Bellingham musician Paul Sorensen keeps active after long professional career


Paul Sorenson of Bellingham

Paul Sorensen, 75, was born in Bellingham and began playing clarinet at Roeder Elementary School. He worked as a professional musician in Los Angeles and is currently musical director of the Northern Lights Jazz Orchestra and has his own seven-piece band, the Swing Street Band, featuring Robin Kagan as vocalist.


Paul Sorensen, 75, was born in Bellingham and grew up on Bakerview Road. He says he began playing clarinet at Roeder Elementary School, played in school bands at Whatcom Junior High and Bellingham High, and graduated in 1957.

He attended the U. S. Navy School of Music and became a Navy musician for four years, then worked as a professional musician out of Local 47 in Los Angeles from 1961 to 1977. When he returned to Bellingham in 1977, he taught flute, clarinet, and saxophone at Brown's Music store on Grand Avenue.

(Burleigh Brown, the store's owner, had sold Sorensen his first clarinet in the 1950s, when he was in grade school.)

Sorensen received his master's degree in music performance and composition in 1998. He is currently musical director of the Northern Lights Jazz Orchestra and has his own seven-piece band, the Swing Street Band, featuring Robin Kagan as vocalist.

He's still plays music around Bellingham occasionally with a quartet comprised of John Flancher on string bass, Grant Ball on drums, Kim Bowman or Robin Kagan on vocals and Sorensen on keyboards. That ensemble plays frequently at Fireside Martini Bar and at Old World Deli.

The Swing Street Band will play from 7 to 9 p.m. July 26 and Aug. 9 and 23 for dance nights at Bellingham Senior Activity Center. The band plays hits of the big-band era, with some new classics thrown in, Sorensen says.

Details on Paul Sorensen's Swing Street Band are on Facebook.

Question: Do you come from a musical family?

Answer: My mother's side of the family was very musical. She taught me piano from an early age on. She was a fine piano player and also played violin while attending the University of Washington.

I gradually picked up the saxophone and have played either alto or tenor saxophone since high school. I don't sing, although I have written many musical arrangements for vocalists and some choir pieces.

Q: Who do you perform with?

A: In Bellingham I usually perform with my own group, although when Paul Baron invited me to play lead alto with the Roadkill Jazz Orchestra, I couldn't refuse. That big band held forth at the Up and Up Tavern for quite a long period and was great fun to play in.

I had a piano trio gig at the Calumet (on Magnolia Street) for quite a run, also. I formed my own big band, the Northern Lights Jazz Orchestra, in 2000 and played the Fairhaven Village Green for a number of years during the summer months. And I recently revived my Swing Street band.

Q: What do you enjoy about performing?

A: Performing music for others has always been rewarding. Whether being part of a 30-piece orchestra or a small group, the good feeling of having helped produce a musically rewarding experience for others, as well as for yourself, is a lasting experience.

Also, the camaraderie among like musicians is a special thing! At one point I had to learn to play flute and piccolo if I were to play lead alto sax for any major touring orchestra, so I took lessons from Bill Caulkins in Canoga Park. I consequently played on a number of Johnny Mathis concert tours to all parts of the country.

I traveled with the Sy Zentner band playing concerts and dances and backing up Mel Torme, Nancy Wilson, Sarah Vaughn and others in Las Vegas and Lake Tahoe.

Q: What music do you enjoy?

A: I like to listen to quite a variety of music, but I usually concentrate on small-group jazz, including Harold Land, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Miles Davis and George Coleman. My favorite big band is the former Thad Jones Mel Lewis band. Count Basie's band is a close second.

Q: What else do you do, musically speaking?

A: I'm primarily a music arranger, although it takes quite a bit of composing music to be a successful arranger. I write mostly for big band and big band with vocals.

I've also done special arrangements for symphony orchestras, as well as a few concert band pieces. I listen to Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Quincey Jones, and many others of that ilk, since it's the music I grew up with.

I teach privately a little bit, but I'm usually kept quite busy in my old age, writing music for others and my own groups. I write and publish my own music at Sorensen Sound Music Co.

Bellingham has always been my home where I live with my wife, Pamela, even though I've spent years away in the U.S. Navy, at college, and performing as a professional musician for 16 years out of Los Angeles.

Reach Margaret Bikman at 360-715-2273 or

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