Acoustic bass virtuoso drops in to the MACC
When music legend Quincy Jones was looking for artists to perform at his first jazz club, Q’s Bar and Lounge located in Dubai, he booked bassist/vocalist Katie Thiroux for a three-month summer residence.
“I couldn’t be happier to have such a talented young bassist and singer,” Jones announced. “This girl is it!”
Hailed by Downbeat Magazine for her “split brain virtuosity,” and by The Boston Globe as, “an enchanting singer, a poised and polished acoustic bassist, and an accomplished composer,” Thiroux has been mesmerizing audiences in the U.S., Europe and the Middle East. She makes her Maui debut at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s McCoy Studio Theater in Kahului.
Spending three months in Dubai was amazing she says.
“Although it was really hot, it was a fantastic experience to play somewhere five nights a week with three concerts a night,” Thiroux says. “Quincy Jones is just so smart. There’s no jazz venue there and it’s a beautiful room with great sound. He created this awesome, hip atmosphere. It was cool to see what worked and didn’t work and tweak it. We would play bebop, hard swing or something funky, it didn’t matter.”
The iconic musician who once played trumpet with Dizzy Gillespie and produced Michael Jackson’s massive hits was impressed by Thiroux’s talent after encountering her in a Los Angeles club. Jones had mentored Thiroux’s piano player Justin Kauflin who was featured in the award-winning documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On” and will join her on Maui.
“I started playing with Justin in his group when he would come to the West Coast,” she explains. “I met Quincy through Justin. He would come to see Justin play and we clicked right away. When the (Dubai) club opened up, he asked if I wanted to do a residency.”
Born in LA, Thiroux began playing violin and gravitated to the acoustic bass at the age of 8, landing principal roles with the LA Opera by age 10.
Growing up in a musical family, it was a given she would pursue music.
“My mom and my older brother play double bass,” she says. “I didn’t like (the violin) and my mom said, ‘Why don’t you try the bass?’ I remember her saying, ‘Everyone always needs a bass player, so you will always have a job and make money.’ “
In her last year of high school, Thiroux decided to transition from playing classical music to embrace jazz — she was entranced by the jazz works she heard on the radio.
“I would go to classical bass lessons every Saturday and there was a great jazz program playing bebop on the local radio station,” she recalls. “So I started listening to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and learned playing by ear. I would transcribe Paul Chambers’ bass lines and sing what Miles Davis was playing.”
Studying both bass and voice, Thiroux continued her musical education at the Berklee College of Music, and later earned a master’s degree in jazz studies from California State University, Long Beach.
In 2015, she released her debut album, “Introducing Katie Thiroux,” which earned broad acclaim including best debut lists of the NPR Music Critics Poll, Huffington Post and All About Jazz, which declared, “this bassist-vocalist-composer is flat out phenomenal.”
“I was 25 when I recorded it and the songs were ones I had played or sung for a long time,” she says. “I took material I was comfortable with and had fun arranging it.”
Since that auspicious debut, the accolades have continued. Her follow-up recording, released this year, “Off Beat,” has also been highly praised.
“Following 2015’s impressive ‘Introducing Katie Thiroux,’ consider the vocalist-bassist’s ‘Off Beat’ youthful promise wonderfully fulfilled,” proclaimed Jazz Times.
Mixing a few originals with standards, Thiroux adds her own unique twist to classics like Duke Ellington’s “Happy Reunion” and Frank Sinatra’s “When the Wind Was Green.”
“With ‘Happy Reunion’ I thought I needed to have duo tenor saxophones with two tremendous saxophone players,” she says. “I love Frank Sinatra and it’s a beautiful song. I made it different as a duo with Ken Peplowski on clarinet because he’s fantastic. He’s one of the world’s greatest clarinet players.”
For the video for his new song “Dragonfly” from his debut solo record “My Name is Bear,” Nahko invited a friend to participate — Michael Jackson’s daughter, Paris Jackson.
Composed when Nahko was 18 and living in Alaska, the video for this coming-of-age song shows Jackson enjoying a carefree day walking and dancing in the sun.
“I wanted to capture her natural beauty and focus on what I thought would be a perfect song to explain a transformational time that fit both her and I,” Nahko told People.
The leader of the world roots band, Medicine for the People, Nahko explores his formative years traveling to Alaska, Hawaii and Louisiana on the new album.
“The songs are a collection of stories written between the ages of 18 to 21,” he reported. “They are ripe with the coming of age, first love, psychedelic revelations, youthful recklessness and lucid dreaming.”
Delicate folk-flavored songs featuring acoustic guitar or piano accompaniment are mixed with more up-tempo tunes like the catchy “Call Him by His Name” and “Early February,” where he is joined by his band. Interspersed throughout his life-affirming messages, which includes a homage to Hawaii Island on “Hamakua,” he includes a few spoken-word interludes sampled from his original road trips.
Born in Oregon, a mix of Puerto Rican, Native American and Filipino heritages, Nahko was inspired by Americana musicians and storytellers like Conor Oberst and Bob Dylan. Describing his music as a mix of hip-hop and folk rock with a world message, he formed Medicine for the People. Their albums include “Dark as Night” in 2013, “On the Verge” in 2014, and “Hoka” in 2016, which won Album of the Year at the Native American Music Awards.
” ‘Hoka’ continues on a mission of almost evangelical dimension as Nahko again uses cross-cultural reference points in imploring us to lead more altruistic and tolerant lives,” praised an Outline Magazine review.
* Nahko performs at 7 p.m. Sunday in the MACC’s Yokouchi Pavilion & Courtyard. Tickets are $30 in advance and $35 day of show (plus applicable fees) and are available at the box office, by calling 242-7469 or by visiting www.mauiarts.org.
Maui’s Peter Kater has once again been nominated for a New Age Grammy Award for his latest instrumental album “Dancing On Water.” It’s his 13th nomination. Kater will present home concerts on Dec. 21 through 23 in Maui Meadows. For more information, visit www.brightstarevents.net/ peter-kater. In the Regional Roots category, Hawaii musicians Ho’okena and Josh Tatofi were nominated, and J Boog received a Best Reggae Grammy nomination.
Saxophonist Eric Schneider will appear at the “Maui Sara Jazz Event,” an evening of jazz, blues and dancing, from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Friday at Longhi’s Lahaina. He will be accompanied by Maui musicians Gene Argel on keyboards and vocals, Danny M on bass and Paul Marchetti on drums.
A versatile saxophone and clarinet player, Schneider began his career with Jim Beebe’s Chicago Jazz Band. From there he worked with jazz legend Earl “Fatha” Hines. He subsequently joined the Count Basie Orchestra and toured with Basie for two years and recorded three albums including the Grammy Award-winning “88 Basie Street.” Over the years, he’s performed with many greats including Tony Bennett, Sammy Davis Jr., Benny Goodman, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
* Advance tickets are $22 and are available online at www.mauisarajazz.com or by calling 667-7979. Doors open at 6 p.m. for advance ticket holders only. Day-of-event ticket sales at the door begin at 7 p.m. and are $25 cash only.
Pianist Damira Feldman will present a “Russian Dreams” program featuring piano works by 19th and 20th century Russian composers at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Wailuku Union Church. Light refreshments will be served after the concert. A donation of $15 at the door is suggested.
Paul Izak will hold a CD release party for “Back to the Roots,” on Dec. 16 at 641 Olinda Road in Makawao. Pat Simmons Jr. will open. Izak’s reggae-flavored new album includes guest vocalists Mike Love, Amber Lily and Tubby Love. A donation of $10 to $20 is suggested. Children 12 and younger may attend for free.