Ask a music fan in San Francisco where to go and you’ll be spending the night at the elegant Plush Room, where rising star Paula West regularly performs.
With the recent release of her third CD, West is poised to capture a nationwide audience of jazz fans. The new CD, "Come What May," is earning strong reviews, and she’s about to take her lush voice and exquisite song list to New York’s Algonquin Hotel for a five-week run, beginning Oct. 30. During her stay, she’ll be backed by some of the finest musicians in the city, including various trios led by Bruce Barth, Bill Charlap, Mulgrew Miller and Eric Reed.
JazzReview recently caught up with West to discuss her latest recording, including what it meant to have Bobby Hutcherson play on her CD, and where she finds some of the lesser-known songs she mixes in with the standards.
JazzReview: Your third CD, "Come What May," just came out. When you started making the album, what goals did you set?
Paula West: "One was try to get to the next level, where I could establish myself more on the East Coast, which is why I used mostly East Coast musicians and did the recording in New York."
JazzReview: What kind of risks did you take with this CD?
Paula West: "I guess some people say it’s risky to do something different, but I think if you are sure about what you are doing then it’s not a risk. I hope I continue to grow musically. That means growth to me, not risk."
JazzReview: How have you grown since that first CD came out several years ago?
Paula West: "It’s been a few years now. I’ve listened to a lot more music. I’ve observed a lot more, and I’ve performed a lot more. It’s a natural progression to hopefully be sounding better, to be more assured of my voice, and to be more experienced working with other musicians. They challenge you."
JazzReview: The selection of songs on the new CD is really interesting. There are some very well know songs like "Lush Life" and "Bye, Bye, Blackbird," and then you also found some more obscure compositions.
Paula West: "I’ve done that on all the CDs. You know, I have some things that people are familiar with, but I try to make those songs sound fresh, otherwise I feel there’s no point in doing them. Then, there are songs where people can discover something new. There’s only one or two recordings of a few of the songs on the CD like "The Snake," "Big Stuff," and "Here Lies Love." Many people aren’t familiar with those tunes. I like to do some research and find things that people have not heard."
JazzReview: How have you found some of these hidden treasures?
Paula West: "By listening to old recordings mostly. "Here Lies Love" I got from Bing Crosby," and "Big Stuff" is Billie Holiday, and "The Snake" is by Oscar Brown, Jr."
JazzReview: It sounds like you are a bit of a music historian.
Paula West: "Well, I don’t know if I would call myself a historian, but I probably do more research than a lot of people."
JazzReview: Are you the type who can be found in a used record store?
Paula West: "Exactly!"
JazzReview In your live performances, you will discuss a song’s background. You let the audience in on the history of the song. Is that important?
Paula West: "I like to have what I guess you call patter. I think that’s something a lot of jazz musicians or singers don’t do enough. I think people want to make a connection with the performer. For me, this is one way of doing that, either talking about who wrote the song, what show it came from or perhaps what the song now means to people."
JazzReview: What did it mean to you to have Bobby Hutcherson play on your new CD?
Paula West: "Oh I was so glad he was willing to do it. He’s a really nice guy. He and his wife have come to hear me perform before. I knew that this time I wanted to have a few name people on the recording, and he was the first person I thought of. In general, you don’t hear a lot of recordings with vibraphone on it. He’s top of the line. When he came on board, I asked him about what rhythm section he would like to use. He suggested Peter Washington and Victor Lewis. They both were available. After that, it was easy to ask people to do the recording."
JazzReview: Do you have a favorite track?
Paula West: "There are a few. I like the ‘Caravan/Night in Tunisia’ medley and ‘The Snake,’ and ‘You Will Be Loved.’"
JazzReview: "The Snake" is one that your audiences wanted you to record, right? It’s been a favorite in your shows.
Paula West: "That’s one way to figure out what to put on a recording, by past shows. You know, you get such a great response from certain tunes that it gives you an idea of what you need to put on a recording."
JazzReview: How did you find "You Will Be Loved?"
Paula West: "My boyfriend helped find that. Murray Grand is the songwriter. He wrote ‘Guess Who I Saw Today,’ Nancy Wilson’s famous song. ‘You Will Be Loved’ was supposed to be in a Broadway show that never happened, based upon Napoleon and Josephine. The stars they wanted for the show were James Cagney and Lena Horne, which would have been amazing. The song came out of it even though the show never happened. My boyfriend had first shown the song to me and I performed it at the Plush Room and gotten a nice response. And, the songwriter, Murray Grand, is still alive and well in Florida."
JazzReview: Have you talked to him?
Paula West: "Yes. I talked to him before the recording came out. I told him I was going to do the song. He was very positive about it and he likes the recording."
JazzReview: That’s great when you can talk to the songwriter.
Paula West: "Yes. With a lot of the material I do, I don’t get that opportunity very often."
JazzReview: You will be at the Algonquin in the fall. Are New York audiences different than San Francisco audiences? Do you change your show?
Paula West: "Well, every venue calls for a different type of thing. What I do at the Plush Room wouldn’t necessarily be what I would do at a jazz festival. You know, you kind of skip the appetizer and go right to the entrée at a festival. At the Plush Room, we usually just do a piano and bass. At the Algonquin, we’ll have a trio, which will be nice."
JazzReview: Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?
Paula West: "I think people will really like the new CD, ‘Come What May.’ And, if they check into the new one, I think they’ll like the other two, ‘Temptation’ and ‘Restless.’ They’re really ‘listen-able.’ People get the CD and say, ‘It’s always in my CD player.’ It’s one that you will buy and play, not stash away. You’ll get your money’s worth."
Jazz Review would like to thank Paula for the interview and wishes her every success with her new CD. For more information on Paula West and where to purchase her CDs, visit the link below.