The Reviews

Michigan Jazz Suite

Michigan icons -- from the Mackinac Bridge to Ernie Harwell -- inspired Paul Keller's 'Michigan Jazz Suite'-interview by Mark Stryker of 7/14/11

Now in its 17th year, the Michigan Jazz Festival shines a well-deserved spotlight on the everyday heroes of Detroit's jazz scene. Sunday's festival will feature about 150 musicians -- everything from solo pianists to big bands -- performing on six stages. One of the highlights will be the "Michigan Jazz Suite" by bassist and composer Paul Keller. The work will be performed by his septet. The suite, a set of 15 pieces, was inspired by Michigan icons ranging from the Mackinac Bridge ("Big Mac") to the late Ernie Harwell. The latter is represented by "The House by the Side of the Road," named for Harwell's signature call when a batter took a third strike -- "He stood there like a house by the side of the road and watched that one go by." At 49, Keller is an indefatigable force, traveling the world with a slew of big names but also holding down the fort as something of the house bassist for the state of Michigan. Read the full interview

We Like To Riff Review by John Shea

Paul Keller has done it again! This is another marvelous CD from PKO Records. It will bring back fond memories of the Nat Cole Trio to everyone who loved them...

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Paul Keller has done it again! This is another marvelous CD from PKO Records. It will bring back fond memories of the Nat Cole Trio to everyone who loved them(& who didn't?). It also reminds us that Diana Krall's first CD was dedicated to Nat Cole, and was Paul and Diana's spring board to International touring culminating in an appearance on the David Letterman show. A good time was had by all, and we got to enjoy it, vicariously, right here in West Michigan, through Paul's e-mails from around the globe! The immediate stand out feature of this record is the huge talent of pianist Steve Richko. He is a natural swinger who's also a born accompianist. His enormous technical facility is always applied with taste, grace, and clarity. The double octave passages are especially exciting to hear. Another notable talent Steve has is the ease with which he executes whatever challenging arrangement Paul throws at him. The next stand out feature of this CD is Paul's fertile imagination, as an arranger. there seems to be no end to it! Interludes, transitions, key changes, interesting harmonies, and references to other songs abound. I could say about Paul what he once said about Duke Ellington. He's just a man. Just a man whose resource of ideas is like a 50 foot deep well! My personal favorites are "The Man on the Little White Keys" , and "Little Girl". "Sweet Lorraine" introduces the excellent guest vocalist Eddie Erickson, who plays the Nat Cole role. He's got great pipes, with a mellow baritone, reminiscent of another great singer, our mentor, Bennie Carew. "Calypso Blues" provided a special treat for yours truly, because Paul and I performed it with Bennie at Sigees Lounge in the Harley Hotel. "I Know that you Know" is a tour-de-force arrangement for this cozy, cohesive unit. Steve and Paul play with typical wild abandonment, and their young guitar man, Ralph Tope, fits in perfectly with these 2 swinging gents. Ralph has a warm & pretty tone on the guitar and plays lots of tasty licks. He's a real up and comer. My Rating:5 stars. Paul Keller Trio's "We Like To Riff" can be easily purchased at

Review of PKO Somethin' Special

Here's a very nice 4 and 1/2 star review for All Music Guide by Ken Dryden (August 16, 2011) of SOMETHIN' SPECIAL: A CD by San Francisco pianist Larry Vuckovich featuring string bassist Paul Keller, drummer Chuck McPherson, and saxophonists Scott Hamilton and Noel Jewks.

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A veteran pianist deserving of wider recognition, Larry Vuckovich has spent several decades on the American jazz scene since leaving his native Yugoslavia for the U.S. in the early '50s. For the most part the songs on these 2011 sessions focus on bop and hard bop from the late '50s and early '60s, ranging from solo piano to trio, quartet, and quintet, featuring tenor saxophonist Scott Hamilton on five selections. Vuckovich's working group includes tenor saxophonist Noel Jewkes, bassist Paul Keller, and drummer Chuck McPherson. Vuckovich's solo treatment of Thelonious Monk's "Pannonica" mixes glistening lines with jaunty bop, while his approach to Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" is lush with a few Tatum-inspired runs added for fun. Hamilton shares the spotlight with Jewkes for three songs. The robust twin tenor interpretation of Sonny Clark's "Somethin' Special" is a breezy take of an infectious blues with potent solos all around, with Hamilton's hard blowing contrasting with Jewkes' lighter but equally swinging approach, in which they both playfully exchange a tag from Bizet's Carmen. Keller steals the show with his intricate opening solo to "Comin' Home Baby," though the one-two punch of the tenor team energizes this favorite, with the leader's solo blending soul-jazz with a Brazilian air. The tenor men also devour Dexter Gordon's "Cheese Cake" with a delicious performance. Hamilton plays the sole tenor in a snappy rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim's melancholy "How Insensitive" and the touching ballad "What Will I Tell My Heart," while Jewkes is featured in Horace Silver's infrequently recorded "Enchantment." Vuckovich contributed two fine originals as well. "Loving Linda" showcases Jewkes' impressive chops on soprano sax, a shimmering swinger with a Brazilian touch. The rhythm section tackles the pianist's driving "Zeljko's Blues" with gusto, featuring each of them individually in what should be a natural set-closer for Vuckovich. This CD easily lives up to its title with outstanding performances throughout the sessions.

"New York may have the Village Vanguard Orchestra, but Ann Arbor has the Paul Keller Orchestra."

Mitch Genova Detroit Jazz Monthly

All of the good remaining big bands are not in New York. Case in point, the Paul Keller Orchestra, which does its wailing in Ann Arbor, Michigan and ranges from early classics by Jelly Roll and Duke to its own well-crafted originals. Talented soloists abound, and it also doesn't hurt to have an irrepressible rhythm section, commandeered by leader Paul Keller.

Bob Blumenthal Boston Globe and Downbeat

Every section of the band is brimming with enthusiasm.

Lars Bjorn Southeast Michigan Jazz Association Update

The Paul Keller Orchestra is as versatile as it is spirited--it stretches out on the modern creations, returns to the Roaring Twenties with charts from Duke Ellington and McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and digs up rare standards for vocalist Susan Chastain to croon on.

Jim Dulzo Ann Arbor Observer

There's a joy and dedication in the faces of the musicians, and Keller is the epitome of this spirit.

Arwulf Arwulf Agenda

This modern big band is high-spirited and fun and draws in the audience with their energy. Their creative arrangements and excellent soloists give this band a stamp of originality. The PKO's charming vocalist, Susan Chastain, adds a pleasant note to their presentation. A jazz big band should swing hard, the soloists should excite; this happens with the Paul Keller Orchestra!

Bob MacKercher West Michigan Jazz Society

The PKO comes out swinging at the bell. The band recalls the golden years of the power-house units of Ellington, Basie and Lunceford...Keller is the founder/leader of an enthusiastic, hard-swinging group of first-class musicians.

Hazen Schumacher Jazz Revisited

If a jazz lover's idea of heaven on earth is a swinging big band with the chutzpah to tear into intricate early jazz charts and yet skillfully execute cutting-edge original works, then the Bird of Paradise Orchestra is indeed "paradise" for the jazz enthusiast.

Linda Yohn WEMU Music Director