Many years ago, a young pianist/composer/performer moved to Maine in the Blue Hill area seeking a more relaxing life style. Paul Sullivan, current Brookline resident, found that and more. He’s released a series of Maine-inspired instrumental piano albums and has been Paul Winter’s go-to pianist for many years. He’s also had an annual concert at South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta … and it was to that end that he called to chat about that show on Sunday, Sept. 30.
Q: So, you are coming into Augusta soon.
Sullivan: That’s right, into the South Parish Congregational Church there.
Q: I understand you have done this before?
Sullivan: I have done it. I think this will be my third or fourth time there, but this year I’m going to do something special which is kind of new to me and I do want to tell you about it. I’m collaborating with a guy I’m sure you’ve heard of — Brad Terry.
Q: Oh, yes — I’ve definitely heard of him!
Sullivan: Yeah, I thought you would have — he’s a great clarinet player. Anyway, he and I collaborated on a project a year-and-a-half to two years ago … and we really hit it off. We just had a beautiful interaction. We just left room for each other, we listened to each other and built on what each other played — we just had a great conversation with our instruments … and after that we decided we had to do some more stuff together. The next step was that we did a concert in Farmington — at the University of Maine at Farmington — that Brad got last fall. He said, “What about if we just give the audience a list of all the songs we know and ask them to call the tunes and that will be the concert — whatever they say!” I said, “That sounds interesting and fun!” So that’s what we did.
Q: That’s neat … what ended up being on that list?
Sullivan: Well, it was made up of a couple hundred songs — standards that we both knew well — and the audience loved it. They were very involved and very eager to call out a tune. They listened very intently because we told them, “We haven’t rehearsed any of these things, so we’re just going to go for it because that’s how we met and that’s what we do!” So that concert was a great success and then this summer we did six weeks up here in Blue Hill at a little place we turned into a nightclub once a week and we called it The Jazz Jukebox, because “you call the tunes and we play them for you — we cook them up right in front of you sort of Bennie Hanna style!”
Q: That’s cool!
Sullivan: It’s been great, it was sold out every week with people coming back week after week because it was very clear that you were hearing a fresh, completely brand new take on whatever song you wanted to hear. We don’t decide what key we’re going to do it in, how fast, whose going to start — anything like that, we just kind of go. So, what you’re hearing is two musical minds working and listening and talking and building and joking and imitating and throwing curve-balls at each other. As (Brad) calls it, he says it’s like a high-energy, non-competitive tennis game where the tune keeps getting batted back and forth. So, he and I have had this wonderful musical synergy that really conveys to an audience and they get to participate … that’s what we’re going to be doing at the South Parish Congregational Church in Augusta.
Q: I heard that Brad is also a helluva whistler.
Sullivan: Oh, yeah … did I not mention the whistling?! I’m playing along — after he’s been playing his clarinet — and the next thing I hear is this nice little distant flute, and there he is leaning over the microphone and whistling, and it’s gorgeous. And I never know when he’s going to do it because we don’t talk about these things — I play most of the time with my eyes closed and so all of a sudden here’s this little whistle so I get real soft and quiet and he just takes off and it’s lovely.
Q: Paul is there anything you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Sullivan: Well, the main thing is that it’s a very different format this year — let’s call it a jazz-jukebox format — and it’s unique in our experience where the program is decided by the audience … and we cook to order. That’s our hook and we’ll sharpen it up and set it! (www.rivermusic.com)
Lucky Clark has spent over four decades writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.