Album: Piano Jazz My Way
Artist: John Paris

Front Cover_2Perhaps in some very small way I can take just a tiny bit of credit for the inspiration of John Paris’ latest album, Piano Jazz My Way. In our recent interview, John mentioned that I, and my fellow music journalist Kathy Parsons of had both been encouraging him to do a recording displaying his incredible jazz piano chops. While his earlier albums certainly reflected various elements of this style, here he has produced a recording that fully lets his inner jazz cat out of the bag. John is an absolute monster in this genre of music, and I mean that in the most complimentary way.


This is the fourth John Paris album I’ve had the pleasure to write about. Earlier ones have been Reflections, Inner Voyage, and most recently Journey of Soul. From performing with the Minneapolis Symphony to sharing the stage with The Moody Blues, and much more, John has had an impressive and diverse career that spans four decades. While some of my feature articles about John’s previous albums contain his biographical info and music history, which readers can refer to, in my recent interview for this album, John shared some stories about his musical background that make for interesting reading. In his words: “I became interested in music when I walked into my dad’s grocery store and he told me that I was going to take accordion lesson. One did not argue with my dad as he was a tough old Italian guy and it would result in a physical beating. As I advanced into the study of accordion, I fell in love with the instrument, and with music in general. It was very rare that I didn’t practice at least two hours a day and up to five hours a day. One of my first gigs was at age 16 with a trio of guitar and drums and me on accordion. We would play at square dances behind the caller. His name was Stumpy and after he would do his call there would be a time where I could get to improvise. That was my time to go wild. Unfortunately it confused Stumpy. As I got older, I played with many seasoned older musicians in the jazz genre. Quite a few of them have performed in Vegas, and on the road and are serious players.”


As John got older and progressed into playing piano, some of his main influences were Herbie Hancock, ChickJohn Paris Corea, Keith Jarrett, and especially the late great Bill Evans. According to John: “I have always loved the freedom of jazz music. As a young musician in Scranton, PA, near Philadelphia, I fortunately got to attend jam sessions where one could polish one’s craft. The more advanced players were very willing to tell you to go home and ‘shed’ if your chops were not up to par. The two most important elements they instilled in me were the sophistication of the harmonies and the need to swing. That’s what I try to keep in my music to this day.” And to that end, I’d say mission accomplished.


The album opens with its only “cover tune,” the much-loved iconic hymn “Amazing Grace.” As John shares: “Amazing Grace is a song I’ve always loved but have generally heard it done in a very subdued style. To me it’s a joyful recognition of salvation and a celebration of our divinity.” John’s rendition definitely puts the “amazing” in “Amazing Grace.” In the first verse, he plays it cool. The second verse picks up steam, and by the third verse, its petal to the metal with John swinging like there is no tomorrow. John’s jazz phrasing, chord substitutions, and technical virtuosity are absolutely mind-blowing. This section raises the roof like a gospel church on Sunday morning, until towards the end when he brings it gently back down to where it all started. This is a masterful arrangement that must be heard to be believed. John certainly knows how to “open a show.”


From there, we get into a dreamy nostalgic piece called “Gone Too Soon,” which John wrote for his brother who passed away, and which showcases a different facet of his musical spectrum. With 14 tracks on the album, I won’t go into detail on all of them, but will present some of my highlights and favorite moments. One aspect in general that I admire about John’s playing and arranging is the way he is able to move so seamlessly within a song from slow and simmering one moment to absolutely incendiary the next. A track called “In The Olden Days,” is a perfect example of this, which according to John, “is a tribute to the time I grew up in where swing was King.”


EckankarJohn is a spiritually oriented person and that aspect of his being is particularly reflected in a delicate track called “Soul’s Yearning.” In our interview, I asked John about what inspires him musically and in life, to which he replied: “I draw inspiration from the teachings of Eckankar which teach me to align my life with divine spirit. I enjoy the give-and-take with spirit as I compose and improvise. To me, the art of improvisation is staying in the moment and enjoying the flow that comes through. I feel like that is being in eternity while here on earth. For me, being a musician is being an instrument for spirit. I believe that it is my responsibility as a musician to provide upliftment to the world through my music.”



I loved the story about the source of a bubbling upbeat song entitled “Sierra Springs” and the image it conjures. In John’s words: “Sierra Springs” was composed in a flash, and inspired by a brook that ran through a restaurant my wife and I were at. The melody popped into my mind and I scribbled down on napkins as quickly as I could, leaving my wife at the table, wondering what I was doing!” A track called “Soul Dance” is, according to John, “kind of an homage to Chick Corea. I love his classic tune “Spain” and often perform it at concerts.” Chick Corea is also one of my all-time favorite pianists so I particularly enjoyed John’s tribute to him. Another homage of sorts is a jaunty piece called “Struttin,” which in John’s words: “reminds me of New Orleans where I played in the 70s.” The album eases into a mellow conclusion with the appropriately laid back, “Late Night.”


John receiving award at Carnegie Hall

John receiving award at Carnegie Hall

While some of John’s albums are classified in the new age category, his roots are definitely old-school, and I loved hearing them spreading out in this exceptional collection of 13 original compositions. I cannot speak highly enough about the degree of virtuosity in John’s playing, and the many jaw-dropping moments experienced while listening to this album. And in addition to his technique are the emotion, the life experience, and yes, the swing of someone deeply steeped in this idiom. I have been fortunate enough to see a number of the world’s greatest jazz pianists in concert, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, McCoy Tyner, etc. and, in my humble opinion, John Paris is on that level. I’m sure people who attended John’s recent concert at Carnegie Hall where he was awarded the “Best Jazz Album of the Year” by Enlightened Piano Radio will agree.



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