Paula Harris
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Paula Harris

Daly City, California, United States | SELF

Daly City, California, United States | SELF
Band Blues Jazz




"Paula Harris: Sophisticated Blues, powerful vocalist merging jazz, blues and soul into a fine stew."

Paula Harris: Sophisticated Blues, powerful vocalist merging jazz, blues and soul into a fine stew. - blues411

""Paula Harris captures the Blues with flawless phrasing and a freedom of expression that ignites the audience. Her unique vocal quality pushes the boundaries and seeing her perform will make you a believer!"

This was said regarding Paula And Blu Gruv's recent win of the Golden Gate Blues Society's IBC finals and Biscuits and Blues - Dorothy Hill- President Golden Gate Blues Society

"“Paula is one of the finest modern blues voices around today and her interpretation is impeccable”"

“Paula is one of the finest modern blues voices around today and her interpretation is impeccable” - ~William Bell, One of the principal architects of the Stax/Volt Sound, W.C. Handy Heritage Award rec

"Take Five With Paula Harris"

Meet Paula Harris:
A professional vocalist for 20 years, Paula has worked with several Symphony Orchestras including the Long Bay Symphony (South Carolina)and the Atlanta Pops Symphony (Georgia). She fronted one of the most well-known orchestras in Georgia, with the Carere Orchestras for a decade. Paula has won five national and international singing competitions. For the last two years she has been performing with Grammy and People's Choice pianist Ricardo Scales and at San Francisco's Top of the Mark jazz club. Paula regularly works all over California and Nevada, as well as throughout the southeast.

Teachers and/or influences?
Diane Schuur, Etta James, Phyllis Hyman, Aretha Franklin, Sarah Vaughan, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, and Francine Reed...also Judy Garland and Barbra Streisand (mainly in phrasing).

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...
I picked up a hairbrush at age six and sang almost the entire Helen Reddy I am Woman album for one of my parents dinner parties! My parents' friends were so enthusiastic that I encored with Ray Charles "Hit the Road Jack," complete with choreography. Maybe they were just being polite to a six year-old, but I believed it at the time. Since that day, I have never questioned that I would be a vocalist.

Your sound and approach to music:
Lawd, I'm a musical mutt. I would say that the most obvious influences would be that of Diane Schuur, Phyllis Hyman, Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin. I love to take songs that everyone has heard a million times and twist them into something completely new....especially standards which have been done and done again! People say that "copying" someone is the best form of flattery, but I think it's the easiest way ensure that you never grow past what your "idols" have learned. I also think it's a surefire way to disappoint your audience. If they wanted to see (fill in the blank), then they wouldn't have come to your concert. It's your responsibility as a musician and artist to bring something new to the music.

Your teaching approach:
I very rarely teach, and then it's only when I see something special in an up-and-coming singer. I would say that when I do work with a student that it's to fine tune a talent they already have. Nine times out of ten I end up working with them on phrasing or microphone technique.

Your dream band:
My dream band would be a 12-piece band of piano, bass, drums, four horns, four strings, and a percussionist. I'd love to work with Brian Bromberg on bass, Dave Koz on sax, a drummer I already work with, Tez Sherard (he is one of the best), and even though it's blasphemy to have her play without singing and I would probably be mortified to sing in front of her, Diane Schuur on keys. I love her sense of timing and the open way she makes the piano frame the melody of the song.

Road story: Your best or worst experience:
The best experience would be the times I worked with a 72-piece symphony orchestra. It's like manning the most powerful rocketship ever. There is so much power in that many musicians coming together. It's a combination of exhilaration and a bit of intimidation mixed together. But oh my, the adrenaline is unbelieveable; it's like the holy cow of performing.

My worst experience woukld be the time I was performing in front of 3000 people in Atlanta, doing "Georgia on My Mind," and I inhaled a fly through my nose; it came out still alive in my throat. Beleeve it or not, it actually (and thankfully!) flew out of my mouth as I was singing the bridge. I still don't know how I resisted the urge to hack it out in the middle of the song...and I don't want to think about what I would have had to do had it not flown out on its own.

Favorite venue:
The Top of the Mark In San Francisco has great acoustics because of all the glass that surrounds you on all sides (not to mention a gorgeous view everywhere you look). I also loved having that as a weekly gig for the last two years. Burgundy Blues Jazz Club in Anderson, SC is probably my favorite venue right now (yeah, I know, can you believe that Anderson, SC has something like that?). Cindy Whitfield, the lady who created it, sunk half a million dollars into it and the place is gorgeous. Not to mention fabulous acoustics and house-wired sound! And the crowds are so nice it's just a joy to play there. I look forward to seeing the jazz scene in the southeast expand solely due to Cindy's dedication towards that end.
Your favorite recording in your discography and why?
Diane Schuur's Count Basie disk. I was brassy enough to walk up to the Clemson University Jazz Bands director in 1987 and say, "You need a vocalist with your band!" He looked at me and said "Well...who'd you have in mind?" I said "me!" He asked me what I sang and I said, "Any jazz singer you want me to!" He asked me if I could sing a song called "Travelin' Light," by Diane Schuur. I had no idea who she was at the time but I said, "You give me a recording of the song and I'll have it ready tomorrow." He did, and when I heard her voice singing that song, I had an epiphany. I had always known I wanted to be a singer, but that day set the course of my life towards jazz.
Oh...I did become the vocalist for the jazz band after I auditioned the next day, and the following concert was the first time I performed as a jazz singer.

The first Jazz album I bought was:
Diane Schuur & the Count Basie Orchestra (1987). The second, third, and fourth albums I bought were Deedles, her first album from 1985, Schuur Thing, also from 1985,and Timeless, her 1986 release. I can now say that I own every CD she has ever released (that I know of). I'm kind of OCD like that; I tend to do that with an artist I really like. Sad thing is some of the great ones have more than fifty CDs available. You could bankrupt yourself trying to collect them all; granted, you'd enjoy yourself right to the poorhouse...

What do you think is the most important thing you are contributing musically?
Passion. I love all types of jazz and blues, but lately so much of it is so cool, it loses its fire. Right now, I am trying to walk to fine line between over-singing and expressing myself with passion. I've just had to learn to do what my heart and ears tell me is right. I hate the way so may people who are uneducated about jazz as a genre, classify it as some sort of audio wallpaper, to be played softly in the background for a dinner party. I'm not background music; I'm something you can't ignore, and interesting to listen to even when I'm singing softly.

Did you know...
I'm a gourmet cook and an artist too. I also have a three pound furry thing (also known as a Yorkie) that believes she is my child. Sad thing is...she has almost convinced me that I actually did give birth to her!

CDs you are listening to now:
Della Reese, On Strings of Blue (ABC Records, 1967);
Queen Latifah, Trav'lin Light (Verve, 2007);
Michael Bublé, Call Me Irresponsible (143/reprise, 2007;
Adele, "Fool that I Am," the B-side of her Hometown Glory single, downloaded from iTunes;
Saffire, The Uppity Blues Women: Havin' the Last Word (Alligator, 2009).

Desert Island picks:
Diane Schuur, In Tribute (GRP, 1992);
Phyllis Hyman, Legacy of Phyllis Hyman (Arista, 1996);
The Jazz Singers 1919-1994 box set (Smithsonian, 1998) (yeah, I know it's cheating!); Incognito, Remixed/101 Degrees and Rising (Mercury, 1997);
George Benson, Tenderly (Warner Bros., 1989).

I'd also have to have some instrumentals like Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock or.....damn! How the heck do you pick five?

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?
Exposure to younger audiences, incorporation of new elements to keep it fresh, dedication and passion to jazz as an art form by the people who play it.

What is in the near future?
I'm going into the studio with two of my favorite pianists to do some stripped-down jazz standards. I am also looking for a lead jazz guitarist and upright bassist to collaborate with on a few "strings only" recordings. And I also have penned two new songs, one a blues and the other one jazz. They're kind of naughty so I'm keeping them on the DL from my Mom (she's straight-laced, if ya know what I mean).

Ultimately I want an album that is pared-down, overall elegant (jazz), but at times impudent (blues). I'm trying to do something that reflects my personality. My goal is to get into the jazz and blues festivals.

By Day:
Housewife (ain't life grand?).

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:
dead...or dying.

- All About Jazz

"Belly Up to Burgundy BLues and Paula Harris"

Traveling from San Francisco to Anderson is a commute most musicians would probably try their best to avoid, but there are many draws for Paula Harris here. Anderson is Harris’ old stomping grounds, her parents live here and she has the help of her friends when booking gigs.

Harris last performed at Burgundy Blues in November, and her blend of jazz and blues informed by a background in musical theater went over well with crowds. Harris will be joined by Rico Tyler on keys, Brandon Gilliard on bass and Neal Goodine on drums at Burgundy Blues this Friday.

“When we played the first time I had to have the crowd applaud the band after a few songs,” Harris said. “They were on me like skin and it sounded like we had played together for 20 years; I feel the same way about Burgundy Blues.”

With a comfort level like that during her first show there, Harris is definitely looking forward to returning for another round at the jazz club. However, this is just a retreat from the norm for the songstress, as she will return to her home base of San Francisco after only a few weeks here.

Harris has lived in the City by the Bay for seven years now. At first she played with as many musicians as possible in order to make the contacts she needed to start a good band. After finding the right players, Harris was finally able to do what she wanted on stage.

“I made a name for myself by taking jazz standards and twisting them around,” Harris said. “What comes out is cool jazz and hot blues.”

Harris believes that jazz and blues started out as closely aligned musical genres, but with several offshoots and sub genres, Harris’s two favorite forms of music are now far removed from one another. She spends her time at shows playing around in the gray areas between jazz and blues.

Harris gives traditional blues songs a lighthearted touch when she performs songs like “You Got the Right Key” and “Long John Blues.” As for those standards that she twists around, Harris believes that a song can receive a fresh take by “minimalizing” it. For a song like “The Very Thought of You,” Harris strips the song down to only vocals and piano instead of trying to subvert what is already there.

Harris will also perform a few of her originals. She describes the songs as blues music done with jazz sensibilities. Even though her own music is similar to the genre-hopping she uses with covers, the songs are also easily performed with the minimal instrumentation that Harris prefers.

“I really enjoy working with a few musicians because it’s hard to not be credible,” Harris said. “Everyone has to be able to perform.”

- Anderson Independent/Upstate BE


First CD in the works! Please listen to the EPk there are numerous songs from the upcoming album "Damn Your Eyes" which will be out April 1, 2012.



Paula looks like an elegant southern housewife with a penchant for big hair & rhinestones. When questioned about it – she laughs and says it’s a leftover from her days as a beauty queen. Although older and heavier than she once was- that VOICE- is better than ever. Audiences who expect her to be country based on her looks- are often stunned by the sheer soul she projects when she sings. She is the exact opposite of what you’d expect a blues singer to look like. But from the first moment she opens her mouth – people are riveted as Paula takes them on a journey of the full spectrum of “The Blues”. Fans leaving one of Paula's show only want to know one thing: "When is the next show?" Her music has been described as Impudent, Soulful, Funky, Humorous, and Passionate....but always entertaining!

Paula has been called “ White Chocolate” by numerous fans due to her delivery- which anyone not looking at her would expect to be coming from a black gospel singer. But Paula, originally from South Carolina, is a classic example of why you shouldn’t make assumptions based on appearance. Paula, a self proclaimed “musical mutt”, has credited Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Diane Schuur, Koko Taylor and Chaka Khan as her chief influences- but also says she pulls from a wide variety of genres such a Broadway, Funk, Soul and Jazz to inspire her unique sound and delivery of Blues.

In addition to having a fantastic soulful voice, Paula also has a stage presence that is worthy of any Broadway Musical. She gravitates towards songs that have funny feisty lyrics and slightly naughty double entendres. Her command of an audience is such that you can hear a pin drop at times during song breaks as she stops conversation. And one of the most unique things about her is the comfortable warmth she exudes to her audience. She makes you feel like you’re in her living room and she is performing just for you. Her entire body from her toes to her eyes is engaged- this lady doesn’t just sing- she performs!( she also credits Bette Midler and Sugar Pie DeSanto as her role models regarding stage presence)

Paula has not always been a “Blues singer” She has performed with several symphony orchestras( as a classically trained vocalist). She also has fronted several bands from a musical theater production in Myrtle Beach SC, to a 10 year stint with the Carere Orchestra in Atlanta Ga. Her band leader, George Carere, described her As a “vocal powerhouse” and Dynamo on stage-capable of captivating audiences with her distinctive voice and charm”. Lou Rawls described her as “ A vanilla coating on a chocolate soul”, Ray Charles asked her if she was black or white, William Bell( a principal Architect of the Stax/Volt sound and WC Handy Award Recipient says "Paula has one of the finest modern blues voices around and her phrasing is impeccable" and William Shatner was only capable of commenting “ My GOD! What a voice!” after attending a performance in Aspen Colorado.

Paula has shared the stage with such notable acts as William Bell, Oleta Adams, Bill Pinkney and the original Drifters, Tommy Castro, Kenny Neal, Chris Cain, Kid Andersen, Freddie Cole, Daniel Castro and numerous others.

Most recently, Paula worked for two years as the resident vocalist at the Internationally famous Jazz & Blues Club “ Top of the Mark” in San Francisco Ca. She is also a regular performer at the Fox Theater in the Bay Area. Late October found her in a performance with Bay Area Legend as well as Grammy and People’s Choice Nominee Ricardo Scales at Yoshi’s( another premiere venue in Northern California) and she was also asked to join an all-star cast to entertain at the Inaugural Ball for San Francisco's New Mayor" Ed Lee".

Paula also had the honor of representing the Bay Area in Memphis at the International Challenge sponsored by the Blues Foundation. After receiving night after night of standing ovations- She took the third place slot and was the only female to place at this years competition. 1000's of bands competed on the local level and well over 100 from all over the world came to Memphis to compete at the International level. Paula is also the Monterey Blues Festival's " Battle of the Bands" Champion for 2012. This lady is on her way!