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Musician seeks new opportunities

The Union StaffPaul Klempau performed at the third annual Empire Jazz Festival in May.
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Paul Klempau has made a name for himself in Nevada County and now the jazz bassist has decided to try his pluck in the big city: San Diego.

The 29-year-old Yuba City native hopes to be living in his new digs and working Border City gigs by November, and maybe much sooner.

Klempau admits he’s rolling the dice by leaving a local jazz scene where he’s well known in favor of a city where he’s totally unknown.



“I don’t know a single jazz musician in San Diego,” Klempau said. “But I’ve scoped out the jazz scene there a couple of times and while it isn’t great, it sure beats Sacramento.”

Klempau said he was motivated to test what he hopes will be greener pastures by the prospects of more work, as well as the beach culture.




“Things have slowed down locally. There’s still work, but not as much,” said Klempau, who lives with his significant other on Banner Mountain.

“I don’t think I’m alone in that respect, but that’s not the only reason I’m leaving. I like the beach culture, the cool breezes, even the fog. And I won’t have to shovel snow in the winter.”

Though he’s leaving the area, you haven’t seen or heard the last of him. Klempau intends to keep local commitments in the coming months, including a Nov. 7 performance with Rocklin pianist Jim Martinez at a Music In The Mountains concert.

“I will continue to work with Jim on most of his dates, so I’m keeping one of my instruments in his home and I’ll take a second one to San Diego.,” said Klempau.

Although Klempau has played with any number of jazz acts since moving to this area from Yuba City – guitarist John Girton, the Third Bridge Trio, tenorman Joe Barry and multiple instrumentalist Ludi Hinrichs are among his soulmates – the bassist will probably be best remembered for appearing last fall on Jazz Weekend with the high-profile Wynton Marsalis ensemble.

“That was totally awesome,” said Klempau of his chance to perform in the company of the bigger-than-life trumpeter Marsalis, trombonist Wycliffe Gordon and others in the Marsalis combo. “Yeah, I was nervous, but who wouldn’t be? I was sweating by the end of the second tune and as a rule, I never sweat.

“I told Wynton before we started I was on edge. He just laughed a little, put his arm around my shoulder and told me, ‘There’s nothin’ to worry about. We’re all family and you’re a part of the family. We’re up here to have fun, so relax and enjoy yourself.'”

Though he’s now into jazz big time, Klempau’s a relatively late bloomer. He first played cello in elementary and high school, and a Yuba City community orchestra. It wasn’t until he finished his education that Klempau became hooked on jazz and switched to string bass.

As a result, his influences are not some of the early jazz bassists such as Welman Braud and Jimmy Blanton, but instead the late Ray Brown, who died this year.

“Ray could do it all … his touch and taste were the best,” Klempau said. “He certainly has been the bassist I’ve listened to the most.”

But Klempau also admits to be stoked by former Count Basie bassist John Clayton, who studied under Brown and is now co-leader of the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra based in Los Angeles. “I know John pretty well, and I plan to spend more time with him when I move to Southern California.”

If Klempau had his druthers, he’d play with just one other instrumentalist – a pianist or guitarist. If not that, in a trio. His third choice would be a five- or six-piece combo.

“Each one has its merits,” he said of the various combinations, “but a duo provides opportunities for extended choruses and an exchange of ideas that’s not as easy in a larger group. But as long as I’m playing in any group of any size, I’m happy. Especially when we’re grooving on mainstream jazz.”

Klempau admits to having both short- and long-range goals. First up would be a recording as a leader of a group that would include tenor saxist Barry, a young musician who Klempau said has an almost unlimited future. “The young man is so good, it’s scary,” the bassist judged. “It’s just plain fun to work with him.”

Klempau wants to pick up a teaching credential and become a music instructor some day. What would he say to a student who wanted to become a bass player?

“Have strong hands,” he said, pausing before adding with a laugh, “and a strong back.”

Cam Miller


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