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Carlton-Macpherson-Pass-Valenti Quartet Interview Series: Kate Pass

Carlton-Macpherson-Pass-Valenti Quartet Interview Series: Kate Pass

Courtesy Jessica Carlton


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I am aware that my training was very much jazz-oriented, and all of my teachers were jazz-trained professional musicians. No matter what else I do and all my other musical interests, I always view music through that lens in some way. It informs the way I approach music.
This is the second article in the series of interviews (read the Alana Macpherson) featuring four Australian jazz musicians: Jessica Carlton (trumpet), Alana Macpherson (saxophone), Kate Pass (double bass) and Talya Valenti (drums). They formed a quartet in 2021 and released the album Undeniable (Self Produced, 2022). All About Jazz had the honor of meeting the musicians via Zoom and talking about their careers, projects and plans.

This article is dedicated to Kate Pass, a bassist and composer from Perth, Australia. Pass has been touring nationally and internationally. She has performed at festivals and events worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Provincetown Playhouse in New York, WOMADelaide, Singapore International Jazz Festival, Penang Island Jazz Festival, Ghent Festival in Belgium and Bergmannstrasse Festival in Germany. She won the West Australian Music Industry's award for Best Bassist in 2019.

Pass started playing the keyboard at the age of nine. She became more interested in music in high school. At about the age of 13, she began playing trombone and kept doing it throughout high school. She says that she had great teachers in high school that were jazz musicians. They introduced her to listening to jazz, improvising and playing in the big bands.

"When I was playing trombone in Big Band, next to me was the bassist. I always thought that instrument looked and sounded cool, and I wanted to play it. At the age of 15, I started playing electric bass and just fell in love with it. I ended up ultimately choosing bass as my instrument."

The Path into Jazz

Once Pass got to WAAPA (West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, a part of Edith Cowan University in Perth and the only place to study jazz at a tertiary level in Perth or in Western Australia), she was encouraged to switch to double bass to help her have a career as a jazz musician. She fell in love with music even more when she switched to double bass and found that was the instrument for her. Although her love of jazz started earlier in high school while Pass was playing in big bands, it was not until WAAPA that she got an opportunity to play in a small ensemble. That is when jazz took over.

Back in high school, Pass could not yet imagine becoming a professional musician. The only option she could think of was teaching. Yet, she says she is lucky to be able to have a career as a professional performer. She is comfortable with playing multiple different styles of music, but jazz has always been one of her favorite ones.

"I am aware that my training was very much jazz-oriented, and all of my teachers were jazz-trained professional musicians. No matter what else I do and all my other musical interests, I always view music through that lens in some way. It informs the way I approach music. But I do enjoy a wide range of music. Being a bassist, I get to play with a lot of different people and in different styles. I enjoy that. I would say, the main things that I am drawn to are the double bass and improvising with other people."

Among her mentors, Pass mentions Marty Pervan who taught her in high school. He is one of the teachers at the WAYJO (West Australian Youth Jazz Orchestra), the organization that was a part of Pass' career. Through this organization, she met two of her other mentors, Mace Francis and Ricki Malet. She also had great teachers at WAAPA: Paul Pooley and Peter Jeavons.

"They were mentors that shaped my career. But then a lot of the musicians that I play with have been mentors to me, and still are. In my band, Daniel Susnjar has been a long-term mentor. Also, Gemma Farrell, who we have worked and performed with a lot. We are fairly close in age, but she is someone that I look up to and is a role model. I would say, all the musicians I play with are my mentors, in some way."

In addition to the musicians that Pass has been playing with, she is inspired by the music of Ray Brown, Ron Carter and Charlie Haden. Her other big influence is Linda May Han Oh. She is from Perth as well and studied at WAAPA a few years before Pass got there. Pass enjoys all of Oh's albums. She also loves the music of Amir ElSaffar, a trumpeter from New York, and gets a lot of inspiration from it.

Pass mainly considers herself a performer, but she also composes, teaches and doubles in arts administration management. She says she had many opportunities in all these fields through WAAPA while studying there. They had visiting artists come over and work with students—Pass and other students got a chance to go to New York for a two-week training. Through WAYJO, Pass got a scholarship to study for a week at the Conservatorium in Amsterdam. She thinks that there are plenty of opportunities for musicians in Perth, overall.

"The city that I live in is small enough that musicians from any stage in their career can get work and large enough that there is enough work to go around. I have not lived anywhere else, but I think we are lucky here. Things can always be better, but compared to some other places, it is actually quite a good place to be a musician, particularly a young musician. I have had a lot of opportunities to perform with my mentors and the best people in town early on in my career. The year I turned 18, the first jazz club opened in Perth, the Ellington jazz club. I was lucky that I came along at just the right time to be part of that."

PJS (Perth Jazz Society) has helped Pass in her career and has been a massive part of her journey. She says that a lot of her early performance opportunities, particularly as a leader, were from that organization. In 2017, she joined the organization as a volunteer, and was the president of PJS from 2019-2023.

Pass toured Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Hungary, Poland, Singapore, Malaysia and Japan. She toured in Australia as well, but the difficulty about touring in Australia, especially compared to Europe, is the distances involved.

"The city that I live in, they call it the most isolated city in the world. The closest big city is a three-hour flight away. Australia is sparsely populated. So, often it does not make economic sense [to tour] at all, but we still do it. When you go to Europe, you can just drive somewhere else, and there is a big crowd of people that want to hear jazz. It is hard to compare. But then there are a lot of things that we are lucky about in Australia. I have been lucky to receive some government assistance through grants to tour."

Music Influences and Collaborations

Pass has a deep interest in Persian music. It started around 2012 when she met Iranian Persian musicians living in Perth: Reza Mirzaei, Saeed Danesh and Tara Tiba. That meeting changed her career.

"I saw a band called Daramad playing in a cafe, and I was blown away by the music. I introduced myself, and they said they were looking for a bassist. They invited me to join their band, and we became friends. We are still friends and play together. At the same time an amazing singer, Tara Tiba, moved to Perth from Iran, and I also joined her band, which had a lot of the same musicians as Daramad. It was life-changing because, at that time in my career, I was starting out. I just was in my final year at uni. I did not have much going on. A lot of my early experiences as a musician were with those projects. My first touring experiences, recording and playing at big venues were thanks to Daramad and Tara Tiba."

After falling in love with Persian music, Pass kept learning more about it. That became the focus of her research and study. She also has formed her band, Kohesia Ensemble, which plays Persian informed music, and features Daramad band members Reza Mirzaei and Mike Zolker, as well as ney player Esfandiar Shahmir, and jazz musicians Daniel Susnjar, Ricki Malet, Chris Foster and Marc Osborne. Saeed Danesh also joins as a guest musician in several performances.

"There have been a few times when Persian musicians have come to Australia and I have been asked to join them as a bassist. Those experiences were also life-changing for me. It is an ongoing area that I am passionate about and love."

Pass has collaborated with many musicians in various settings. She has worked with Tara Tiba, Mohsen Namjoo and Ali Azimi, who are Persian musicians; with Chelsea McBride and Sara MacDonald who are amazing large ensemble composers; with Gemma Farrell in her quintet and the Artemis Orchestra, which is a big band for women and people of marginalized genders that she runs. Pass also has a band Turiya with a harp player and the trio with Jessica Carlton and Talya Valenti, since Alana Macpherson is not in Perth anymore and cannot be in the quartet.

"In recent times, I have been doing a lot of large ensemble stuff. I realized that most bands I am now in are quite large. I still do trios et cetera as well, but I tend to get booked a lot for large ensemble things."

Pass considers herself a conflict-avoidant person. She likes everyone to get along, and that is crucial to her.

"In Carlton-Macpherson-Pass-Valenti, we are all individual people, we have strong opinions and creative ideas and are passionate. Just enjoying that and appreciating what different people's views and passions are, where they are coming from, and then working together with that instead of rubbing up against it—that to me, is the thing that I love about being a musician. At the end of the day, personal connections are the most important thing. How you play the music is important, but how you feel with that person and how that person feels playing the music is important."

Recording Projects

Pass put together an album Silver Lining (Self-published, 2021) with Kohesia Ensemble. Because it was their second album, they were able to enjoy the process of putting an album together a lot more. The recording of the album Undeniable with Carlton-Macpherson-Pass-Valenti was a highlight for Pass as well.

"It was something I had not done before. Usually, I am either the band leader or the side person. There is no in-between. If I am not the leader, I am more comfortable just being a side person, rather than having multiple people trying to lead a project. I was always trying to be mindful of what other people wanted, how they were feeling and go with that. So, working on that album was challenging in that way, but also it was a good learning experience and it was interesting for me to break down those lines between being either a leader or the session player, and embrace the space in between."

Pass has also been running a downsized version of Kohesia Ensemble, called Kohesia Quartet. One of the members of Kohesia Ensemble, Esfandiar Shahmir, has put together his own band, Esfandiar Shahmir Quartet, which Pass is excited to be part of. Valenti and Pass play in a trio Turiya with Michelle Smith on harp. Pass is also a part Western Australian Jazz Project, which is a big band that started up in 2021. This project has become an inseparable part of the jazz scene in Perth.

The recording with Carlton-Macpherson-Pass-Valenti takes a special place in Pass' heart. Valenti and Pass met at WAAPA and they studied together. Macpherson was a year younger than Pass and a year below at the university, but they lived together while they were studying. Macpherson originally met Jessica Carlton in Melbourne. Then, Carlton moved to Perth and they connected right away and have been playing together as a quartet. Macpherson has been living overseas for a few years but was back during the pandemic. This is when they worked together on the album Undeniable. The four of them were glad to reconnect and play together again.

"It was Alana's idea to do a recording and document a particular place in time that we were all in. I do not think we would have done it if Alana had not put the idea to us. We all have different personalities and different strengths, which is good for a collaborative thing: different people being able to take on different roles to get the project to happen. Then, all contributing creatively to it as well."

Pass says that the quartet members were able to figure out the way to use each person's strengths and help each other to express themselves. During the preparation of the music for the album and the recording of it, they had a great synergy.

"When we play, the four of us, I think particularly Alana and Jess have a good musical synergy where their styles complement each other a lot even though they have not played together for that long. Talya and I are drum-and-bass buddies that have been playing together for over ten years. It was cool to bring in compositional ideas and workshop them together, collaborative composing is also not something I have done a lot. Usually, if I am composing something, I fully compose it and bring it into an ensemble instead of workshopping with other people. But it was fun to be able to try things out."

The main idea of the album was about being in the same place at the same time and wanting to document that as a musical representation of the quartet's friendship and relationship with each other. The original concept was to make the album highly improvised.

"It probably ended up being less improvised than what the original concept was, but it just came down to timing: we needed to get it completed within a certain time frame before Alana returned to Graz. It was also about each of us contributing compositions and having a varied album, but when you listen to it, you cannot necessarily tell who wrote what tune. There is a unified sound or voice to it, even though the songs are all written by four people who have got different interests and influences. We all wrote specifically for each other, for the album. The title, Undeniable, comes from Talya. She got a lesson with Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and it was something profound that he said that struck her. She wrote a song about it and we thought: that is the title of the album."

Pass hopes that the listeners of their quartet can hear four individuals coming together without being able to tell where one person ends and the next one starts. She also points out that Undeniable is one of few Australian jazz albums and the first one in their state that has all female musicians.

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