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Although still in his 20s, trumpeter Paul Senn has already made his mark in the jazz world, both with his horn and as a vocalist.
He was raised in Redding and left for college in the Sacramento area. While attending American River College, Paul was a member of a choir that won the prestigious Downbeat Jazz Award as the best college vocal jazz group. Among his many projects he is now introducing a new band to Redding, The Original Senn Jazz Band. Their debut concert is at Old City Hall on March 7.
I spoke to Paul about his new band and his many accomplishments.
Paul, it is great to have you at Old City Hall again. I was surprised to hear that you were starting a traditional New Orleans Dixieland jazz band, since I always think of you as a contemporary jazz player. Why traditional jazz now?
Actually, I started out with traditional music as a young child. My grandfather, Gene Chord, played coronet with many jazz bands in Redding, and he encouraged me as a young child to get into the music. There is an infamous family video of me singing “What a Wonderful World” to an adoring crowd of family members when I was just 6 years old. When I took up the trumpet he would take me to gigs and I would sit in with the pros, so I was hooked at a young age.
I have played with you in many different bands, all the way from the Broadway show, “Swing” to the back-up band for “The Four Tops.” One thing that I always noticed is that you are very comfortable on stage. If you are nervous you must really hide it well.
I owe my stage demeanor to my many years at Enterprise High with Mr. Dan Neece. We played over 50 shows per year with the Starship group. It became very routine to walk into a new venue, set up, and get with it. We did so many styles of music that we learned versatility and flexibility. For example, one year our show had a Tower of Power song followed by a Bill Chase screamer. The next song up was “Nine To Five” by Dolly Parton. Talk about a change of pace! The Starship experience was something that was surprisingly unique in Redding. There are few programs of that caliber in California, and Redding is truly blessed to have it here. Sometimes show choirs are dismissed by jazz purists, but they truly train the musicians to be complete performers, and have stage presence.
The television show “Glee” seems to be a very popular series about a show choir. Does this program really depict the way it is to be in a show choir? Do you think that it has created more interest in show choirs? If I played in a show choir right now I think I would be very happy that there is a TV program about it.
Some of the episodes of “Glee” hit very close to home. It is nice to see the arts, and show choirs specifically, represented in a positive way. It shows very well that you may really excel at something, and be respected by your peers, but it will not necessarily help you at all in the larger social structure of your school. After I graduated from high school and moved on to American River College I could build on what I learned, and it gave me a lot of confidence.
At American River you sang in a Downbeat Magazine award-winning jazz choir, didn’t you?
Yes, and we performed at the International Association for Jazz Education annual convention. The singer joining us for our show at Old City Hall, Angie Bryan, was in that group too.
I was there for your performance at IAJE in Long Beach, so I know what amazing singers you had in that group. Having Angie Bryan sing for you is very interesting to me. Is this new band a traditional Dixieland group?
In the course of developing the band it started out traditional, but then it moved on to blues, funk, and a more contemporary New Orleans style. I hope to take this band to west coast jazz festivals. We will be doing some things that no Dixieland group would be doing, like “Blackwater” by the Doobie brothers, “Hey Pocky A-Way” by The Meters, and “It’s All Over Now”, a funky shuffle tune.
Great stuff! Is “It’s All Over Now” the Dirty Dozen Brass Band version? I really love that one.
Yes, and it will have Bruce Calin on the tuba!
I have never heard Bruce play tuba, but knowing him I’m sure he is great. Who else is in the band?
The front line is myself, Jeff Jones and Joe Larsen. The three of us have been playing together as a unit now for at least six years. We will have Matt Scallion on drums, Pat Karch on keyboard, and of course Angie Bryan on vocals.
So, some regulars and some new members. Sounds great to me. Paul, one thing I’ve wanted to ask you about is your very broad knowledge about jazz, blues and pop music. You seem to be on top of it all. Did you learn this in school or elsewhere?
Even though I studied music, a lot of what I learned has been basically by paying attention to my peers and keeping an open mind.
Do you listen to music much?
Obsessively, I think. I have been known to drive my family and friends crazy with my music playing constantly. I have to tone it down at work, but I still listen there, too. At times when you can’t play you can still listen and learn.
Thanks for putting this band together and performing at Old City Hall. I think it has been a long time since a traditional jazz band has debuted in Redding, so I hope that the Dixieland crowd will join us too!
See the Original Senn Jazz Band at 7 p.m. Sunday, March 7, at the Shasta County Arts Council, Old City Hall, 1313 Market Street, Redding. Tickets are available at Bernie’s Guitar and The Shasta County Arts Council. Student admission is free.
Dave Short, M.D., is a Redding family physician. He has been active in the jazz scene since moving back home to Redding in 1980. He loves to play the tenor sax, and has recorded three albums with the band Sax Therapy. His favorite project is “Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall,” a monthly concert series that features the finest north state jazz musicians. to learn more about Dave Short’s Jazz at Old City Hall, visit daveshortjazz.com.