PCHS alumnus Paul Tafoya graduates New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music

Published 5:22 pm Friday, May 19, 2017

Former Polk County High School (PCHS) band student, Paul Tafoya, graduated NYC’s New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music with his bachelor’s degree in jazz studies on Friday, May 19.

Son of Robin and Bennett Turner of Columbus, Tafoya has been an award-winning trumpeter since his time at Polk County High School under the instruction of band director Cindy Gilbert. During his high school years, he was repeatedly awarded scholarships to Appalachian State’s Cannon Music Camp, thanks to the generosity of the Laurel Lake Music Society of Tryon Estates.

Paul Tafoya

After graduating high school and being deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Marines, Paul was stationed in Hawaii, where he was inspired to pick the trumpet back up, joined the U.S. Marine Corps Band, and was soon nominated as Marine Corps musician of the year for 2011.

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After a tour of the Pacific with the band that included a performance for the King of Tonga, performances at The World Rugby Cup in New Zealand, and American embassies in The Solomon Islands, Vietnam, and Cambodia, recognition poured in from local papers, North Carolina Governor Beverly Purdue, and even the U.S. ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, adding to previous accolades, including a letter from N.C. Representative Trudi Walend received in 2006 for selection to the NC All-State Band.

During his years in the Marine Corps Band, Tafoya’s natural ability to play the trumpet translated into a burning desire to understand jazz music and the cultural impact it had. After being introduced to the music of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holliday, Billy Strayhorn, and John Coltrane, he began to dig deeply into jazz music and decided he wanted to develop his voice and learn more about America’s art form. Often playing along with records of Tom Harrell, Clifford Brown, Arturo Sandoval, and Gordon Goodwin’s Big Phat Band, he drove neighbors mad in his tiny barracks room and started to catalogue the jazz language while cultivating his passion for the music.

When his tour with the Marines concluded, he sought higher education in Orlando, Fla. and again found himself drawn almost uncontrollably to the stage, and was invited to audition for perhaps one of the finest assortments of brass musicians on the East Coast, Magic Kingdom’s Main Street Philharmonic.

Subsequently, Tafoya was enthusiastically invited to play in the band several times a month and during this time he began to compose music and play in the freelance scene around Orlando.

But there was something compelling him to achieve even more, and while he gained popularity in the Orlando area, he was planning to make a break for New York City.

His mind was made up to attend New York’s New School of Jazz and Contemporary Music, and when he arrived in NYC, he hit the ground running. It wasn’t long before he was sharing the studio and stage with the likes of Randy Weston and Christian McBride, and soon his career as a student and artist expanded to include current jazz greats like Jerry Weldon, Ali Jackson, Marquis Hill, Gary Bartz, and the recently deceased trumpet legend Lew Soloff, all before reaching the age of 26.

Tafoya regularly performs in New York City in places like Dizzy’s Club Coca Cola, Zinc Bar, Minton’s, Swing 46, Shapeshifter Lab, DROM, Rockwood Music Hall, City Winery, and Lincoln Center. Paul has shared the stage with greats Jon Batiste, EJ Strickland, Clarence Banks, Billy Harper, Jim Foy, Rich Perry, Freddie Hendrix, Jamison Ross, Matt Wilson, Doug Weidman, Martin Wind, Frank Lacy, Claudio Roditi, Alex Blake, Dave Trigg, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Terrell Stafford.

Deeply moved by the culture of jazz and the freedom and pure joy it offers to society, Tafoya continues to enjoy sharing it through various musical platforms, while developing his own voice through composition and performance.

He’s working towards an EP and subsequent release for his group “HumanHood” and recently was asked by the New School to lead an ensemble representing the school at the Bern Jazz Festival in Switzerland, where he also performed some of his original compositions.

Tafoya has also performed regularly in a wide variety of musical settings in NYC, including playing lead trumpet with Off-Broadway productions of “Evita,” “Sweetie,” “West Side Story,” “Mille,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” “The Secret Garden,” “The Sound of Music,” and “Tusca” with the Brooklyn Loft Opera and notable director Pat Birch. He performs weekly with Joe Benjamin and A Mighty Handful as the band’s resident lead trumpeter and is an in-demand soloist and lead trumpeter with Swingadelic, Sammy Miller, Seth Weaver, Stan Rubin, Big BEAT, the recently televised PJ Rasmussen Boardwalk Jazz Band, and the Russian jazz trumpet great, Valery Ponamerev. This month he will perform another month long run of the Off-Broadway production “Sweetie” with director Pat Birch.

Tafoya’s aspirations do not end with his stellar career in the Big Apple, as he has set his sights on attending the Juilliard School of Music. Paul is grateful for the solid foundation he was afforded in Polk County’s band program, where his love for music began back when he was a budding trumpet player in the middle school. Needless to say, his parents, five brothers, two sisters, and extended family are all very proud of him and invite you to share in the excitement of the story of his success.

– article submitted by Robin Turner