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Interviews

Meet Bassist/Vocalist Kristin Korb

By Published: June 3, 2004

There are some people who make me think differently, and I love to play with them because of that--I have to work a lot harder, but the rewards are there.

Kristin Korb is not just a singing bassist. She is a premier singer with a personal approach and a deep sense of swing. She transports you to other worlds with her ballads. Contrary to her comments below her intonation is right there. Oh yeah, she plays a nasty bass, too.



New CD

We just finished the instrumental things. It's Kendall Kay on drums, Todd Johnson on six-string electric bass, and me on upright bass. I'll add my vocals later. It's real fun, straight-ahead, swinging. What's interesting to me is the sound of the six-string electric bass. It doesn't sound like a bass—it's kind of like a guitar with a different texture. How often do you get to see six-string electric bass and an upright together? Todd and I both come from that same tradition of the Oscar Peterson Trio and that kind of stuff. He's taken it upon himself to do a lot of the arrangements. He's gone nuts. He'll say, "I hear you singing this song. What about this?" We figure out what works for me vocally and works for him on the bass voicings within the textures that are available. For a title we've been joking around with the idea of "Sunshine and Slim," nicknames we have for each other—we use them as caller ids on our cell phones. Todd is such a ray of sunshine, so happy and positive. I lost some weight so he started calling me "Slim". We've laid down a lot of tracks, at least two CD's worth. We're still picking through the tune list to decide what makes it to the CD. It's a mix of standards and a few things Todd and I have written like a blues "Sunshine and Slim" that has the two of us conversing musically. I want to do another vocalese thing. It's just fun, buoyant, joyous—nothing earth shattering. We want it to come out this fall for our tour.



Composition/writing lyrics

I really would like to do more. It's been a while since I've done a vocalese, writing a lyric to a horn player's solo. [On Korb's previous CD Where You'll Find Me she set words to a Stan Getz "East of the Sun" chorus.] Once I find it it'll just hit me, and that'll be it. I have a file, snippets of things (musical thoughts) like four-bar phrases or chord progressions. Sometimes I go through that for ideas. One thing I am working on is an orchestration, which I've never done before. There's a project coming up next spring with five commissioned arrangements that I'm performing with the South Coast Symphony and my trio. Other people are doing arrangements for me as well. I've asked John Clayton to help me out with the one I'm writing. He promised he wasn't going to let me fail. Once that gets done we're hoping we can bring the trio to some other orchestras. I also have some arrangements for big band and trio that we could play.



Origin of the band

Ron Eschete and I both worked the Port Townsend Jazz Festival with our bands. I got to play a set with him—it was like ahhhh. After I got home I sent Ron an email saying thank you so much. Todd plays with Ron a lot and operates Ron's website (Ron doesn't do email.), and he wrote back saying he'd heard good things about me. Last October he had this duo series in a coffee shop in Valencia and invited me to come up and do a gig. We gave it a shot, and it was so much fun musically and socially. We said, "Why don't we play again?" We started rehearsing and getting gigs. We were writing all these arrangements for our specific sound. Then we said, "What if we do a tour?" We made some phone calls up to the Northwest, and all of a sudden we had three weeks in front of us. Then we thought we didn't have a CD, not even a demo. That's how the CD came about. Sometimes we add Kendall on drums or another musician. I've been thinking about the sound of a trombone. I have friends like Pamela York (She's coming to town, and we'll play the Crowne on June 3.), but the thing with Todd is the first time I've ever worked with somebody on long-term basis.



Musical conversation

It's listening—knowing when to play, when not to play, finding out what your place is. There are certain people you hit it off with, typically musicians who come from the same listening background. Whether it's that hard-swinging Ray Brown kind of thing or something else. There are some people who make me think differently, and I love to play with them because of that—I have to work a lot harder, but the rewards are there. They're going to be throwing jokes my way, and I have to be ready. Jeff Hamilton is one of my favorites—the textures, the way he listens to music, the way he challenges me. He has such an intensity and focus. Every note matters. Although I haven't played too much with him Alan Pasqua is amazing. He comes from such a different direction. He makes me think differently, respond differently in a way I love, yet it's in a way that's me. Kevin Kanner is a wonderful drummer to play with. So is Joe LaBarbera. Tamir Hendelman toured with me in the Midwest last fall and helped me work up some new trio arrangements. He was born to play music.



Singing in tune

I work really hard on the technical things. On gigs sometimes you're making leaps and jumps, and you don't know what they're going to be—you just get there. Some nights my intonation has not been as reliable as I'd like it to be. This morning I spent two hours singing at a tuner, taking one note at a time, trying different jumps, making sure the vowels are in line, keeping the needle at 440 the whole time whether I'm making a jump of an octave, a half step, or a tri-tone. I had a lesson with Sue Raney that she recorded to a CD for me with classical warm-ups, getting the placement set, and breath support. That's the stuff I have to do so that when I get to the gig I don't have to think about it—I can just let the story come out.



Rhythmic surprise

I love drummers, which is where it comes from—through Miles Davis and others. I don't try to be "rhythmically surprising." Rather than playing a lot of fast lines I like to use space and rhythmic diversity—put meaning into every single note rather than into a flurry of notes. One of my favorite soloists is Clark Terry. He can make one note swing so hard! I still work on the technical things, but that's where my voice is heading—saying more without having to play as much.



Singing and playing bass

Just being a kid you grow up singing. I played guitar in elementary school then did a year of violin and a year and a half on piano. After that I thought I was going to be Barbara Mandrell. I transcribed her tunes, and I could play them. When I got into seventh grade the hip group for the junior high was the vocal jazz ensemble. When I saw them the kids were moving to the music, they were all having fun, and they had a guitar. When I was in sixth grade I had my guitar teacher call the choir director and tell him about a student who really wants to play guitar in the ensemble. I found out it was a bass guitar so I spent the summer playing the bottom four strings of my guitar. My parents finally bought me a bass guitar for my birthday that fall. I was really serious about it. I sang in the seventh grade group and played bass guitar with the eighth graders. I spent my lunch hours and stayed after school listening to the director's Ella Fitzgerald, Manhattan Transfer, and Diane Reeves recordings. I wanted to know about scat. The choir director sent me to a camp after seventh grade. Everybody else was in high school. The last night we had an on-stage concert with lighting, and we were backed by the college band. Every student had to sing a solo. I did "I Got a Crush on You." In that moment I went from sheer terror to realizing people were enjoying what I was doing. I got that warm, fuzzy feeling, and I knew I had to do this for the rest of my life. With guitar of course you sing and play at the same time, but with the bass it got split up because I played bass in one group and sang in another. In ninth grade I wanted to try out for the scat solo on "Tuxedo Junction"—we were singing it for a festival. At first the director said he didn't want to let me do it because I was playing bass in the group. He said I would sing out of tune or my time would go bad on the bass. I had the recording so I went home and practiced, got every vocal inflection down (the bass line was easy), got the part, and ended up getting an award for it. I think the teacher was just pushing my buttons. After that we moved back to Montana, and I let them get separated. When I got into graduate school in San Diego (I got my master's in classical bass performance.) Bert Turetzky looked at me and said, "You play and you sing—why don't you do both at the same time? He was my first big teacher. He took me back to square one—here's a German bow (I'd been dropping French bows for years), this is how you hold your hand (No, you can't use your third finger), get your elbow up, here's thumb position (I had no idea what it was). His thing was to help students find their own voice. I did the traditional stuff—"Dragon Lady Concerto" and Vivaldi. At the end of my lesson he would throw a Frishberg chart or a Pops Foster solo at me. I'm so indebted to Bert.



Improvisation on bass vs. voice (scat)

It has to be the same thing. The music is within me whether it comes out through my voice or through my bass. Some things are executed differently, but when I'm trading with myself on bass and voice it has to be continuation of the same idea. Sometimes, though, I just let it be a physical exercise—that can be cold on the bass. Ideas make a lot more sense on the bass if I'm singing them in my head.



Ray Brown / Introducing Kristin Korb (Telarc CD)

Nobody sounds like him. He put a certain amount of finger into the string, and there was so much soul. Any instrument he picked up always sounded like him. I went to one of his concerts, met him afterward, and asked for a lesson. I was finishing up my master's, and I had a lot of insecurity about my future. Was I good enough? It meant so much that he made time for me. I was in awe, but I went in and had the lesson. I'm swinging, grooving. "That's nice. Now do it in B." I tanked on it. "You don't own it. What if you're playing behind somebody else? You have to be able to turn the wheel." It wasn't one of these big intellectual things. It was just this is the next thing I needed to do. I had a lot to work on, but he let me know I was OK. He called me later and said, "We're going to make a CD. Is that OK with you?" I just sang on it. He would call and say, "There's this Basie tune—(sings fast) dadadada dadadada dadadada dadadada DEE-dow. I think you need to do that." It ended up being "Whirly Bird" with a solo by Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. I wrote a lyric to it. I was really into Eddie Jefferson at the time so I also wrote a vocalese to the solo. I called Ray and said, "I've got the song done, but I don't know if this is what you want." "Well, sing it to me." I did the whole tirade. Silence. "Ray, are you there?" "I think that'll work."



Jazz education

My heroes like Ray Brown and John Clayton are educators. Educational outreach is a big thing for me. It's part of the responsibility of the music to pass it along to the next generation. It can be educating your audience to the music. I had a university job for two years where I was the director of jazz studies [Central Washington University, Ellensburg]. I directed the top jazz band at the school. The first year I went back to my favorite stuff—Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, some of Ellington's more obscure charts, Bill Holman, Bob Kurnow things of Metheney. By my second year we were doing Maria Schneider, more Bill Holman, Thad Jones, Mingus Big Band. Every once in while we'd pull out a Kenton chart or Bob Mintzer. Musician friends would come through and kick us around a little—it was very cool. I administrated three jazz bands and three vocal ensembles, assembled course work, developed a master's curriculum in jazz pedagogy, administrated a two-day jazz festival (vocals and instrumentals), taught the bass studio, and taught a general ed. jazz history class with 180 students a quarter. I wanted to develop new jazz fans. By the end of the term the students could identify any 30-second snippet of pieces like Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues," Basie's "Taxi War Dance," Ellington's "Harlem Air Shaft." Kids that were into the Punk scene loved avant-garde music—Eric Dolphy and Don Cherry. I only have a couple of private students because I'm on the road so much. I teach at a lot of camps in the summer for young bassists (electric and acoustic), vocalists, and jazz combos. There's stuff I can do because I've been trained for it. [Korb's bachelor's degree is in music education.] For beginning bass students one of the first things I want to do is develop a sound and make it feel good physically. If your arm is tense it's not going to be an open, relaxed sound. Vocalists have typically been singing a lot longer, and they already have their sound. With younger singers it's usually an honesty issue—what's the story? Separate the lyric from the melody and make them read it.



International Society of Bassists

I love that group, the nicest people on the planet. It's opened up my eyes and ears. ISB meets every two years in June—the next one will be in Kalamazoo in 2005. 700 bass players from all over the world get together. You're hanging out with the top orchestral players in the world, young students, amateur players who've chosen another line of work but still love to play, avant-garde players, Christian McBride, Rufus Reid, Duncan McTier, bass ensembles like Basso Amoroso from Munich, Brazilian players. You get to meet the bass makers from Germany, Brazil, everywhere. Last year was the first bass makers competition—seventeen basses from all over the world. There were three tone judges and three craftsman judges looking into every corner with measurements and flashlights. For the tone judges we had an orchestral player, a classical soloist, and then me. We got to play all seventeen basses for each other, the same passage on every bass. It went from guys who it was the first bass they ever made to people with bass making as a family tradition. Daniel Hatches from Albuquerque made a wonderful bass. There are basses being made with wood that's been drying for 150 years. It's wonderful to feel the love in these instruments—it's not plywood, not made by machines. I'm on the ISB Board of Directors. I'm so honored they asked me to do it. I've been working with airlines to help get a system in place to transport our basses, and I'm working on a web page to list places for traveling bassists to rent instruments in various cities, repair shops that will give quick turnaround, stick bass issues, cab services that will transport a bass once you get to your destination, things like that. Electric bass players—that's an area we're looking at encorporating more. Upright and electric players don't tend to mix too much except in jazz—it's a different mentality. One of my hopes is that at the next conference Todd and I will play.

ISB web site: www.isbworldoffice.com



The Jazz Cruise

I've got that first one coming up in November. To me it's like a jazz party. My trio is so cool—Alan Pasqua on piano and Mark Ferber on drums. It'll be a departure, a bit left of center. I want to work on some new arrangements with that trio. Alan's been writing some folk-like melodies lately. We'll do some of the older stuff, too.


Visit Kristin Korb on the web at www.kristinkorb.com



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