Most musicians discover the one instrument that will become their trademark early in their careers. Benny Goodman’s clarinet. Gene Krupa’s drums. Eric Clapton’s guitar. However, it’s been a circuitous journey for Vineland, New Jersey, native Paul Jost, 62, who didn’t focus on his finest instrument — his voice — until a few years ago.
“I started playing piano at the age of 4, drums at 5,” Jost says, who was in a band, playing paying gigs, from the time he was 12. “As time went on, I took an interest in more instruments. Guitar was next, then trumpet and harmonica. Music was in my DNA.”
Jost grew up listening to his parents’ Nat King Cole, Sinatra and Doris Day albums, along with Miles Davis, Coltrane, The Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix and the rest of the popular music of the day. He credits his high school teacher Dr. Arthur Harvey for exposing him to a wide range of music from John Cage to Bach.
After he attended Berklee School of Music in Boston, Jost became a sought-after drummer, arranger, composer and harmonicist playing with top jazz performers in New York, Chicago and Philadelphia.
He counts Randy Newman among his favorite writers. Jost himself is a Billboard Song Contest winner, and he has written over 40 CDs for music libraries. One of his songs, “Book Faded Brown,” was recorded by Carl Perkins, Rick Danko and The Band. And, if you think Jost’s voice sounds familiar, you may have heard him on radio and TV jingles for American Airlines, Nissan or Miller Beer.
In addition to his busy performing schedule, Jost is a guest lecturer and teacher at University of the Arts and West Chester University. He also served as a music director at the Golden Nugget in Atlantic City and for Morgana King.
Then in his mid-50s, Jost came out from behind his drum kit. “I always sang, but I wasn’t featured as a vocalist until I was in a band called AntfarmQuartet with Jim Ridl, Tim Lekan and Bob Shomo, “Jost says. After this, he got involved with a band formed by Philly vibraphonist Tony Miceli, who had the idea of playing classic rock as jazz. Miceli and bassist Kevin MacConnell invited Paul to be vocalist and arranger. They made it their “project” to bring him in and called the group The Jost Project.
The response has been a game changer, building an enthusiastic following at local venues, including Chris Jazz Café, the Museum of Art and World Café Live. “You never know what’s going to come from left field and be a catalyst in your life,” says Jost, whose soulful, smoky voice and scat style have been compared to Tony Bennett. Music critic Buster Maxwell wrote, “… he nearly single-handedly reclaims the male voice as a valid and critically important jazz instrument.”
When Jost sings, he closes his eyes and turns his hands into percussion instruments, beating time on his chest or rhythmically slapping his hands together, shifting his voice from a whisper to a shout. He takes his audience with him on an emotional journey with universal themes: love found, love lost, love remembered.
Jost’s solo album, “Breaking Through” includes a mix of standards, R & B and jazz. His CD with The Jost Project, “Can’t Find My Way Home,” is equally eclectic. Both albums are on the Dot Time Records label.
Recently, Jost was commissioned to arrange the songs of “The Boss” in a jazz format for the Exit Zero Jazz Festival in Cape May. He’s scheduled to perform “Springsteen Reimagined” at 55 Bar in Greenwich Village on Aug. 12. “55 Bar has been a jazz mecca for decades. There are notes embedded in the walls,” says Jost, who performs with a variety of musicians at 55 Bar once a month.
Jost is touring South Korea and Ireland this summer. In the fall, he will be performing in Cape May and Somers Point, then returning to Philadelphia as one of the headline artists featured in “Jazz It Up Philly” in November.
“Music has always been at the center of my life. It’s a journey, and if you keep yourself open and available, sometimes it’s a surprise where you find yourself,” says Jost. “I love my life. I love what I do.”