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The Improviser

In a city that doesn't support jazz, Paul English still finds ways to make the music happen

During his Ovations run, English often fronted a Third Stream group, and as a pianist, he is tricky to pinpoint. He isn't gritty in the traditional hard-bop sense, yet he has some hard-bop influences. He can sound unrestrained on stage, yet he also maintains a certain sense of formalism and classicism. His style is an unusual blend, to be sure.

English found another outlet for his piano playing this year when he became a partner in Deer Mountain Records. The label is an offshoot of a South Dakota ski resort that's in the process of expansion. Part of that expansion includes developing a concert program to attract more tourists. The Deer Mountain principals asked English what it would take to host a jazz festival. English suggested the resort record such a festival and make a CD. "It becomes a real good form of international publicity, because those CDs travel," English says. "They go all over the world."

While the festival has yet to take place, the people at Deer Mountain have moved forward with their plans for a label. They gave English the green light to start recording different projects, which he did this fall. The business plan is at first to sell the CDs at the resort and in a few choice markets, including Houston and California. In essence, Deer Mountain will be a boutique label. English says the company will build up an artist roster that includes jazz, bluegrass, Celtic and Americana acts, and after the company has a couple dozen recordings in its catalog, the label will try to go national.

Paul English: Where some see a wasteland, he sees opportunity.
Deron Neblett
Paul English: Where some see a wasteland, he sees opportunity.

The first three Deer Mountain CDs will be released on Wednesday, December 6, and English has a presence on all of them. Christmas on Deer Mountain, paradoxically recorded at Sugar Hill Studios in Houston, is a compilation of yuletide songs performed by various Texas musicians, including English, trumpeter Dennis Dotson, saxophonist Larry Slezak and guitarist Erich Avinger. It's more spiritual than jazz. Sketchbook, Vol. I is an introspective solo piano recording that English made in 1987; it's filled with classical influences. But English is most excited about his quartet record, Girl in Green, which features former Miles Davis sideman Dave Liebman on three songs. English says working with the saxophonist was an education, and he plans to release another recording with Liebman sometime this spring.

Despite his Deer Mountain project, English still itches to get a jazz club launched on his terms. Whenever the Warwick gig runs dry, English will be looking to start up another venue. "I've started a lot of places," he says. "I am going to look to do one more, and it will probably be the last one that I ever do, at least around here. I would like very much to align myself with a good hotel [that] really wants to establish a long-term, long-running successful jazz venue."

If English doesn't find his dream project right off the bat, don't expect him to lay low. He'll likely find a way to make it happen. "If Paul were suddenly to move to the remotest town in the northern parts, I have no doubt that he would find a place to perform music," says LoCascio. "Of course, he would have to probably accept sealskins and blubber as payment, and play in an igloo, but I can assure you he would be playing a jazz gig. It's in his blood."

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