Raised by a mother who sang, a father who played piano, and the records of Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday playing in her home, Erika Paul has always known she would be a jazz musician. Her commitment to the music has led to a 30-year teaching and performing career, 45 original songs and 12 albums. Her latest album, Sway: A History of Latin American Jazz, is her first release in five years.
“I guess I was meant to do music because I saw everything in terms of music and listened to it so intently I couldn’t live without it,” said Paul. “So I just knew that was where I needed to be, to be happy.”
Originally from San Francisco, Paul moved to Reno in the 1990s after graduating from San Jose State University. She found the jazz scene in Reno through a still active organization called For the Love of Jazz. After establishing a private teaching studio, she was soon performing regularly.
“One of the things about coming out here—I just extended what I had in the Bay Area,” said Paul. “I started up my studio [here] and [started] auditioning players, seeing who I got along with, and I found a bass player and a drummer that I stayed with for 16 years.”
As a music teacher, Paul has split her time between her own performances and helping her students at Double Diamond Elementary and Pleasant Valley Elementary acquire an appreciation for jazz, a genre she believes is underappreciated in its own country of origin.
“This music came from America—everywhere else in the world they crave American jazz except for Americans,” said Paul.
The international appeal of jazz music was part of her motivation in releasing her new album. Recorded at Tanglewood Studios in Reno, all of the 16 tracks on the album are standards from the world of Latin jazz, a conscious decision by Paul to grow beyond her earlier work.
“This Latin jazz one I meant to do all my life because it’s like soul music for the guys and I,” said Paul. “You don’t want to be doing the same thing CD after CD. You really want to stretch yourself. This Latin jazz CD stretched me to no end. We practiced more for that CD, to get all the little intricate parts and arrangements together than any[thing] else. I even have a track that I’m singing in Portuguese. I had to do that syllabically.”
Paul has a standing engagement the first and third Tuesdays of the month at 3rd Street Bar, playing with the DG Kicks 17-piece big band. She’s also playing a local tour of her new album, funded by a Nevada Arts Council Jackpot Grant.
Paul and her accompanying trio are planning new tour dates in the Bay Area later in the year, and she already has plans to work on her next studio album. As far as future plans go, Paul’s is to keep sticking to her own philosophy on the genre: “It’s not ego. It’s not ratings. It’s not sales. It’s not popularity. It’s who you are, because you’re the only you, and jazz has to be unique.