"A voice that pulled me away from my work."
That's how Kris Sabel describes the first time he heard Jaimee Paul sing. It was Feb.17, 2011, a Thursday afternoon, and Sabel was sitting in his office when he heard the sound check for Wynonna Judd. Paul, one of Judd's backup singers, was singing on stage, filling the Vilar Center with her trademark sultry sound.
"While Wynonna Judd is an incredible performer, it was immediately evident to me that Jaimee Paul had the talent and presence to be in her own spotlight," Sabel said.
And so Sabel booked the Illinois native.
"I knew I was leaving the Wynonna team soon, so I asked Kris what it took to perform there," Paul said. "He actually needed entertainment for a donor dinner a couple weeks later, and hired me and my band to come and play. That was awesome."
On Sunday, the rest of the valley will have a chance to see Paul in the spotlight when she performs as part of the Underground Sound concert series. Her show was supposed to finish up the series, but an additional concert has been added. Ska and reggae favorites Toots and the Maytals will perform Nov. 11. Anders Osborne will open.
Steeped in jazz, gospel and blues
Growing up in Southern Illinois, Paul was steeped in gospel and blues, and was a member of her church's choir. And she's always held a special place in her heart for jazz.
So which jazz greats influenced her sound?
"Definitely Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Billy Holiday and Etta James," she lists off.
And if you're a fan of any of those artists, chances are you'll like Paul's show.
On Sunday evening, she will feature hits from her three albums, including original tunes and her own take on classics like "Ain't No Sunshine." Among her accomplishments, Paul has performed with Jim Brickman, provided concert background vocals for Barry Manilow and Dolly Parton, completed studio work for Radney Foster and for Lyle Lovett for the movie score for "Dr. T and the Women," and was selected for Belmont University's Best of the Best showcase, held at the historic Ryman Auditorium when she was first launching her career.
It was while touring with Wynonna, which she did from 2009 to 2011, that Paul learned some key lessons about being a full-time musician.
"It was a fantastic learning experience of how I need my team to operate in order to run a smooth sailing ship," she said.
A team, through and through
On Sunday, Paul's husband, Leif Shires, a trumpet player, will also be on stage. The two met at a studio session that took place in the basement of the band drummer, Jared Ribble.
"Leif had been hired to do a trumpet part on the same song that I had been hired to do the background vocals on," Paul said, "and when I was sitting on the couch learning my part, Leif walked through the door to listen to the song, and at that moment, I knew he was the one."
The couple have a 1-year-old son, Solomon. The little guy hasn't joined the touring circuit quite yet - he's home with grandma and grandma at the moment.
"Since Leif and I are both self employed, it's actually been a really great time being a mom and focusing on my career," Paul said. "Leif and I seem to tag team, and we really work well together."
So well that despite living and working together, which is balancing act for most couples who attempt it, Paul said the arrangement works out quite well.
"I may be a little weird on this one, but I would rather spend as much time as possible with Leif than not," Paul said. "I really don't have to have 'alone time.' I find that I'm more balanced and driven when Leif is around than when I'm alone."
High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or firstname.lastname@example.org.