voice, percussion, composition
Born into a vocal jazz household in Cleveland, Ohio, where strains of the Great American Songbook were always in the air, Paula sang as early as she could talk. Guided by the quality of her clear mezzo-soprano range, she naturally gravitated towards jazz standards in her formative years.
Yearning for new inspiration, she began to explore non-western vocal traditions, specifically North Indian classical technique. In 2001, she was invited to Mumbai to participate in the Jazz-India Vocal Institute program developed by jazz visionary Niranjan Jhaveri. Studies with kirana gharana exponent Dhanashree Pandit-Rai and further studies in New York City with Gulam Mohammed Mirashi developed a greater lucidity and suppleness in her voice. Combining these influences, Paula has sung her adaptations of South Asian forms such as ghazal and thumri. With a focus on original material, she has used her skills as both a lyricist and composer in the course of her career. Paula also enjoys returning to her roots and singing jazz for concerts and festive occasions.
Over the last few years, Paula has experimented with spoken word in her compositions, performances and art installations, finding further applications for her warm and welcoming voice.
Expressive and passionate, Paula Jeanine Bennett is also a force of nature on percussion. Playing an array of international instruments including the frame drum, berimbau, surdo, conga and dumbek, she has a special relationship with all things rhythmic.
Paula honed her craft with early teachers Santie Huckaby (conga) and Guilherme Franco (Brazilian percussion). She was a member of the Pe De Boi Power Samba, Mr. Franco's band, in which she was a trailblazing female percussionist in a male-dominated field.
As a composer in the field of dance, Paula received the Aaron Copeland and O'Donnell-Green Foundation grants for her ecology-suite Moss in conjunction with the Buglisi Dance Theater.
She is a musician on the staff of both the Juilliard School and the Alvin Ailey School in New York City. Paula is the founding percussionist for Table Of Silence, annually performed at Lincoln Center, in which she plays the Grand Casse bass drum. She also composed the recessional for this moving elegy to victims of 9/11.