Jazz act

Erika Paul Carlson

Photo By David Robert

Erika Paul Carlson has been working as a jazz pianist and singer since she moved to Reno from the Bay Area in 1990. She’s been giving piano and voice lessons for more than 20 years, she owns her own music production company, Jazz Q Music Education Services, and she’s been the Nevada Arts Council’s resident music/jazz and blues artist since 1998. This summer, she’s teaching beginning vocal workshops and beginning jazz vocal workshops with the city of Sparks. She also works for the Lakeside Community church, the Reno Municipal Band, the Elder Care Concert Series and performs 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Saturdays and 5-8pm Fridays at High SocieTea. Visit www.erikapaul.com.

Where have you played over the years in Reno?

My very first professional performing job in Reno was at Bally’s, which is now the Reno Hilton. I was working Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at the Cub Bar. … I have never stopped working since. I’ve worked five nights a week at the Atlantis, at the Eldorado, at the Nugget, and I’ve done lots of private parties and special events.

Is Reno’s jazz scene as strong as you would like it to be?

The Reno jazz scene is quite active. The word is, it is quite happening. There are a lot of places you can go over the week to hear real good jazz. The issue with jazz is that it’s very hard to make a living with it. Most people who are successful at jazz have to do a lot of traveling. I lucked out. I’m successful enough to stay here and pay my bills.

Do you write most or all of your own pieces?

Since I’m established now and have quite a foundation and am settled in with my lifestyle and where I live, I’m probably doing 75 percent original music now, but I still need to know all the songs people request. My latest CD, Expressions of Love, has eight songs out of 11 that are originals. I’m in the middle of doing a children’s jazz CD that has 12 original songs.

How do you make a children’s jazz CD that kids truly like?

Basically you want to be able to keep their attention, and oftentimes it’s through getting them to imitate. So this CD has great stories that children love to listen to about characters who are successful in jazz, and then I ask the kids to sing along and clap along and imitate some of the sounds I’m making.

How did you get the gig at High SocieTea?

Last year, my jazz trio performed the walk-in music for the Reno Jazz and Wine Festival. They had some tables around us, and people were sitting down to have a glass of wine and listen to our music. And this lady who looked like a movie star was there with her daughter. She stayed for the entire set. Near the end, she asked for a song called Wish You Love, so I did the song and surprised her by doing the song in French and then finishing it in English. She never forgot me, and when they opened a shop and were looking around on the Web for a performer, they found me … and that’s how it started.

Do you know any other women who are an enduring presence in the Reno jazz scene?

No professionals. I know there are a lot of performers out there who are trying to make a name for themselves, but I know they don’t do this as a profession, as something to pay their bills, but it’s good that they’re getting out there and getting experience.

This has to be a dream come true.

I remember telling some of my students that, when I was 7 years old, I knew I would do something like this; then when I was 16, I saw how I could turn this into a profession for myself. It’s been a wonderful, passionate dream come true, the whole 25 years or so I’ve been at it, and it just keeps getting better, too.