Vail Jazz Alumni: Katie Thiroux, aka the Ace of Bass
2005 Vail Jazz Workshop graduate hoping to 'immerse young people in the music’s history, culture and styles'
“This girl is it.” When jazz legend Quincy Jones speaks so exaltedly about a young musician, you should take note.
Bassist and vocalist Katie Thiroux is more than worthy of that attention. Whether delving into her recordings, enjoying her live performances or attending one of her workshops, Thiroux’s audiences are treated to the triple-threat talent that the Boston Globe describes as an “enchanting singer, a poised and polished acoustic bassist, and an accomplished composer.”
A graduate of the 2005 Vail Jazz Workshop, Thiroux grew up in Los Angeles as part of a musical family — her brother, bassist Dominic Thiroux, is a 2003 Workshop alum. Katie started violin lessons at age 4, switching to the acoustic bass when she was 8 years old. While perusing her instrument, she studied both jazz and classical vocal styles, landing principal roles in the LA Opera and Opera Pacifica by the age of 10. Jazz, however, won out over opera. Captivated by an early recording of Lionel Hampton, Katie began training with jazz vocalist Tierney Sutton at the age of 12.
Thiroux’s experience at the Vail Jazz Workshop cemented her relationship with the industry when renowned bassist and educator John Clayton took her on as his mentor. As Thiroux explained to Vail Jazz staffer Connor Williams: “It was a really special connection. I learned so much from his lessons, but also from the way he interacts with people. He is so elegant, never gets angry, but also achieves what he wants.” To this day, the two stay in close touch, occasionally performing together.
There were other standout moments that summer as well.
“We picked the repertoire for our groups and we did the arrangements together,” she says. “I liked that it was very much a group decision and a group effort.”
Collaboration was a skill she learned, valued and uses today.
In 2006, Thiroux was awarded the Phil Ramone Presidential Scholarship to Berklee College of Music, performing with the likes of Branford Marsalis, Billy Taylor, Terri Lyne Carrington and others. Upon graduation, Thiroux was asked to teach at the Berklee International School in Ecuador, Quito. After completing a Masters of Jazz Bass from California State University in 2013, Thiroux organized (and continues to maintain) her own touring ensembles.
Rather than veer off into hip-hop or rock, like so many younger musicians, Thiroux has explored a range of more traditional sounds, whether covering a jazz standard or presenting a swinging composition of her own. Her 2015 debut album, “Introducing Katie Thiroux,” garnered widespread acclaim. Her 2017 album, “Off Beat,” was hailed as a best album of 2018 by DownBeat; the publication also tagged her as a Rising Star in 2018 and 2019.
Although she is based in LA, Vail Jazz has continued to play an important role in Katie Thiroux’s professional growth. She returned to the Workshop as an alumni guest artist in 2014. During the Labor Day Jazz Party, she connected with 2003 alum Justin Kauflin, who is now Thiroux’s frequent piano player. She also had the opportunity to play with clarinetist Ken Peplowski.
“There were certain people that I had wanted to play with for a long time and he was one of them,” Thiroux said.
Peplowski and Thiroux have since collaborated on gigs and recordings.
Having learned from John Clayton the intrinsic value of mentorship, Thiroux incorporates workshops for students and audiences into her robust touring schedule.
“I passionately believe that the key to keeping jazz alive and prospering is to immerse young people in the music’s history, culture and styles,” she said.
She recently created an online jazz bass course titled From Beginner to Bandstand.
“Often we can be so excited about playing the music that we short change ourselves and skip the foundational elements of the instrument and the music … so I decided to share my favorite fundamental tips to get students from the practice room to the bandstand,” she said.
She also thrives upon — indeed requires — a schedule that is mind-blowingly busy. How does she juggle it all?
“Keeping my calendar full can be a lot of work because I do all of the booking, travel and so on myself,” she said. “I’ve learned that you must have the confidence to stick to your guns, be willing to take chances and always remember what is most important — the music.”
Like so many musicians coping with COVID-19 cancelations and quarantine, Thiroux has stayed engaged with her fans through live stream concerts on Facebook and Instagram Live.
The Vail Jazz Workshop accepts the dozen most promising high school musicians and pairs them with six professional jazz practitioners for a week of intense instruction. More than just music is learned. The pros impart what to expect if the young men and women enter the music life and reflect on their own experiences, including missteps. Because of the COVID-19 virus, this year’s Workshop will take place digitally in August.