Ladies and Gentlemen: Leslie Paula!


By Eric E. González


Leslie Paula is one busy lady. Her group, The Latin Soul Band, is one of the top acts in California these days. And it’s about time, because she has certainly paid her dues. After fifteen years of singing professionally, it was precisely a matter of time before her talents could be fully appreciated by the world. Her two albums to this date, and a third one on the way, are great evidence of this.


Daughter of legendary timbalero Mike Gutierrez, who was very active in California’s Afro-Cuban music circuit, this Anaheim native certainly carries the tradition in her blood. Her father, by the way, is an integral part of the Latin Soul Band and partly responsible for the direction this group has taken over the years. Another primordial member of her team is her husband, Anthony Lennon, who acts as her manager. So there you have it: all these factors, plus Leslie’s privileged voice, result in a force to be dealt with.


I was lucky to briefly talk with Leslie by phone. She was getting ready for her presentation in the upcoming Playboy Jazz Festival. Needless to say, only the great participate in this event, and Leslie was very aware of its importance.

ERIC E. GONZÁLEZ (EEG): Leslie, you come from an artistic family. Please tell me about it.

LESLIE PAULA (LP): With regards to my mom, she is a very creative person; she is an oil painter. She was more supportive of the music side of our family; very supportive of my father when they were married. And, of course, I kind of got that obviously in my blood -- I received that from my dad’s side: the music background because of my grandmother on my father’s side and my father. My grandmother was a singer, as well. So it’s in my blood and it’s completely supported by my parents.


EEG: Your father, Mike Gutierrez, is a well-known percussionist in California. Tell me about him.

LP: He got into Latin music, salsa, and all that because, after he got out of the army, he was around all of those musicians. He was playing with Luis Miranda, Cal Tjader, Eddie Cano, Bobby Montez…all of the players that were hot at that time. He worked with all these people, they were all compadres. Bobby Montez is my brother’s godfather. So, basically, he was surrounded by these musicians that kind of cradled him and taught him, so that he passed it to my brother and I.


EEG: Why did you choose to sing?

LP: I sang when I was a baby, from the time I was two years old. But I really did not think that I would truly choose this as a real career until I was in high school. I don’t think I had the confidence to think that I could do it as a career, and my mother, my father and my grandmother said, “What is wrong with you? You got it!.” They pushed me along; they really, really encouraged me.


EEG: Aside from your family, who else influenced your singing?

LP: In my singing, first and foremost, obviously my dad. In regards to famous artists, some of my favorite influences are Sarah Vaughan, Celia Cruz, and Anita Baker. Those were big influences when I was growing up.


EEG: What kind of music did you sing at the beginning?

LP: At the beginning, my father was the one that told me that I should choose not to just go with one style of music. He wanted me to sing in Spanish and in English, so that I would learn more, I would get more work, I would be able to work with more people, and utilize my talents for the American and Latin audiences. And it worked! Until about six years ago, I decided to stay more with the Latin music.


EEG: So far you have two albums to your credit. Tell me about them.

LP: “Holidays in Rhythm” was released in 1998, but we recorded it at the end of 1997. It is a Latin Jazz Holiday album -- Christmas music. “Te Quiero - I want you” was released in December 1999. It is a mixture of Latin jazz and salsa, and some of the lyrics are in Spanish and some in English, so it appeals to wider audiences.


EEG: In what labels did you release these albums?

LP: “Holidays in Rhythm” was my own label and with “Te Quiero” I had the help and support of a small company from up north called Marigold records.


EEG: Have your albums been successful so far?

LP: Oh, yeah. Actually, “Holidays in Rhythm” has been really much bigger in Europe than here, specifically in Germany, which is really wonderful. In fact, two of the songs were already put into a compilation CD in Germany. “Te Quiero” I had not expanded to European audiences, yet. We have been mainly in the United States, so far. It is doing well, and I’m getting a lot of radio play throughout all the independent radio stations throughout the United States.


EEG: How come you chose to do a record of Christmas songs as your first venture?

LP: I’m a lover of holiday music; I love that time of the year. But I have always been bored each year with the same songs, the same way, by different artists. Other than Bobby Rodriguez, I have never heard a really great vocal album with a Latin flavor of holiday music. And I said, “You know, I should do this!” And I’m glad that I did. A lot of times people thought that I was crazy, because I chose that to be my first project. But I think is a great choice. It is something that will never grow old.


EEG: I understand that you are working on a new album. What’s the label?

LP: The new CD is going to be titled “Temas de mi Corazón / Themes from my Heart”. My dad picked that title, and it’s a more of a romantic album. It’s filled with some of my favorite romantic tunes that I have been taught by my father from the time I was young, and it also includes three original songs that are written by two different friends of mine that perform with me and also have written songs in past albums. It’s going to be in my label again. I decided that for now I need to be in a little bit more control of the project and the choices of distribution.

Note: “Temas de mi Corazón” was recently released and is available to the public.


EEG: Are you singing in Spanish or English in this album?

LP: It’s going to be entirely in Spanish this time.


EEG: You are one busy lady. I know that you will be singing in the Playboy Jazz Festival, in one of several venues.

LP: Well, right now that’s my next really big performance that I’m very excited about. Ronnie Laws is going to be the headliner on the day that I perform, surrounded by just the most incredible musicians. I’m very excited about being in that company at that level. And I don’t know if you are aware, but I just recently performed for the Oscars Governor’s Ball, after the Oscar’s ceremony. It was the first time that they had Latin music, period, at a Governor’s Ball for that event. So we were very honored to be chosen.


EEG: Did you make all these movie stars dance?

LP: Oh, my God, they danced like crazy! They also did a conga line all around the room. It was incredible.

Leslie parting words symbolize her spirit: “You can never stop paying your dues, you can never stop learning, you can never stop growing.” You go, Leslie!


Photography courtesy of Anthony Lennon

Interview conducted May 6, 2001