Posted by: D.A.S. Chicago | May 5, 2011

Interview with Paul Abella

I sat down with Paul in his office at WDCB 90.9FM, a jazz radio station where he works as the Music Director. I met him there a few years ago while working as a student aid. Paul is a very busy guy with a lot going on in his life. Aside from working at WDCB Paul is a husband and father, writer and musician. He’s a percussionist and the head of his own jazz group, The Paul Abella Trio. During our discussion I talked to Paul about the many commitments he has, his history as a musician, and how being a percussionist benefits his life.

John Leonard: I understand you have a lot of commitments on a week to week basis. What are some of those commitments?
Paul Abella: Well obviously, working here at WDCB. Being the music director here means that, not only do I have to schedule music for everybody, but also right now we’re in the middle of something that you didn’t have to deal with when you were a student aid: internet streaming logs. We have to document everything that we play for an entire week, eight weeks out of the year, to ensure that we’re keeping legal with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. On the plus side it does pay royalties to artists that get played, so hopefully they’ll see some money out of this one day. I’m a father of two, a boy and a girl, and a husband. I lead my own band, The Paul Abella Trio, and I play with whoever else will have me. So that requires practice everyday, of course. I’m also a writer for Chicago Jazz Magazine. I’m a pretty busy guy.

J: What originally drew you to playing percussion instruments?
P: When I was 12 I got the bug; I wanted to play something. My parents gave me a guitar, and I just wasn’t having the guitar for whatever reason. I don’t know, I couldn’t hang. It didn’t make sense. So then they got me a keyboard and I was doing okay with that but it was, you know, just not what I wanted to do. So we found a set of Congas somewhere super cheap and I started playing them. It started making a lot of sense. Growing up where I grew up, in a very Hispanic neighborhood, a lot of the stuff was around anyway. You heard some Salsa music, you heard Lambada, you heard a lot of these sounds and it made sense. It fit. But then when I was older a lot of friends started picking up instruments, when I was like 16, 17. The time when most kids start playing. The problem there is nobody wanted to play with a percussionist. They all wanted to play with a drummer. So I ended up getting a drum-set and was playing with some bands and doing some fun stuff. Then right about when I got married I thought, ‘I still practice on all the latin percussion stuff everyday, it’s still what I feel most comfortable with.’ I decided this is what I was going to do; go back and focus on this.

J: Could you tell me more about the various percussion instruments you’ve used through the years?
P: I started on Congas and swept through all the Latin stuff, so Congas, Bongos, all the small percussion. I picked up the Djembe at some point, which is cool. It’s a drum from West Africa. The one that I use most often these days is a drum called the Cajon, which is from Peru. I discovered that one about three years ago and just took to it like a fish to water. Not only is it cool from the standpoint of being used in the Afro-caribbean movement and a lot of Flamenco music too, but the drum acts like a great mimic. It can sound like a drum-set, or you can make it sound like all sorts of different things. It definitely gives my band a very unique flavor. I also still do play some drum-set. If you ever need someone to sound like John Bonham playing jazz, I’m your guy.

J: Tell me about some of your past bands. Are there any that standout in your memory?
P: The only band that anybody would have heard of that I was in, other then The Paul Abella Trio, was a band called The Three Blind Mice. A fellow co-worker of ours at one point, Jack Zahora, at one of our shows once screamed out, ‘Hey, Medeski just called, he wants his bands sound back’. That gives you a good idea of where we were coming from. Other then that I was in a couple different Grateful Dead cover bands. As you well know, I’m a huge Dead Head.

J: How could I forget. It’s been a while since I’ve seen The Paul Abella Trio. How’s the band going these days?
P: We’re doing alright. This is our 5th year of being together. We’ve picked up another member, so now we’re the Paul Abella Trio + 1 or something. Now we have a Vibraphonest. He’s definitely beefed up the sound a little bit, he’s kind of like the Yngwie of the Vibes. So between him and me, and I know you’ve seen Bob on bass as well, it is kind of like a wall of sixteenth notes and Mitch, which is fun. There’s a lot of people that dig it but also a lot a lot of people who haven’t heard it.

J: So with all these commitments going on in your life, and your work as a percussionist, would you say that being a performer helps you deal with stress and helps you live a well balanced life?
P: Well, I certainly feel better after playing, whether it be practice or playing a gig, then I do beforehand on many a day. I’ve never thought of it in the kind of, quasi-new age-y terms that you’re talking about, or somebody like Mickey Hart talks about it, or Carlos Santana talks about it that way too. You know, like ‘music can be a healing force’. Never really thought of it that way but it certainly does have that effect.

If you want to find out more about Paul or when The Paul Abella Trio is playing next you can check out there website HERE

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