Paul Zarvis: Colors and Sounds
Written by Stephanie Bartik on December 28, 2020
Originally from Pittsfield MA in Berkshire County, Paul began his musical career at an early age. Retelling a story from his mother, Paul explains that at three years old she took him for a walk through their Lenox MA neighborhood and walked by a flower bed. His mother, a college professor, pointed to some roses and said to Paul “Aren’t these some pretty flowers Paul?” he replied, “Yes, but the yellow ones sound better.”
His mom knew from that point, that Paul had a gift of sound or music. Later in life, it was found that Paul has a condition known as Synesthesia. In a nutshell, when Paul hears sounds he sees colors in his mind, and when he sees colors he hears sounds. Paul’s mom exposed him to music and enrolled him in lessons. Music was his consuming passion for the rest of his life. He played classical music and at 13 was considered a prodigy but at the age of 15, he began playing in various Berkshire County bands for many years to come. These include the Zarvis Allen Band, Dollars, Blind Date, The Joe Dowen Road Show, and others. He rubbed elbows with many top bands including opening with his band Blind Date for Tower of Power, auditions with David Johansen and the New York Dolls, and Dan Hartman. He also opened for Orleans, Bonnie Raitt, NRBQ, and the Stompers with The Zarvis-Allen Band.
In 1983 he earned a full piano scholarship to Berklee College of Music in Boston MA. But years of playing clubs and living the rock and roll life took its toll and Paul became addicted to drugs and alcohol. It was a problem that nearly cost him his life. He left Berklee without graduating and went on the road with rock bands to earn money.
Drug and alcohol use took its toll as addiction took center stage and eventually took over his life. He was arrested for stealing money to support his habit and it began a string of arrests and convictions which sent him to NY State prisons for the next 14 years of his life. The only music he played was Gospel music in the prison chapels.
Paul had vowed to clean up his act and served his time constructively. Consequently, he was released from prison in March of 2014 with a consuming desire to have music back as the focal point of his life. He met Tanya, who helped him reclaim his life and together they live as a couple supporting and loving each other every step of the way. Paul is living life clean and sober and loving every minute of it.
After prison, Paul settled in Albany and worked at over 14 temporary jobs finally settling on a bus driving and mechanic position which paid the rent but was unfulfilling. Music was still his passion. He began knocking on doors, cold calling clubs, and venues, trying to re-connect with old bandmates but no one would give him the time of day. The local musician and club scene is very tough to get into if one is not from the area. Finally, area rocker Johnny Morse gave Paul a shot in his 2015 Birthday Bash at Chrome Food and Spirits and Paul’s reputation as a keyboard player began to grow. He had a brief gig with local band Dashboard Anthem but his work schedule would not allow him to have the weekends off.
Finally, he began playing odd gigs with Johnny Morse or a solo gig here and there and after being inspired by a benefit performance at his mom’s assisted living facility in Maine, he began to entertain seniors in the Capital District assisted living facilities as a way to give the gift of music to those who can’t get out to hear it. He was steadily getting more exposure and more gigs. He started a new band called The Drama Kings with his brother, guitarist John Zarvis, bassist Rick Williams and drummer Jimmy Harte while simultaneously writing and recording original music, writing an original score and film trailer for the web series Beyond Scope, (recorded the pilot episode), and sync licensed 13 original compositions through BMI and Songtradr. And then…..COVID.
When COVID 19 hit it destroyed the local music scene. The rules and regulations make it almost impossible for a musician to earn a living. Paul focused on the downtime to re-adjust, create a solo act, and learn to work within the confines of COVID law. He was a favorite during the summer at The Lake George Beach Club and King Neptune’s Pub. Retiring from the bus company he now plays live shows for a living. He’s currently started a show of iconic hit songs and show tunes called Paul Zarvis’ Piano Bar and is house piano player for O’Toole’s restaurant and The State Room Banquet Hall in Albany.
Paul looks forward to next summer when again, he will entertain audiences in Lake George, perform with his band the Drama Kings. Playing in rock and jazz bands is something he is also considering once COVID 19 resolves. It’s always been his dream to make music his full-time job and now that is what he’s doing. It’s been a long road but at 61 years old Paul Zarvis shows no signs of slowing down. Coming full circle, he is again a full-time student at Berklee. This time studying Music Production.