Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians
Combs, Paul (Lawrence)
Combs, Paul (Lawrence), saxophonist, flutist, composer, educator; b. St. Louis, MO, 7 June 1946. He was born to Florence (nee Palmer, 1922 - ) and Homer Combs (1907-1979). He has no brothers or sisters. Neither parent was professionally involved with music. Combs has one son, Paul Baxter and is divorced.
He grew up primarily in Philadelphia, PA, where as a child he received first some vocal training as a member of his church choir, and then took up the trombone in elementary school. As a teenager he studied saxophone with Buddy Savitt while attending Central High School. Also studied piano, theory counterpoint and, somewhat later, bass at the Settlement Music School. Mr. Combs began playing professionally in 1963, gigging in various small combos in and around Philadelphia. He earned B.Mus. in composition from the Philadelphia Musical Academy in 1968 where he studied with Joseph and Andrew Rudin. After that he entered a rather unfocused but still productive period in which he wrote for musical theater, produced radio programs for public radio stations WUHY-FM in Phila. and WBUR in Boston, and performed in a wide range of musical styles on a variety of instruments. He also began his activities as a private teacher at this time.
By the mid 1970s Combs had returned to serious study of the saxophone and the flute and began leading the first of his decidedly jazz ensembles. During this period he studied flute with Sharon Zuckeman at Longy School in Cambridge, MA and with a variety of teachers at the Creative Music Studio. Included in the latter were Karl Berger, Anthony Braxton, Don Cherry, Jimmy Giuffre, Lee Konitz and Roscoe Mitchell. He lived from 1977 to 1979 in NYC and performed in some of the loft spaces such as The Brook and Environ as well as Dom Um Romao's space in Chelsea, with various groups that included Kent Carter, Lawrence Cook, Earl Cross, Jim Hartog and Suzanne Marcus. He also appeared in Kim Kimber's music/dance performance piece "The Masai" and took part in some of Laurie Anderson's earlier experiments.
Family difficulties caused him to leave NYC and by 1980 he was reestablished in the Boston area, playing in a variety of small bands and resuming his private teaching. He led at various times both mainstream jazz quartets and quintets and a fusion group called The Groove Squad. The former bands included at times trumpeter Paul Fontaine and bassist Teddy Kotick. Over the next two decades he would settle into a more mainstream approach to the music.
In 1983 he started a commercial music production company with fellow composer Joel Biddle and scored several soundtracks for award-winning commercial and industrial films and videos. Combs and Biddle decided that the commercial work was not leaving enough time for more creative work and disbanded this venture late in 1987. Paul Combs then became deeply involved in music education, teaching instrumental, choral and general music in parochial and private schools and then in the public schools of Danvers and later Revere, MA. In the 1990s he became very active in MMEA, the Massachusetts chapter of MENC and was one of the founders of the Society for General Music In Mass., as well as its presiding chairperson from 1995-97. These activities marked the beginning of activities as a lecturer and clinician. He also earned a M.M. in saxophone performance from the University of Mass., Lowell in 1995. In 1999 he left the Revere Public Schools to dedicate himself to performing, composing, less institutional forms of education and the book on Tadd Dameron on which he had been working for several years. Throughout all this time he maintained his presence as a performer on the local jazz scene and championed the cause of jazz whenever appropriate in his teaching.
At the time of this writing Paul Combs continues to perform in small and large jazz ensembles, including his own nonette, the Pocket Big Band. He has a full schedule of private students and continues to lecture at a variety of venues. The book on Dameron is nearing completion and may be available by the time this article is published.
In March of 2003 he was honored by the Seacoast Jazz Society of Portsmouth, NH for "For exceptional commitment, energy and imagination in the cause of jazz."
Recorings, broadcasts and films:
Hawk's Delight (1994); The Things You All Are (1998); Moon & Sand (2000); BeBop Christmas Card (2000);
As a sideperson, Paul Combs has recorded on various recordings outside of jazz, most notably for songwriter Bob Franke, Rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef and Bluesmen Robert "Jr." Lockwoood and Johnny Shines.
He composed and performed the score for the dramatic short "David Swan" (Galen Films, 1976) and has composed music for TV and radio commercials as well as four award-winning industrial films.
Radio broadcasts on WERS, Boston ca. 1986, 1990, 1994 and 1998.
Works by Combs
A regular contributor to Jazz Improv Magazine:
"Memories Of A Jazz Child," Vol. 2, No. 4;
"Practicing Under Duress," Vol. 3, No. 3;
"Building A Personal Repertoire," Vol. 3, No. 4;
"Making The Most Of Daily Exercises," Vol. 4, No. 1;
"Gil Fuller Speaks," parts 1 & 2, Vol. 4, Nos. 2 and 3 (publication pending at time of this writing).
"Mary Lou Williams and Tadd Dameron - The significance of Dameron Manuscripts found among M. Williams' papers" in Annual Review of Jazz Studies 13 (2003)
Articles on various topics in Music Education in Massachusetts Music News and School Band & Orchestra.
Concert reports for All About Jazz.com and E-Jazz News.
"Tubarao" A, T, B, 2 Tpts., Tbn, and rhythm (2003)
"One For Ken" A, T, B, 2 Tpts., Tbn, and rhythm (2003)
"One For Ken" big band (2003)
c/o BoMuse Music,
14 Berkshire Pl., Cambridge, MA 02141