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Meet Bassist/Vocalist Kristin Korb

By Published: June 3, 2004

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.

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Download jazz mp3 “Always Searching For My Baby” by Kristin Korb