From Campus to Stage: A Tiny Desk Story 


March 19, 2024

Paolo Santos holds his flute wearing sunglasses in front of the Tiny Desk set at NPR.

By Kimia Rafieian

Paulo Santos (B.M., Jazz Studies, 2021) recently shared the stage with Juwan Elcock–better known as Blk Odyssy–for a Tiny Desk concert, the flagship live concert series from NPR Music. 

We had a chance to sit down with him and delve deeper into Paulo's journey as a Jazz Studies student at the Butler School of Music to the Tiny Desk stage. This Q&A has been lightly edited for clarity. 

Q: Paulo, can you tell us about how this opportunity with Blk Odyssy came about? 

Paulo: Honestly, it sort of just fell into my lap. I woke up one morning to a text message from Juwon Elcock of Blk Odyssy asking if I could play the Tiny Desk concert, basically the next week. He just said that he had gotten my phone number from somebody in the band and that the rehearsals would start that evening at 8:30 p.m. I barely had any information at all, so it was a lot of just being hopeful and saying yes to something that I didn't really know much about. 

Q: Collaborating with Blk Odyssy must have been quite an experience. Can you share a glimpse of what  the preparation was like? 

Paulo: What was very fascinating was Juwan: he is a vocalist/rapper figure but musically he doesn't play many instruments - but he can tell every single person he's working with exactly what he wants and how to play it. He was intentional with what he wanted from all the musicians. It was an admirable and unique experience to work with an artist that had such a strong vision of what they wanted. It was also a very nice surprise to find out that my colleague at The University of Texas at Austin, Ari Burns, was also performing with us on the trumpet. 

Q: What was it like to perform at a Tiny Desk concert? 

Paulo: It was very surreal to be in that moment. After arriving in Washington, D.C. we walked over to the NPR building into a big office area space. Then you turn one corner and suddenly there's this insanely iconic space with the desk and bookshelf behind it and everybody's cool artifacts that they brought and left. It's still within the office space which makes you forget that despite it being almost a sacred ground for musicians it's literally just where someone works. Everybody was super kind, fun and awesome to work with. 

Q: How do you feel that your musical background contributed to this collaboration? 

Paulo: So you have to be very mindful with the entire band of your volume because you could easily drown out all the singers. They kept telling us to hold back more so we had to really pay attention and be more intentional with our sound. That was one of the moments where I felt like I was using the big musical qualities that get pushed in terms of musicianship in college - very similar to my experiences with the university ensemble. In addition, my former teacher Joey Colarusso - from whom my information had been given to the band - was a big help in my audition process for UT when I was in high school and helped me up my game in terms of jazz performance and what I need to be a better performer. 

Q: What are some things you learned from this collaboration, musically or personally? 

Paulo: It was a big experience for me for sure, one of those things I never really thought would happen this early in my career. I think as a musician there's always a want to do more than you're doing just because there's so many ways that you can show your craft. Getting to work with the band in an atmosphere like that with 10-12 people all in one mindset and intention for a shared end goal was such a unique experience that I felt very lucky to have. It definitely created a shift in the way I want to view creating music with other people in the future. I want to start doing more for myself and rather than just trying to work the hustle of music, work for the personal enjoyment of music and make time for my own artistry. 



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Alumni Jazz Studies