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Saxophonist and composer Paul Jones is, at heart, a storyteller. Whether drawing inspiration from classic works of literature or the confessional rhymes of hip hop; the spontaneous inventions of his jazz forebears or the intricate architecture of contemporary classical music; or simply connecting with his own life experiences – Jones’ music invariably takes the listener on a compelling narrative journey.

It’s precisely those qualities that led DownBeat to call Jones “a composer who has brilliant things to say and a captivating way of saying them.” The magazine has awarded both of Jones’ albums four-star ratings, calling his latest, Clean (Outside In), “an inspired work of art with an organic flow that belies its heady origins.” That blend of challenging complexity and riveting accessibility is key to Jones’ music, which is guided by a favorite maxim of the iconic Charles Mingus: “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.”

Released in 2017, Clean found Jones expanding his sound in a variety of ways – combining a jazz sextet with a woodwind octet and chamber duo The Righteous Girls – on a wide-ranging session that unfolds with the evocative flow of hip hop groundbreakers like Kendrick Lamar while building on the unique architecture of minimalist pioneers such as Philip Glass and Steve Reich. The album was built around Jones’ core band, a group of distinctive artists who are all leaders and composers in their own right: alto saxophonist Alex LoRe, guitarist Matt Davis, pianist Glenn Zaleski, bassist Johannes Felscher and drummer Jimmy Macbride. 

The music was birthed at the picturesque Banff Creative Arts Centre in Alberta, Canada, where Jones sequestered himself in January 2016 to begin devising the follow-up to his well-received 2015 debut, Short History (Blujazz). That album featured the same sextet (with Sullivan Fortner in place of Zaleski) and was lauded by All About Jazz for doing “what all strong debut releases should: it captures the musicality, passion, and promise of a talented artist at the dawn of his career.” Both recordings feature compositions responding to the written word, sparked by the work of authors like Charles Bukowski, George Orwell, Allen Ginsberg and Saul Bellow.

Growing up on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, Jones was drawn to the saxophone at an early age. Perhaps it was something in the blood; three other members of his family had played the instrument before him, but for Jones it was a personal passion, not a matter of following in anyone’s footsteps. After high school, music proved to be the one promising option for an otherwise directionless teenager. A move to Durham, New Hampshire, proved pivotal, introducing Jones to his first real mentor, Scott Mullett. 

The veteran saxophonist had played with Woody Herman and Cab Calloway before returning home to teach at Keene State College. It was there, under Mullett’s tutelage, that Jones discovered the possibility for a career in music. Around the same time he also attended the University of Maine Farmington’s summer jazz camp, taking a deep dive into the music with guidance from such heavy hitters as Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson of The Bad Plus, Tony Malaby, Bill McHenry and Donny McCaslin.

Poring over the biographies of some of his favorite artists, Jones found mentions of two schools recurring again and again: Berklee College of Music and the Manhattan School of Music. He pursued his studies through both institutions, first to Boston for undergrad at Berklee and later settling in New York City to earn his Master’s at MSM. Along the way he learned at the side of such masters as Charlie Banacos, Hal Crook, Gary Dial, George Garzone, Tony Malaby, Phil Markowitz, Donny McCaslin, and Steve Wilson, and performed alongside jazz greats Randy Brecker, Dave Liebman, and Joe Lovano at MSM.

His tenure in Boston also provided Jones with his first touring experience as well as ushering him into the world of pop music. As part of the horn section for rising star soul singer Eli “Paperboy” Reed’s deeply funky band The Trueloves, Jones traveled throughout the United States, Canada and Europe and recorded for Capitol Records. He’s continued to flex those pop muscles through recordings with Sebastian Kole for Motown Records and Ryan Leslie for Universal Records.

Jones left the road to move to NYC, but if the challenges of adjusting to life in that hectic metropolis weren’t daunting enough, Jones was also diagnosed that year with Type 1 diabetes. The condition is under control but remains, Jones says, “the first priority in my life at all times.” Along with fellow musician and diabetic Jason Yeager, Jones organized a benefit concert at Steinway Hall in 2017, which featured saxophonist Steve Wilson and pianists Kevin Hays, Frank Kimbrough and Aaron Goldberg, raising more than $6,000 towards a cure.

Since arriving in New York City, Jones has become a key member of a cohort of young innovators on the modern jazz scene playing regularly at hotspots like the Bar Next Door and Cornelia Street Café. The loose coterie includes Matt Davis’ Aerial Photograph, Nicholas Biello’s Vagabond Soul with Clarence Penn, Leon Boykins and Jonathan Parker. He also regularly collaborates and has recorded with the Uptown Partydown, Brett Ferguson, Tory Hanna, The Jack Moves, Adam Lasher, and St. Lucia. 

As a teacher Jones imparts his passion for learning to his students by using music as a tool to help them grow as individuals and achieve in whatever field they choose. He has taught privately at CenterStage, Harrison School of Music, Needham Music, PS-290, and the Rye Arts Center. During the summer he has taught courses in music theory, improvisation, music history, and lead ensembles at camp Encore Coda in Sweden, Maine. Internationally, Jones has given master classes at the Contemporary Music Institute in Zhuhai, China and the Gimcheon School of the Arts in Korea.

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