Paul van Kessel started singing at the age of eight in the church choir of Grevenbicht, a small village in the south of the Netherlands. At the age of 17, he began singing with a funk band in the nearby city of Sittard. The band continued playing in clubs, at festivals and musical venues for the next seven years, primarily in the southern province of Limburg.
Around the age of 20, Paul enrolled to study jazz at the Conservatory of Maastricht and Amsterdam. In 2001 he moved to Amsterdam, where he still lives today.
During his studies and soon after graduating in 2005, Paul became a familiar figure in Dutch jazz circles, developing into one of the few male jazz vocalists in the Netherlands. After many guest appearances in big bands and groups, he joined the popular Dutch “small” big band, The Young Sinatras, as the lead vocalist. They recorded two EPs and two albums together and gigged continually for eight years throughout the Netherlands, as well as in Germany, France, Belgium and England. They also performed several times at the North Sea Jazz festival in Rotterdam.
Paul’s voice is ideally suited to both small jazz ensembles and large arranged, orchestrated music. He has made guest appearances with the Royal Orchestra of the Dutch Air Force, The New Cool Collective Big Band, the Metropole Orchestra, the Jazz Orchestra of the Concertgebouw and the Symphonic Orchestra of the Hessischer Rundfunk.
From 2014-2016, he was the singer in New York Round Midnight, a jazz theatrical production by Ben van den Dungen and Alexander Beets which toured the Netherlands for two years and included classic standards such as Thelonious Monk’s eponymous Round Midnight. This successful tour – which numbered about 100 performances – culminated in a 15-minute slot in Dutch TV Show De Wereld Draait Door and a performance at the Joy of Jazz Festival in Johannesburg, South Africa, as well as a sell-out performance at the acclaimed Orbit Jazz Room in that city.
Since 2011, apart from being a regular host at Amsterdam’s finest weekly club night, “Wicked Jazz Sounds”, Paul has been writing and producing music. He composes mostly on his guitar, structuring songs before recording them in a studio with a small trio of grand piano, drums and bass, as well as high backing voices to enhance certain passages in the numbers. His first two EPs, Riot and Keep Your Soul Together, were combined as an album and released in Japan on record label P-Vine in 2015. They have a semi-acoustic sound with a distinctly soulful groove, as well as a jazzy touch of grand piano.
For his latest releases, Where’s My Home?, Whatever Trouble and Damn Dog, Paul added a guitar player and an additional horn section (trumpet, alto saxophone and trombone), which deepened the works and intensified their colour, as well as introducing a bluesy and work-song feel to them.
Paul’s music receives wide recognition through jazz radio broadcasts like Radio6, NPO Radio2 Soul & Jazz and Sublime FM, where he has been a regular guest for a number of years. He has been nominated several times for a Radio6 Award for Best Male Vocalist, Best Single and Best Jazz Talent.
His balance of perfectionism and playfulness, combined with his passion for jazz, musical versatility and propensity for cross-genre exploration, makes him a singularly exciting artist who can celebrate the creative vocabularies of others without sacrificing his own.
Anne Phillips: music reviewer, Johannesburg