Musician Paul Shihadeh talks Cirque du Soleil and his collaborative holiday performance
After working the full gambit of jobs here and there in the music industry, Paul Shihadeh received a call from Cirque du Soleil offering him a job as music director for their ongoing Las Vegas production of O.
Originally from Edmonton, Shihadeh left to attend Berklee College of Music in Boston in the late ‘80s. He returned to the city working as a freelance bassist, also taking other musical opportunities needed to advance his career.
During that time he played with some of Edmonton’s best, including Tommy Banks, Bob Stroup, Alfie Zappacosta, and the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.
“It really built up nicely,” Shihadeh says. “I was able to do a lot of different types of things whether it was jazz gigs, casuals, corporate stuff or recordings and albums.”
During the ‘90s, Shihadeh took a job at MacEwan University as head of the bass department, and every few weeks he would tour with Kenyan-British musician Roger Whittaker—taking him throughout Canada, Europe and the United States. This lasted for five years, while he taught, toured, and freelanced.
In 2001, Shihadeh and his wife, Krista Monson, made the decision to sell everything and move to Los Angeles.
“We thought, ‘You know, we’re young enough where if we make a choice of trying to explore a bigger market, this is it. We’ve gotta do it now; we can’t do it when we’re 50,’” he explains. “It was a toss up between New York and L.A. We decided L.A. because housing is a little cheaper and we had an 18-month-old baby at the time.”
Shihadeh says the decision was pivotal for both he and his wife’s careers, though it really wasn’t evident for him at the time.
Desperate for a job after getting settled in a suburb of the city, he walked into a music store near his house and asked if they needed a bass or guitar teacher.
“I just taught a couple of students in the back of this music store; and I remember my first cheque was a $12 biweekly cheque and I thought, ‘Wow, this is the beginning.’”
He makes a point of mentioning that his success didn’t come quickly or easily.
“It was tough. We had cardboard boxes for furniture and, you know, we were really pinching pennies, and the exchange rate was brutal, but it really started to grow,” Shihadeh says.
After having the position with Cirque du Soleil for nine years, Shihadeh says it’s pretty astounding to look back.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What is your greatest career moment?’ I said, ‘You know, I don’t have a specific career moment. I’m just really proud of the fact that I’ve made a living as a bass player since I was 22,’” he says. “And a lot of that was in Edmonton.”
Shihadeh credits his success as a professional musician to his versatility as a player.
“In Edmonton I can say, and I say this with a kind of humorous tone, I did everything at least once,” he says. “Some of it I was really bad at, and some of it I was pretty good at … But you find your niche and I pursued those things.”
He credits he and his wife’s decision to try their hands in a bigger pool.
“If you have any of that instinct inside of you, if you feel that you’re missing something, then yes, I think it’s essential.”
Shihadeh also attributes a great deal of his valuable experience and career-building to Edmonton. Now, 16 years since he left for L.A., Shihadeh says he wants to pay homage to Edmonton, alongside some of his good musician friends in the city.
His holiday reunion in early December boasts a seven-piece band, including such local favourites as Sander Dominelli on drums, Jim Head on guitar, Andrew Glover on keyboard, Shelley Jones as vocalist, Brad Tildsley on trumpet, Jim Babcock on sax, and Shihadeh on bass.
Over the 90-minute set, the septet will feature pieces of jazz, funk, R&B, pop, and “maybe one Christmas tune,” he laughs.
Thu., Dec. 7 (8 pm)
Paul Shihadeh Holiday Reunion
Yardbird Suite, $26