Saxophonist Paul Combs in Dameronia
By Noah Schaffer
When Paul Combs was a teenager, he read an interview with Tadd Dameron, one of jazz's most original composers and arrangers. "At the time, Tadd had been incarcerated, and he was releasing hs final records," recalls Combs. "He said there was a lot of ugliness in the world, so he was committing to to creating beauty."
That statement has stayed Combs ever since. Today, the saxophonist is nearing completion of a book about Dameron's life. His research has also uncovered some previously unperformed compositions by Dameron, which will be on the set list when Combs performs in Worcester at the new Zara Jazz Club this weekend.
While his current combo focuses on modern mainstream jazz, mixing smart originals with calssic standards, Combs' life has been a journey through many kinds of music. As a teenager in Philadelphia, he used to hand around outside a jazz club that featured the likes of John Coltrane performing with the Miles Davis Quintet. "I was too young to get in," he says, "but they had a plate glass window, so I could stand with my ear against the glass and listen."
Combs got involved in the folk scene, switching to bass and guitar, and accompanying the likes of Rosalie Sorrels and Bob Franke. But after headlining a gig at a big-time New York folk club, he realized he wanted to return to his first love. "The show went fine, and everyone was polite, but then we walked down the street and went to see Gary Bartz at the Village Vanguard, and I realized that was what I really wanted to do."
Today, Combs is heavily active in the New England jazz scene as a teacher, performer and composer. His newest project, the Pocket Big Band, appears at the Natick Center for the Arts on May 26.
While Combs spent time in New York's avant-garde loft scene, playing and studying with Lee Konitz, Anthony Braxton and Roscoe Mitchell, he decided that "in the end I'm most happy in the mainstream. I'm certaily not a revivalist, and I'm always trying to evolve, but I really love working with melodies ad song forms."
Worcester Magazine, April 4, 2002, p. 22