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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Katie Thiroux soaks up the UAE vibes

The acclaimed jazz artist talks to Saeed Saeed about her summer-long Dubai residency and owning a piece of jazz history

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 7 : Katie Thiroux , Los Angeles based singer performing at the Qs Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace in Dubai.  ( Pawan Singh / The National )
DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES - JULY 7 : Katie Thiroux , Los Angeles based singer performing at the Qs Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace in Dubai. ( Pawan Singh / The National )

When you are into the third week of a three-month residency, you start to pick up a few things about your temporary home.

For rising jazz star Katie Thiroux, who is performing with her trio at Q's Bar and Lounge at Palazzo Versace Dubai - curated by the music maestro Quincy Jones himself - until September, she is surprised by how young UAE audiences are in contrast to those she has performed in front of, back home in the United States.

“This is the incredible thing here for me,” she says. “I keep looking around the room and most of the people I see are under 40, while in the States it is more like 60 and 70, and that’s considered young.”

The 32-year-old vocalist and acoustic bassist has been a hit with local audiences. At the intimate venue limited to 80 people, her Tuesday to Saturday performances are mostly booked up, thanks to a programme that includes both popular and obscure swing covers in addition to some of Thiroux’s own compositions.

Residencies are a different beast to being on the road, she says, because they require a heightened awareness.

“You realise that each night is different because the audiences are never the same. So I change the set lists a lot because it is all about finding the right vibe,” she says.

“What you need to do is to basically just get over any nerves and play. It eventually becomes clearer and you know where to go based on how much people are having fun from each set.”

Despite her relatively young age, Thiroux is something of a music veteran. Born in Los Angeles, she began playing the acoustic bass at the age of 8 and started landing principal roles with the LA Opera from age 10.

Thiroux says her rapid rise was the result of growing up in a family of musicians and was also down to constant practice.

“Everyone played an instrument in our house, it was almost like a family band,” she says. “My mum worked with community orchestras, my dad had a day job but he also played the bassoon. My brother played the guitar.”

It was in her last year of high school that she decided to move away from classical music and embraced jazz, which provided her with the spontaneity and spotlight she missed by being in a large ensemble.

“In an orchestra I had to sit back and play the same thing,” she says. “Classical is simply beautiful music but it didn’t excite me the way jazz does.”

As for the choice of the acoustic bass, Thiroux says the instrument has an underrated versatility. “With a piano you can play 10 notes because we have 10 fingers, and with bass it is normally one or maybe two,” she says. “But at the same time you can really get a lot of different sounds and attacks from the acoustic bass, which I find in piano is harder to do.”

Those different landscapes and textures can be heard in her debut album, Introducing Katie Thiroux, which has been hailed by jazz publications including All About Jazz and Down Beat magazines.

Over an intimate yet crisp production, the album is filled with mostly standards - such as the 1936 Rodgers and Hart favourite There’s a Small Hotel and the 1955 Count Basie classic Shiny Stockings – showcasing her muscular yet sensitive playing and underrated warm vocals.

Then there are the originals, including the bop-tastic RoseBird and the blues-driven Ray’s Kicks.

The latter, dedicated to the late double bassist Ray Brown (who passed away in 2002), was inspired after Thiroux encountered one of his shoes in the studio.

“The album’s producer, Jeff Hamilton, actually played with Ray Brown and gave me a pair of Ray Brown’s shoes,” she says. “They are beautiful black-and-white wing tipped shoes. I took it for a few weeks and then I went to give it back and Jeff said I can keep it. To have this piece of history is exciting so I wrote this little blues to pay tribute to him, I still wear Ray’s shoes.”

With a new album out in September, UAE audiences may well be some of the earliest fans to hear new cuts from the upcoming release. But that depends on whether the vibe is right, Thiroux cautions.

However, even with a slew of shows still to play, she has already chalked her UAE experience as a success.

“The fact that I can come here and people are listening is amazing to me,” says Thiroux. “Jazz music has always occupied a small part of the market and that may be the case still, but the idea is to move the fans from the older to the younger and I can see that happening here every night.”

Katie Thiroux performs at Q’s Bar and Lounge at the Palazzo Versace Dubai, from Tuesday to Saturday, until September 2. Doors are open from 7pm. For reservations, call 04 556 8888 or email qs@palazzoversace.ae