the integrity of the original composition, but put it in a form where the jazz musicians would be able to express themselves. And this led to our Classical Jazz program, which bears some similarity to our St. Patrick’s Day program in that it is a deviation (and even progression) from our previous programs that are focused on American songbook composers such as Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers, Kern, etc.

NB: How can our readers who will not be able to attend the concert have access to your performances and musical library?

PJ: Go to www.pauljoseph.com. You can see our upcoming schedule, watch video, listen to audio, and do other fun stuff. I visit the site all the time myself – not just for my own amusement, but also to make sure I know how to find my way our next concert!

NB: Who is your favorite jazz musician?

PJ: That sounds like a simple and interesting question, but it can be a multidimensional one when we explore the underlying layers.

The average person’s life is like the jazz musician’s music. It is constantly in a state of creation through spontaneous expression. As a matter of fact, we all try to live our lives like classical composers. We work out our plans on paper, but how often does life go as we plan it? Ultimately we end up improvising, like the jazz musician.

Your own personal expression is unique and that expression is the tool used to discover who you really are, and all the beauty that’s within you. And the more energy you put into being what you really are (and not what others or even your self thinks you should be), the happier you’ll be. This is the way to experience the joy of creation, as only you can.

So in light of all this, we can finally answer your question. (Maybe the suspense was killing you, or maybe you even forgot what the question was!) The answer would be myself, and I hope other artists would also feel that way (I mean, about themselves!). So why shouldn’t every artist be their own favorite artist? And the greatest work of art is Life itself. So why shouldn’t every person be their own favorite person?

NB: Who is your favorite pianist and why?

PJ: You probably thought I was trying to evade the previous question, so I see you’re approaching it from a slightly different angle! But the answer is still the same, although you just stimulated some additional thoughts that I’ll add.

I don’t really listen to pianists, and I also don’t listen to much jazz these days. That’s because I don’t want to imitate individuals or styles, whether consciously or unconsciously. I listen mostly to classical music and incorporate its elements – such as clarity, dynamics, phrasing, articulation, etc. – within our own brand of jazz, which I refer to as “Chamber Jazz” because of its resemblance to classical chamber music. This provides a structure within which we can explore our own individual expression and even more importantly, the group’s collective expression.

NB: In this day and age of iTunes and other music streaming databases, is there a commercial market for this type of music?

PJ: There’s always a market for music that touches the individual regardless of the genre. Music is food for the soul and there are more and more people who are looking for more nutritious food.

NB: Tell us a little bit about the rest of your quartet. Share with us their importance to your group.

PJ: I think they are the best group in the world, and a joy to play with. I say that because I’ve never experienced a group that plays with the level of interplay that this one does. Most jazz performances end up being a litany of solos, one after another. Even in the best groups, the emphasis tends to be on great soloists. In the PJQ, the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.

Our rhythm section of drummer Mike Corn and bassist Edgar Mills, provides a great rhythmic feel as they play with an extreme clarity in their steadiness of pulse and articulation of ideas. They’re both excellent producers, so they use their listening skills to incorporate only the most appropriate musical ideas. On top of that solid underpinning, we have our violinist Susan Mitchell who adds melodic counter-interest to the piano with her mesmerizing creativity and brings in, among other things, an overt classical element.

I wouldn’t characterize any of the members as “jazz cats” as they have a wide diversity of musical experience. This helps create the PJQ’s unique and holistic brand of chamber jazz. If you want to find out more about them you can read their bios on www.pauljoseph.com.

NB: How did you come about combining African-sourced jazz music with Irish culture?

PJ: As with our Classical Jazz program, I wouldn’t have done it unless I was asked to. And also like that Classical program, I was hesitant at first because I didn’t see a way to fuse the two together effectively. But I realized it would be feasible when I started digging in and learning about the Irish musical culture. I found so many great traditional pieces that it even became hard to narrow down the song selections!

NB: How did you get started with the Saint Patrick’s Day performance and how long have you and your quartet been a part of it?

PJ: We successfully premiered this last year on St. Patrick’s Day itself, and so this year there have been many requests for it. In addition to our Flushing performance, we’ll be doing several in Long Island as well. If you want to find out more about them you can go to (did I forget to mention?) www.pauljoseph.com.

And finally, I thank you so much for all your thought provoking questions. I had a great time, and I hope your readers get as much joy out of it as I did.

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