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TSJR’s Featured Smooth Jazz Artist

A profile of our selected smooth jazz artist of the month

Because we appreciate the talents and hard work of all of the many artists in our beloved smooth jazz genre, TSJR has made it a standard practice to highlight and honor one artist each month who has established himself or herself as an integral part of the smooth/contemporary jazz “engine.”

This month, we honor:

Paula Atherton – Combining Jazz, Beauty, and a Firm Grasp of Groove

Saxophonist/singer/songwriter Paula Atherton has proven over the years to be one of the true deliverers of hot and sexy c-jazz grooves. Each of her albums packs a wallop and a lot of sensuality that kicks the project into higher gears each time.

One aspect that sets Paula Atherton apart from the pack is that she always offers her sultry vocals to complement her strong sax work, making it easy to “connect” with her on multiple levels.

The lovely saxtress first became musically active in grade school in the chorus as well as picking up flute in fourth grade. After receiving an alto sax in her teens, her attention turned to jazz. She gleaned much of her playing fluidity from studying the phrasing and techniques of everyone from singer Billie Holiday to saxophonist Lester Young. She studied with some notable teachers in the Lennie Tristano “school of players,” and practiced countless hours a day, as is still the case. Her influences cover a wide gamut of artists, including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Lee Konitz, Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn, and Bob Mintzer.

The saxtress has shared the stage with such contemporary jazz notables as The Rippingtons, Nick Colionne, Chuck Loeb, Cindy Bradley, Karen Briggs, Althea Renee, Four80East, David Sanborn, Bob James, Marc Antoine, Hiroshima, Gerald Albright and Chieli Minucci. She has also worked in the traditional jazz field; one of the notable performances being a week long engagement at the Blue Note NYC with pianist and jazz legend, Hank Jones.

Paula also performed with Grammy award winning singer Dee Dee Bridgewater at the Annenberg Theater, for the Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Festival.

Paula’s focus shifted to the popular c-jazz/R&B groove once she began writing her own songs. “I wanted to explore and go more places musically,” she states. “I wanted to have an identity all my own – a place that I could express myself that was very personal. The job of an improviser is to create. I truly started writing at 19 when I got my first alto. I was writing lyrics before that to jazz solos – but the first complete tune that I wrote was for flute I instinctively began to combine a lot of different styles of music – Latin, R&B, Pop and Jazz.”

Paula began playing with bands in all of these styles and eventually began leading one of her own – usually backed by a rhythm quartet but occasionally with percussion, a trumpet and background vocalists.

Paula’s actual first CD Let Me Inside Your Love, a compilation of several different kinds of things she’d been recording in her early years, was completed in 2001 but not promoted until 2004. She considers her second release, Groove with Me, to be her official first CD. The very first song she wrote for that album was the catchy and funky groove “Whenever You Come Around.” “My bass player and friend Schuyler Deale produced that track,” Paula remembers. “He said it felt like Sly & the Family Stone. He laid the groundwork for most of the album which gave me a fresh direction to go in.”

Each of the 12 selections on Groove With Me was played either on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, Pandora, Music Choice, etc. Two stand-out tracks were “Block Party” (featuring special guest guitarist and Special EFX co-founder Chieli Minucci) and her cover of the Ashford & Simpson classic “You’re All I Need to Get By” (featuring legendary original Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams).

The song that really perked up radio listeners’ ears and attention, however, was an emotional ballad titled “Send Down An Angel.” Ironically, and with no promotion in this direction whatsoever, that track took on a life all its own with Christian audiences. It was nominated for several awards in that realm which led to Paula being invited to talk and perform on The 700 Club. Paula and “Angel” were also nominated for song, album and female vocalist of the year by AMG International (a Christian organization). In actuality, the song was about a dear friend of Paula’s and the way she chose to deal with and live her final days with cancer. “When I wrote ‘Send Down an Angel,’ I was grappling with the concept of your life being your own. That was a powerful but personal decision my friend made, and we all had to accept it. You can’t impose your wishes on someone else.”

Paula’s 3rd CD, Enjoy the Ride, had 2 Billboard charting singles. The first penned and co-produced by Nick Colionne, entitled, “Sassy Strut,” reached #15 on Billboard, and was on the chart for 15 weeks. The second was the Herbie Mann influenced flute feature entitled, “Herbie,” which reached #22 and was on Billboard for 7 weeks.

Paula released her 4th CD, Ear Candy on February 17th, 2015 on the Kalimba Music label, owned by Earth, Wind and Fire. Special guests include Nick Colionne, Cindy Bradley, and Gail Jhonson, The single “Between You & Me” , featuring Cindy Bradley on trumpet, reached #21 on Billboard. Some tour dates include Jazz at Jack’s in Denver, Discover jazz Series Detroit, Spaghettini’s in Seal Beach, CA, Jazz in the Park in Birmingham, AL, Idlewild Music Fest MI, Smooth Jazz Festival in Atlanta, Suite Jazz series in Atlanta, Gallery Suite Jazz series in Lansing, Palm Springs Women’s Jazz Fest in CA, Las Vegas Jazz Festival, Capital Jazz fest and Low Country Jazz fest with Jazz in Pink, Smooth Jazz at Sunset in MI (opening for Marc Antoine), Southern Tier Jazz festival in Elmira (opening for Rick Braun), the 3rd annual Women’s Jazz festival in Huntsville, AL, Lake Arbor Jazz Festival in MD, the Hub City Fest in NJ (4 years in a row) and the Pensacola Jazz Festival, which Paula headlined in April 2018.

Her latest release Shake It, full of sass and sultriness, has been reviewed right here on our Smooth Jazz CD Reviews section. Check it out.

Today Paula’s embrace of life is even more fortified as reflected in all of her magnetic music.

In addition to the 700 Club appearance, the  saxtress has also appeared on television shows such as the Today show, Good Morning America, and Rachel Ray with Michael Bolton. She’s even tried her hand at movie music, creating a smoky score of sax and upright bass only for the 2004 tragi-comedy/documentary “The Definition of Insanity.”

Paula was featured in 2018 on the “Ones to Watch” segment of the Dave Koz radio show, and was interviewed by him. She was also nominated as one of the top 10 breakout artists of 2018 by Allen Kepler’s Smooth Jazz Network.

The Smooth Jazz Ride, in conjunction with Delaware’s Entertainment By Candlelight, is proud to announce that we will feature Paula as the headliner of the upcoming May 4 “Delaware Loves Jazz” concert in Wilmington, DE. She is joined on this concert by trumpeter Willie Bradley, another exciting artist. You’ve read what we have to say here about this sexy saxtress who truly knows her way about the sax and jazz. Now, if you can, come and witness for yourself the electricity she exudes. You certainly won’t be disappointed. – Ronald Jackson

To view Paula Atherton’s complete discography, visit http://paulaatherton.com/music/.