People: Parker Paul's one-of-a-kind karaoke experience

Erica Thompson

Parker Paul's brand of karaoke isn't for everyone. There is no traditional backing track; the singers are supported solely by live instrumentation - Paul at his Kurzweil keyboard and either musician/vinyl pressing engineer Keith Hanlon or the Receiver's Jesse Cooper on drums. There is no countdown that prompts you to begin; the musicians will follow your lead. There is no "bouncing ball" that helps you keep track of the lyrics; you have to manage your way through the song.

"It's a collaboration between me and the singer and the drummer, so we have to find mutual ground," said Paul, whose next karaoke event will take place at Little Rock Bar on Saturday, May 7. "The performance is going to be as good as I play and as good as they sing."

Live karaoke may come with an unpleasant vulnerability, but there is also a freedom that allows for considerable creativity. Singers can take an extra chorus or scat during an extended ending. They can even change the entire tempo of the song.

"Some people say, 'Let's do "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" as a slow ballad,'" Paul said.

The ability to be flexible as a musician comes with experience, which Paul definitely has on his side. He began playing piano at about seven or eight years old. He took lessons for approximately 10 years, and credits his teacher with showing him the possibilities on piano beyond standard classical repertoire.

"[She] used to throw a lot of different things [in] like Scott Joplin and Rachmaninoff," he said.

After high school, Paul went on to play in numerous local rock bands with interesting names such as the Look and Feel of Hand-Tooled Leather, Honey, You Made Too Much Cake and the Curious Digit, to name just a few. He has released albums on independent labels JagJaguwar and Old 3C Records. In the late 1980s, he was in the "Battle of the Bands" at Crazy Mama's, an event he said older Columbus residents would probably remember.

He didn't start hosting karaoke until 2011. The opportunity came about spontaneously at an open mic night at Andyman's Tree House, now the Tree Bar. "Somebody asked me to play 'The Weight' by the Band, and it kind of took off from there," Paul said.

For about a year, he hosted karaoke Wednesday nights at Cafe Bourbon Street. "We would set up a drum set and a guitar amp, and whoever showed up would play," he said. Today, he mostly plays at Little Rock Bar, though he recently had a great reception at Shadowbox Live.

For as long as he can recall, Paul has lived a "dual life," playing music and pursuing a career in social work, which he studied at Ohio State University. These days, due to work and family commitments, he doesn't have as much time to perform. For fun at home, he'll play from "Fake Books," which provide the melody and chords of popular songs in all genres of music. He also writes original two-minute songs.

But live karaoke is where he can challenge himself musically. He has a list of songs that singers may choose from, including "Dreams" by Fleetwood Mac and "What's Up?" by 4 Non Blondes - two of the most popular requests. "I learned some songs by the Misfits and they get sung surprisingly frequently because they're gruesome, violent songs," he said.

When someone requests a song that isn't on the list, it gives him an opportunity to improvise on the spot, and provides him with something to properly learn and practice later.

Whether or not a song is in his repertoire, the performance is always unique. And whether you're a singer or not, Paul believes you can enjoy piano karaoke.

"It's live. It's ephemeral. It's wonderful," he said. "People are out talking, drinking, flirting, listening to music, playing music [and] having a good time."

About Parker Paul

Age: Seven days younger than Kurt Cobain

Day job: social worker

Hometown: Columbus

Current neighborhood: North Campus

Currently listening to: WMNI AM 920, 95.9 The Drum and CD102.5

Favorite restaurant in Columbus: Buckeye Donuts

Favorite movie: "Rushmore"

Favorite TV show: "Wheel of Fortune"

What fictional mom do you wish raised you and why? "My fictional mom would be Gaia, as her kids/grandkids include Aphrodite and Zeus. Cool family."

Live Band Karaoke with

Parker Paul and Pete English

Little Rock Bar

9 p.m. Saturday, May 7

944 North Fourth St.,

Italian Village