Learning and Teaching Jazz Double Bass with Katie Thiroux – Interview

Learning and Teaching Jazz Double Bass with Katie Thiroux – Interview

December 10, 2019 3 By Stanley Isaacs


– Hi, it’s Geoff Chalmers here
from DiscoverDoubleBass.com. That is the home of online
video double bass lessons. So if you’re new to the instrument of if you’re more experienced you want to learn some new techniques,
maybe some new repertoire, we have a whole range
of lessons, interviews, step by step courses, gear reviews, basically if you like the double bass, please go check out our website. Today I’m really excited
because I’m welcoming a new tutor to the website and
she is an incredible singer, incredible bass player, and somebody that I’ve been wanting to get involved with Discover Double Bass for a while and she’s kindly come across to the UK. We’ve been filming a
really exciting course for beginning jazz bass players who are kind of starting out and wanting to get to the point that they
can sit in at the jam session and play their best music. And, okay, so time to
welcome Katie Thiroux, welcome Katie. – Thank you. – Well, it’s been a really great week. I’ve really enjoyed putting this course together with you and
listening to you play. And we’ve also been
chatting a lot in the car about all the great people
that we’ve studied with. And I was hoping that you could maybe share a little bit about,
well, really your background and some of the people
that you’ve studied with, and maybe some of the stuff that you’re doing now as a teacher. So, do you wanna maybe
give us a little bit of information about where you studied, how you got into the bass
and what your background is? – Sure, I’ll give you the brief history. – Yeah, go on. – So, I started playing violin, actually, when I was four, and I’m
the youngest of four kids and we all had to start playing
violin when we were four, and it was literally a
Christmas tree ornament, and so the unspoken rule
was playing for four years, the violin, and we did Suzuki method, but I was really terrible, and I didn’t really enjoy
playing it, but I did it, and it sounded awful, and I wasn’t having any fun. So when I was eight years old my mom said why don’t you try playing the bass. She plays the bass, my older
brother plays the bass. And she said, everyone needs a bass player so you’ll always have a job. – That’s great advice. – It is good advice and
I was eight years old and I didn’t really know
what that meant at the time but I never forgot that she said that. And of course now I know that because everyone needs a bass player. You know, if I have to sub
out a gig or something, all the bass players are already working, so you’ll have a job. So I started playing when I was eight, and I was really lucky to
have a fantastic teacher, his name’s Dr. David Young, and I was studying at the
Colburn School when I was eight. And my very first lesson, he just, he didn’t really say much, he just gave me the bass and
it was a quarter sized bass, gave me the bow, and it just felt right, it felt perfect, kind of like an athlete throws their first football or holds the baseball bat, and you kind of know, like, ugh, I’m finally home, I made it. – So, could you already hold the bow, did you have a bit of? – It was such an easy thing, like I said, he didn’t say much he
just said hold the bow, you know it’s going that way, my hand long way, he just
said put it in your hand and just grab it, turn it over, and then we kind of talked
about technique after that, but it was just, it was so nice to have such a simple teacher
and a simple upbringing in that it was strict technique,
you’re doing this wrong, you’re doing that, it was
really all about having fun and it went from there. So, I studied classical bass all the way throughout high school with different teachers, and
I started playing jazz bass cause still at the Colburn School, I was studying there
playing the orchestra, and when I was 12 years old I was just walking down the hall with my bass and one of the teachers there, Lee Eckard, kind of like pulled me, he’s like oh we need a jazz
bass player in our combo. And both my brothers were in the combo, they played bass and guitar,
so they studied with him. But I said, oh I’m
sorry, I don’t play jazz, you know, I need to read music,
I’m a classical bass player. But I loved jazz music and I actually was starting
to sing jazz a little bit. So it wasn’t like so far off for me. But he said, oh it’s okay, we just learn everything off
of recordings, you’ll be fine. So it was really, that’s how
I got into playing jazz bass, I just started playing with kids my age and just learning music from recordings. So I really fell in love
with a lot of great music from a young age like Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, and then
when I heard Ray Brown it really changed my life. – Do you remember what
that first record was? – The first record I heard Ray
Brown with was Bam, Bam, Bam. – Oh yeah. – Live in Tokyo. – You know he’s gonna be
cool with a name like that it’s gonna be cool. – Yeah, I know. Yeah, totally. So when I heard Ray Brown I was just like, wow, the bass can sound like this? And I had heard Paul
Chambers and Israel Crosby and all these great iconic bass players, especially those iconic bass lines. But what he did with the quarter note, and just with that pulse of the beat really changed my life at that point. – Wow. – And then from there I
was lucky to study with people like Kristen Krob in Los Angeles, that grew up in L.A. So I just had like this
wealth of knowledge around me getting to go out and see music. And then when I studied with Kristen, actually before that, I was studying voice with a great vocalist here in East Sutton, and she was the first
one, we were talking about improvisation and harmony, and she said, you know, we were playing to play along tracks, she’s like, well you already played bass, and we’re talking about harmony and chords, why don’t you just play the root and then sing all the
harmony we’re talking about? – Oh wow. – So it just kind of came
out of a way of practice and then it became really fun, and I really enjoyed it. And when I was studying with Kristen Korb we were working on transcriptions, I love transcribing bass
lines in certain things. And so I had transcribed Paul
Chambers if I were a bell from Miles Davis. And then she said well
now you have to transcribe the trumpet solo line, and then play them, and then start working
and playing on it together and then you’ll just hone this craft. So for me, like the
whole path was really fun not forced, and the fun
part for me was just when I couldn’t do something, the fun part was that
search on figuring out how to do it and how to
really get great at it. – That’s the thing, the
obstacle is the way, and so often it’s in the
repertoire that we’re playing. If you’re working on Ahmad Jamal, live at the Purshing, you know, Israel Crosby, you know, bass lines, and you’re suddenly having to learn about, you know, these arpeggios
and further distance and that’s the pathway
that helps us move forward. So I mean, there’s quite a lot of stuff I’d love to talk about in there. So, as a teacher when you’re
meeting these new students, do you think that classical playing is important to jazz bass players? You’ve obviously, you know,
had this really exciting background where you’ve
been playing classical music and you’re, I’m sure that’s helped you with learning your way
around the instrument. But, do you recommend that
to somebody coming up? Is that, you know, you get a new student, should they do both? Is it part of the journey for everybody? – I think definitely so. So to learn how to play a classical music and in that repertoire too, just in etudes and scales alone, like that approach as opposed to only coming from a jazz approach, the classical really helps enhance it, and just, for example, you
know like the bass line on But Not For Me, Israel
Crosby, Live at the Purshing, those certain arpeggios starting on there is a little bit hard to grasp without ever really
learning classical music, Etudes, certain exercises and repertoire. So, then those little
like, those little tricks are just already in
your hand, you’re like, oh that’s just an arpeggio
starting from the sixth, going down, you know? – Yeah, and that’s really exciting. And in terms of the jazz
teachers that you’ve had, you mentioned Kristen Korb, and that was an incredibly
fortunate experience because of course you’re
both wonderful singers and you’re both wonderful bass players. One thing I haven’t mentioned so far is that I’ll absolutely
be sharing Katie’s music below this video. So you can go and check it out and of course we’ll share
what you can choose a video of Kristen maybe, so we can
share some of hers as well. But that must have been a
really interesting experience, how did you get, you know, hooked up with her, how did that happen? – So I went to a camp called Port Townsend off the coast of Seattle. And I just went there as a singer because I couldn’t afford
to fly my bass up there from California and it turned out to be a really great experience. There was this, with this
great vocalist Nancy King. And Kristen was in the,
like the backing band. And it was a really cool camp altogether, John Clayton was there,
and Bud Shank was there when he was alive, it was like, just full of these amazing jazz musicians. And I was just singing the whole week, and then not until like the last day did I tell Kristen, I was like oh I play bass too, and then she started making me play in the class,
which was great because all the singers sing in different keys, so then it was just, you
know, transposing on the spot. And so when I came home,
I just gave her a ring and wanted to take lessons, and the same thing happened
with Tierney Sutton, I just, I was 12 and I
knew she lived in L.A. And I really liked her
singing so I just called her and said, hey could
I try a lesson with you, and so it was just kind
of having that confidence because I loved it so much, I just wanted to learn more about it. – Do you think it’s
helped with the connection with the instrument. Because we’ve been so, we’ve been here filming this course this week and we’ve done the
whole series of lessons, and we actually be sharing
a lesson on YouTube about singing and playing the bass, but do you feel that it’s given you a deep connection with what you play? Cause it feels very genuine, it doesn’t feel like there’s any filler, you know, particularly
when you’re improvising, your lines are so melodic, you know, is that part, you know, does it come maybe from a place of singing,
is a relationship there? – It can, sometimes it does feel like it. I just feel like especially
when I’m singing bass lines and singing solos, it’s just so connected, then, and I can tell,
like sometimes if I’m, either practicing, or even
sometimes when I’m performing, when I kind of lose focus, and then awareness goes away, and then all of the sudden I’m like oh, my bass lines don’t sound
good and the beat doesn’t sound good, and then I just
kind of go back to singing it, you know, just lighting,
oh and it just kind of comes all back together. – So is the rhythm in there as well? Is that part of how you get
your rhythmic strand through, vocalizing, you think? – I think so too, like really, especially like when
you’re walking a bass line, having that deep core, and almost like, sometimes I am a little too vocal, like, you know, sometimes instead of singing, it’s almost like a growl you know? – Yeah, yeah. – But just kind of like, that strength has to come from somewhere, and that sound has to come from somewhere and it’s inside of you. – Yeah, absolutely. And, okay, so you’ve talked about Kristen, I’d love to hear about you
sitting with John Clayton because we’re both big fans of his music, and maybe you could speak
to us about that experience. I know he’s been a mentor and someone that you’ve been close with and I’m sure that you’ve
learnt a lot from him, maybe you could share something, you know, with the audience
that’s really helped you with your playing. – Yes, John is definitely
amazing, and really wants to give and share this music. And I first met him as a
student at at a workshop called the Vale Jazz Workshop and I just had one week with him with a lot of one on one
time when I was a teenager, and that just stuck with me for years, just things about, like
the things I continue to talk about, about tone production, even simple things we forget about, about holding the bass. And I really learned how to learn myself, and also how to teach. So kind of why are we doing things, why do I want to play this bass line. How am I gonna play it, just simple things that you
don’t really think about but they make playing better?. And, he just, he’s amazing, he’s made me a lot quicker at learning and being able to get my
point across musically. – That’s interesting. – So, like when I go to play a solo piece, he really taught me you have
to play that melody so well so that the person who doesn’t
know anything about music can understand exactly
what you’re hearing. So if you’re playing a solo melody, I wanna be able to hear
the melody and the harmony at the same time in the most plain way, but then in your own way. So he really kind of like,
helped me edit my playing, but also really make
sure that importantly, the music is still important and also we’re playing this music, not only for ourselves, but
for other people to enjoy. – Hmm, absolutely, and he’s
just such an inspiring person, I always think in terms of
rhythm and harmony as well. It’s just, you know, has
such strength to his playing, it’s a real joy, and I hear that in your
playing too, Katie, it’s really fantastic. So what about transcription? This is something that
we get asked about a lot as teachers and students. Is this something that you think is an essential part, an option part, is this something you’ve done much, you know, I’d love to
hear about your thoughts on transcription. – So I love transcribing and I’ve done a lot of
transcriptions of bass players, and there’s a couple reasons, and I think one big
important reason is is cause we wanna find out our sound, what is our sound. And I think the best way to do that is to kind of play a bunch
of different types of sounds, so you play Paul Chambers, Scott Lafaro, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, there’s so many different
types of sound out there. So then you kind of build
this library of sound and you kind of hone in on what you like. So there’s that one reason. Another reason is there’s some
amazing bass lines out there and sometimes your head just explodes. I was listening to Gary Peacock
play with Keith Jarrett, Now’s The Time, and just a blues bass line and I kind of thought, you know, you’ve heard the blues
played every which way, and then the way he played this, and then there was a
recording of Dave Captein playing a bass line where he
did this really simple thing, I was like that’s so simple, how come I haven’t heard that before? – Yeah. – So, you’re kind of just
adding these to your library and getting these different sounds, learning these baselines, so I really think it’s
important for bass lines, and then it’s also equally
important for solos, for me on the bass, to
transcribe not only bass players, but trumpet players, tenors, saxophonists, just because their range on the instrument is just physically different than ours. So then it kind of pushes us
to do some different things and find out how to do
those on the instrument and then put those into our playing. – And how do you go about it? Do you listen to the record, sing it back, try and find it on the
bass, do you use a piano? What’s the process look like for you? – Yeah, so like for bass lines, sometimes it’s something
that I’ve listened to for a long time that almost, you know, to the point where I can sing it and kind of find the shape on the bass, and for me, sometimes I might
just go measure by measure but I’m with the bass doing it. Or like a couple weeks
ago I was listening to Oscar Peterson with Ella
Fitzgerald and Ray Brown and they were doing Street of Dreams and the intro that Ray did and the
bass line was just so great, just hit me, so I kind of
just heard it really fast and kind of did it while it was happening and with solos I kind of like to spend a little bit of time with those and really, really,
really listen to those, be able to sing those, and then start to do it on the bass, and maybe do, you know,
a measure or a phrase, but the point is the more that I do it the easier and faster it gets. – Absolutely. I definitely find the same experience and I can be a little bit rusty and then I go back to it then you pick it up, it’s
like any other skill, I guess, isn’t it? – [Katie] Yeah, exactly. – So, okay, let’s finish off with a couple of, kind of quick fire questions, so you’re teaching, are there
any specific method books that you use, or you recommend, or you think everybody should have? Go on, what’s on your bookshelf? – Cool. Like anything, everybody’s different, and so students learn differently, but I’ve found that when I
really wanna shake a student up especially with scales I
give them Rabbath Book Three, I think it’s book three, right? – [Geoff] I think that’s right, yeah. – With, like, the mountain of
scales and different things, because so often we just play the neck, I actually heard years and
years ago at a convention Rufus Reed talk about playing
the bass in an L shape, so just playing it across,
like gonna play that L and then going that way, so never really playing the middle of the E, A, and D string. So and that, I rememeber,
I was probably like 15 when I saw that, I was
like, oh that’s right, it does make sense. So then when you get that Rabbath book, you’re playing everywhere on the neck, in the thumb position, playing scales in all sorts of different ways. So for technique I really like that one. – Are you using the bat
any when you’re playing regularly or is this
just part of the old way, the old learning and the teaching. – Not regularly, but
some of those techniques, and it’s not like they’re
necessary his, but, instead of practicing
scales, you know, in thirds, that way, practicing
scales in double stops, fourth and fifths, cause
then you kind of check with your hand, you’re like, oh, my fifth isn’t really in tune once you
play them at the same time as opposed to separately. – Interesting. – Yeah, and, etude books,
I like those tried and true books like the Stork-Robby
books, those nice, you can’t go wrong with those, cause for me when I practice, I like to, when I go to practice I
know how much time I have. So if I have one hour I’m
gonna kind of condense it into something that makes sense. So if I’m learning a song, if
my goal is to learn a song, say it’s the key of F, I’m gonna start with a scale that’s in F, and then I’ll go to my etude book and find something that’s in F just so I’m like right ready to go. – Yeah, that makes sense. – And then also, the
Ray Brown book is great. – I love the blues lines in it. – Yeah, see the blues lines are great. – I enjoy that so much. – Yeah, and with sometimes students, you never know how they’re gonna learn, everyone learns differently. So listening to somebody
play is one thing, them writing it down is something else. Them seeing someone
else having written down and gone through it is something else. So you kind of never
know what’s gonna work. – Yeah, absolutely, well I think that’s some great advice, and just lastly, okay,
we’ve been working on, of course, we’re kind of, students who are fairly new to the bass who are looking to get out
and build their confidence and be playing jazz gigs
and go to that jam session, you know, walk through a blues, maybe play a little solo, do you have, you know,
a little bit of advice for beginner students,
what’s the one thing you think they should be working on that will really help them move
forward with their playing? It’s a big question. – I think number one,
listening to the music. Listening to the music that you love and you wanna play. Cause imagine going to practice this stuff without listening to it and then expecting to go to a jam session, not only will it just be a little rusty, but it’ll be so foreign
to have a piano, bass, drums and horns players all around you. So really listen to the music, and also play along to
the records that you like. Cause then it’ll just get
you ready for that space to start to play with people. – Well I think that’s great advice, and thank you so much Katie. Just before you go I’d love to hear how people can get in
touch with you online and then if you’ve got
any tours or anything you wanna share with your audience, let us know what you’re doing. – Great, yeah, you can always
get in touch with me on my website with is KatieThiroux.com. I’m on social media, on
Instagram and Facebook, I’m always, you can get in touch with me. I might be a little
late, but I’ll be there. And, I tour a lot through the U.S. And also fortunate right
now to be in Europe so I’ll be at the Copenhagen
Jazz Festival this summer in July 2019, doing a European
Tour in November 2019, so I’m out there and feel free
to email me any questions. – And you also have a
very exciting jazz camp. Just tell us a little bit about this because this is something that just sounds like Heaven really, so go on. – Okay, so I’m, I was
asked to start a jazz camp with my drummer Matt Witek
in Maui of all places. And so this is where, one of those things where you never know
where music can take you. My step-grandma actually
moved to Maui a few years ago and I had visited once and
then I wanted to visit again, and then I thought well maybe, let me book a gig there somehow. So, I booked a gig at the art center there and it just so happened that
someone from the tourism board was there who also
works with education, and then just asked if we
wanted to start a jazz camp, it was something he always wanted to do. So my point is is you never
know what’s gonna happen, who’s gonna be there, and that also goes to one of my points is that you never know who’s
gonna be in the audience, even if you’re practicing at home, always start to feel
like it’s a performance, and if you’re on a gig that you don’t feel very comfortable with, or you think that, or that the gig is below you, you’re below no gig, it’s, just have fun with that experience, and pretend like your mentors are there, that’s what I always do, you know, pretend like you’re playing
and Ray Brown is there, or Oscar Peterson, whatever. And then all of the sudden
you’re like, oh wow, that person, I gotta
play my butt off today. – Well that is amazing advice, Katie, I think we’ll finish on that note cause it’s just absolute perfect and I wanted to thank
you for watching at home and please check out all the links that I’ve provided below this video and make sure that you
listen to Katie play cause she really is a fantastic player. I’m not just saying that
because she sat next to me. And we’ll also be sharing lessons and a course over at
DiscoverDoubleBass.com. So thanks for watching,
thanks for joining me Katie, and we’ll see you next time.