Entrepreneur, concert producer, promoter Paul recalls Island roots
By Lou Fancher Correspondent San Jose Mercury News
A successful entrepreneur is a unique breed of person who brings the public something they barely imagined needing and only dreamed of having -- then leaves them wondering how they ever survived without it.
Jason Michael Paul is a habitual entrepreneur. Inhale deeply and read the 1995 Alameda High School graduate's list of achievements: created the first-in-the-world Video Game Music (VGM) concert accompanied by visuals, "Dear Friends -- Music from Final Fantasy," at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2004; developed an amalgamation of video blockbuster music for 2006's "PLAY! A Video Game Symphony;" cofounded San Francisco's Coffee Bar in 2007; launched Nintendo's 2011 E3 press event; and produced the orchestral recording released with Nintendo's "Skyward Sword." Recently, he returned to his coffee fetish with the opening of Coffee Cultures, a San Francisco cafe designed for mixing it up with your fellow man or woman while imbibing caffeinated elixirs, pastries and locally sourced homemade yogurt.
And let's not forget what came before all of that -- playing a part in producing concerts for Luciano Pavarotti and The Three Tenors (beginning when Paul was 23) -- and what continues onward: "The Legend of Zelda" concert series.
After hitting rock star status with the reception of his company's first VGM productions, Nintendo booked Paul's calendar. An international tour followed. Concerts featuring the series' iconic scores by Koji Kondo, performed by professional, 60-member orchestras and a 30-member choir in a concert hall, drew enormous audiences. Not just video gamers enjoyed them, but so did an eclectic mix of symphony patrons, kids, new music fans and even the culturally curious, who were simply intrigued with the phenomenon of a surround sound, IMAX-like orchestral video experience. Like any good idea generator, Paul gazed across the established landscape of sold-out theaters -- and cooked up Act II.
In June 2013, Jason Michael Paul Productions Inc. brought Nintendo's "Legend Of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses" to San Francisco's Davies Symphony Hall during a two-year tour. Performed by the Skywalker Ranch Orchestra and choir, the four-movement symphony was accompanied by visuals from all of the Zelda series' games to date.
"Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses, Second Quest" revisits San Jose Civic on Dec. 14.
In an interview in early October, Paul said the show demands vigorous expertise and uncommon precision from the performers.
"When I first did a VGM concert in 2004, it was referred to as "elevator music," he recalled. "After the standing ovations and the 10,000 seats that sold out in three days in Mexico, they stopped saying that."
Orchestras, too, began to appreciate the difficulty of playing without interpretation. Classical musicians are accustomed to scores with fermatas (held notes or pauses) and tempos subject to a conductor's preference or players' skill. Because VGM concerts sync sound with sight, Paul said the timing must be "on point."
Orchestras for the Zelda productions are either contracted musicians Paul knows through his years in the business or entire orchestras who partner with his company to perform the works. He has spent the past two years traveling all over the world with rare, treasured visits at his parents' home in Alameda.
"My father instilled a strong work ethic in me. And growing up in a small town like Alameda, it seemed the world was not too big," Paul said. "It made all things seem possible."
His father worked for what is now Alameda Municipal Power, but he was also a roller derby star. Paul attributes his entertainment leanings to watching his father record Eastern Air Lines commercials during a trip to New York City.
"My dad was kind of a roller derby bad guy. He had an ESPN show called 'Paul's Penalty Box.' At Madison Square Gardens, he was a celebrity."
Paul played several instruments -- including a sprawling, mahogany Gretsch drum set he had to give up because it "took up too much real estate" -- and accumulated an extensive, vinyl record collection. But he never dreamed of being a performer. Even so, his most memorable career experience occurred on stage.
"It was in Boston, the first concert with Luciano Pavarotti. I was backstage and I remember seeing 18,000 people packed into the arena. I marinated in it. I was 23. I was working with the greats. I had launched my imagined career."
Years later, introducing his Italian grandfather to the great opera singer, Paul had the same feeling as when he reads the hundreds of fan letters he receives.
"It's overwhelming: I'm bringing music to the masses," he said. It could be his legacy, but the entrepreneur and father of 6-year-old Chloe Rin resists.
"I don't want to be a one-trick, music video guy," he protested. "I want to do art, sports, music, coffee -- I want to do it all."