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Zacchaeu's Paul

Multi-instrumentalist, composer, and producer Zacchae'us Paul is an irreverent, fresh take on "America's classical music" that speaks to the 24 year old artist’s deep-beyond-his-years understanding of Black music and the African diaspora. Paul stretches and bends jazz sounds around the Atlanta hip-hop he grew up with, the gospel sounds and philosophies that have long shaped his music making, and the Caribbean rhythms he learned studying in Puerto Rico.  He has created a wholly personal sound that is youthful, and thoughtful all at once. "When you listen to this album, listen to it again," Paul says. "A lot of the songs have multiple meanings, and I'd love for people to have different perspectives on them."

Made with a cast of improvising upstarts and veterans that includes the album's executive producer, Terri Lyne Carrington, fellow Atlanta native and Candid recording artist Morgan Guerin and Paul's fiancée and star vocalist Melanie Charles, Jazz Money is jazz music for this, and future, generations. 

Paul's very first musical lessons came courtesy of his then-step-father Darrin Jennings, who taught him to play piano and to record and produce music. "He didn't teach me theory or anything technical, but he did teach me how to play by ear and how to listen — how to really grasp what you're listening to," says Paul. Together, they built a makeshift home studio when he was still in elementary school, where he started to see the overlap between the Atlanta rap that he grew up listening to and the jazz and gospel music that he saw as his heritage.

Paul’s  love of music was further fostered in church — specifically Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in Atlanta, where he spent his youth learning from and playing alongside esteemed musicians like organist Bishop J.D. Means, Sr. and Walt Beasley & The Gospel Explosion, as well as Jennings. 

"I remember it like it was yesterday: My step-dad was on organ, and he played an A♭/A," Paul remembers. "I was like, what is happening? I dug and dug, and couldn't find any gospel record with that chord — finally, I went to YouTube, and started listening to jazz artists whose names I'd heard. On a Duke Ellington record, I finally found that chord. I was like, 'This is my kind of music.'" He fell in love with Ellington's work in the process, and never looked back.

His decision to start sharing music outside of the church came in 8th grade, when two classmates died tragically in this same year — Paul wrote a suite of songs inspired by the loss, and looked for ways to perform them. "From that point on, I've been in love with creating things to bring the community together," he says. "That is my life's work." 

After high school, he decided to study music at the Conservatorio de Música de Puerto Rico in San Juan — despite the fact that he spoke next to no Spanish. It was the least expensive way for him to leave Atlanta and get a postsecondary music education; what he wound up getting, though, was far more than advanced theory lessons.

The culture shock was instant; the lessons in Caribbean music and the broader history of the African diaspora followed, proving revelatory. Paul transferred to the Universidad Interamericana de Puerto Rico, and focused on popular music — adding new dimension to his compositions and music making. "I was able to tap into all the aspects of the African diaspora, to see how we have so many of the same rhythms with different names, or different variations of the same rhythm," Paul says. "I'm like, 'Okay, so this music thing is a lot bigger than what I thought.'" He moved there three months before Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico, adding still another trying dimension to his time in the U.S. territory. 

"That shook my music big time," says Paul. "I've always been a big believer of playing for someone else, because I come from the church — we're taught that you're playing for more than you. But the hurricane really leveled me up when it came to that."

Paul now splits time between Brooklyn and Philadelphia. Jazz Money represents the sum of all these places and events and ideas, recorded in New York, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico and Atlanta for an expansive, inclusive sound that showcases the many facets of Paul's musical biography. 

There is a pop-fluent sensibility tying together the album's diverse tracklist.  And a sense of humor. The ebullient "Banana Laffy Taffy," with its lush piano and vocal textures, is an ode to the underdog, banana, the most "underrated" flavor of Laffy Taffy. It contrasts with the title track, an a capella intermission featuring verses from M.C. donSMITH conceived as an "ode to the old jazz, '90s jazz, when for the first time jazz people were getting money." 

"First Black Republic," an homage to Haiti, features Haitian percussionist Jeff Pierre and is thematically connected to the idea of "jazz money." "The Jungle," with its lover's rock beat, makes Paul's Caribbean connections even more obvious — but it's also a tribute to a great party of the same name in Brooklyn, and was recorded at the Jazz Gallery, threading still more parts of the artist’s backstory together to great, musical effect.

"Dirty Red" is one of the album's most personal tracks.  Aesthetically, it's fluid and expansive, with appealing grooves and beautiful harmonies.  The subject matter is intimate. It's dedicated to Paul's grandfather, and more broadly, what Paul calls "the old Atlanta." "Let's talk about the people that are actually from there, that've been living there for years," says Paul. "What were his experiences like growing up?" Carrington is credited as the track's drummer because Paul took a clip of her playing, "AI'd it," in his words, and played it back through a cassette player. "The sound was just amazing,"

Flipping, reversing, reimagining, reframing — Paul does it all on Jazz Money, letting no convention go unquestioned while never losing the music's appealing, grounding groove.

Zacchaeu's Paul
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