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Off Beat: An Interview with Katie Thiroux

Katie Thiroux
Photo Credit: Gina Long

Bassist and vocalist Katie Thiroux is having a good year, to put it mildly. She just spent the summer in residence at Quincy Jones’s new jazz club in Dubai, and her sophomore album, Off Beat, was released in August. Now she’s supporting the album with a U.S. trek followed by a tour of Denmark.

Produced by drum legend Jeff Hamilton, Off Beat is steeped in jazz tradition the way it should be played: with joy and spirit. It features her playing bass and singing on a set of hidden gem jazz standards plus some exquisite original music, notably the dazzling “Slow Dance With Me”. An avid Ray Brown fan, Thiroux channels the bass master in her own way in her playing and more explicitly with his bebop tune, “Ray’s Idea”, on which she vocalizes the melody.

We caught up with Thiroux just after her residency to get the scoop on the new album, singing while playing, and her love of Ray Brown.

How did the summer residency in Dubai come about? How did it go?

I was very fortunate to start playing with pianist Justin Kauflin a few years ago, who is an artist of Quincy Jones. Whenever we played in Los Angeles, Quincy would come out to listen and he was easy to talk to and very encouraging about music and life, in general. When he opened his club in Dubai, he asked if I would like to do a residency!

Do you consider yourself “Off Beat”?

I wouldn’t describe myself as “Off Beat” but other people might! I am used to getting things done myself, my way and whether fast or slow, at my own pace.

How did you pick what jazz standards to include in the album?

Katie Thiroux: Off BeatAs producer, Jeff Hamilton gave me some great guidance on song selection. He suggested Peggy Lee’s “Some Cats Know” because of the message, but also it is Ray Brown on the original and it just feels so good! I chose songs that matched the amazing musicians on the record. Yes, it is my name on the front, but I want everyone to shine and they do!

Do you have a current favorite standard to play?

I’m not sure I have a favorite standard, but I do have a favorite key… D♭!

How did writing “Slow Dance With Me” come about?

This was fun for me because the whole melody just came out one day. I recorded it quickly on my iPhone, played it back and walked the bass line and that was that! The shout chorus comes from my love of big bands. I got some help on the ending from a Bill Holman arrangement of “Far Down Below.” Can’t go wrong with Bill Holman!

What does Ray Brown’s music mean to you?

Happiness, intensity, and clarity. And the overall feeling that he means business!

What Ray Brown track or album would you suggest for newcomers to check out?

Ray Brown’s solo arrangements on “Tenderly” and “The Very Thought Of You” are masterpieces in bass playing and solo accompaniment.

What is one of the best lessons you’ve learned from working with Jeff Hamilton?

Make your goals, be yourself and you’ll be rewarded. I’ve also learned so much about his time with Ray Brown and lessons he has learned. I feel fortunate to spend time with Jeff Hamilton and John Clayton for that reason.

I’m struck by your phrasing and how it works with your bass lines. Is that something you work on (if so how?) or does it come naturally?

Thank you. It feels the best when I don’t think about it and let it all fall into the gap but I have and do work on it. I record myself when I practice so I can listen back on what I need to work on. I’ll pick any song I’m working on, play a bass line and just solo vocally over it and listen back. I don’t often get nerdy, but I might focus on just triplets, or eighth notes and starting on different parts of the beat. But I’m already doing two things at once so it’s best to just be in the moment! This recording could be anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Vice versa, I’ll record a bass line and loop it and solo over that.

Can you tell us about your bass?

I love my bass and I don’t even know that much about it. It’s a small 3/4 and I was told it’s around 100 years old. It was given to my mom who also plays bass, handed off to my brother who also plays, then I got it 16 years ago. I’ve never looked for another.

Do you travel with your bass or do you rent as you have out of town gigs?

It’s a mix. I don’t have a travel bass and the flight case I have is 100 pounds so my arms get trashed on the road carrying and lifting. For the most part, I try get in touch with local bass players which helps out a lot. I have great luck as well with Kolstein’s out in Long Island.

What advice do you have for up and coming bassists?

Strictly bass talk: Know and hear what sound you want and how to achieve it. Learn where every single note is on the instrument, harmonics and all. Otherwise, simple always wins. Everyone needs a bass player and simply having good time and intonation can get you by before you need all the fancy stuff!

Katie Thiroux Tour Dates:

DateVenueLocation
Sep 20The Velvet NoteAtlanta, GA
Sep 22-23The Jazz CornerHilton Head, SC
Sep 24The Ritz TheatreJacksonville, FL
Sep 29-30The Green MillChicago, IL
Oct 3NocturneDenver, CO
Oct 5Clinic, Solon High SchoolSolon, IA
Oct 7NoceDes Moines, IA
Oct 8Dunsmore RoomMinneapolis, MN
Oct 9Clinic, St. Paul Conservatory High SchoolSt. Paul, MN
Oct 13The Bop StopCleveland, OH
Oct 14BLUJazzAkron, OH
Oct 26 - Nov 5Tour of DenmarkDenmark

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