Paula Atherton has loved music all her life and first became active in grade school in the chorus as well as picking up flute in fourth grade. After getting an alto sax in her teens, her attention turned to jazz. She gleaned much of her playing fluidity from studying the phrasing and techniques of everyone from singer Billie Holiday to saxophonist Lester Young. She studied with some notable teachers in the Lennie Tristano “school of players,” and practiced countless hours a day, as she still does today. Ultimately her influences swing between a wide range of players including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Lee Konitz, Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn and Bob Mintzer.
Her focus shifted to more popular music once she began writing her own songs. “I wanted to explore and go more places musically,” she states. “I wanted to have an identity all my own – a place that I could express myself that was very personal. The job of an improviser is to create. I truly started writing at 19 when I got my first alto. I was writing lyrics before that to jazz solos – but the first complete tune that I wrote was for flute I instinctively began to combine a lot of different styles of music – Latin, R&B, Pop and Jazz.”
Paula began playing with bands in all of these styles and eventually began leading one of her own – usually backed by a rhythm quartet but occasionally with percussion, a trumpet and background vocalists on the sweetest gigs. Paula’s actual first CD “Let Me Inside Your Love,” a compilation of several different kinds of things she’d been recording in her early years, was completed in 2001 but not promoted until 2004. She considers her second release, “Groove With Me,” to be her official first CD. The very first song she wrote for that album was the catchy funky groove ‘Whenever You Come Around.’ “My bass player and friend Schuyler Deale produced that track,” Paula remembers. “He said it felt like Sly & the Family Stone. He laid the groundwork for most of the album which gave me a fresh direction to go in.”
Every one of the 12 selections of “Groove With Me” was played somewhere be it on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, Pandora, Music Choice, etc. Two exceptionally popular numbers were “Block Party” (featuring special guest guitarist Chieli Minucci) and her version of the Ashford & Simpson classic “You’re All I Need to Get By” (featuring legendary original Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams).
The song that netted Paula the most attention at radio, however, was an emotional ballad titled “Send Down An Angel.” Ironically and with no promotion in this direction whatsoever, that song took on a life of its own with Christian audiences. It was nominated for several awards in that realm which led to Paula being invited to talk and perform on “The 700 Club.” Paula and “Angel” were also nominated for song, album and female vocalist of the year by AMG International (a Christian organization). In actuality, the song was about a dear friend of Paula’s and the way she chose to deal with and live her final days with cancer. “When I wrote ‘Send Down an Angel,’ I was grappling with the concept of your life being your own. That was a powerful but personal decision my friend made and we all had to accept it. You can’t impose your wishes on someone else.”
Today Paula’s embrace of life is even more fortified as reflected in the music of her latest release “Enjoy The Ride” (2012) and beyond. Paula even dipped her toes in the waters of movie music creating a smoky score of sax and upright bass only for the 2004 actor’s life documentary “The Definition of Insanity.”