Readers of this byline may recall a feature on the jazz at Glendale's Neat Bar in the Glendale News-Press in March 2012. While the bar itself and the band were worthy enough subjects, the big discovery that night was young bassist Katie Thiroux and her boyfriend, drummer Matt Witek. Their musicality, swinging drive, and attention to detail were values seldom heard in players of their age group. In addition to her playing, her singing was natural, unforced and harmonically delightful. The promise that Thiroux portended that night is being played out steadily.
Though only 26, she's long been part of the pool of working local jazz musicians and is now leading her own band. That hard-swinging group, with tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann, plays at Descanso Gardens' Music on the Main series Thursday night.
Thiroux is a Chatsworth native and daughter of accomplished musicians. "It was an unspoken rule," she says from her Long Beach home, "and a process in my family that we'd all play the violin for four years. I didn't like it but my mother said: 'You'll make more money as a bass player; if you can play in tune, have good time and you know songs, you'll always work.'"
Her bass mentor, John Clayton observes: "I met Katie when she was a high school student. If I asked her to bring in exercises on A, B and C, she'd come in with D, E and F too." He also appreciates her commitment to effective ensemble playing. "She understands how important it is to connect with the other players — not just the drummers. I insist that my students be able to sing while they play. She has the talent to sing apart from playing."
The petite Thiroux has the conceivable potential to be a star performer on the order of an Esperanza Spalding but concentrates instead on being an ensemble player — even when she leads. "She's a good singer but she has to be coaxed into doing it a little," says the protean drummer Paul Kreibich. "That's actually refreshing. Everyone who hears her is impressed, but rather than try to be a rock star and an extroverted featured player, Katie's more interested in making the band sound good."
A big part of that selflessness centers on her musical romance with Witek's drumming.
"We're both very interested in the what the rhythm section players' roles are on the bandstand. It's a lot like baseball — you read each other's signs," she says. "You can anticipate things coming up that you want to do and most of the time we just have to give a quick look at each other to get it going. Matt's such a musical drummer, he knows it's not just about soloing. His use of dynamics is so subtle that when he plays it's like a voice."
Drummer Jeff Hamilton, who co-leads the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with John Clayton, is Witek's longtime teacher. "I've stressed to my students," he points out, "to find a bassist you can communicate with and count on. Katie and Matt have that quarter-note relationship that's essential. I think they've grown together and they have even more potential."
Tenor saxophonist Roger Neumann clearly delights in the fact that his former student Katie now calls him for jobs. "Her endurance amazes me," he says, from his Santa Clarita home. "We'll play some of these fast tunes that go on for a long time and she's relentless — she really digs into the music!"
Thiroux, who is currently shopping her debut album to labels, is succinct on her musical goals. "I want to play straight-ahead jazz that swings and that's ready for whatever happens in the moment. I look forward to the challenges every night."
What: Katie Thiroux
Where: Descanso Gardens, 1418 Descanso Drive, La Cañada Flintridge
When: Thursday, July 10, 6 p.m.
More info: (818) 949-4300
KIRK SILSBEE writes about jazz and culture for Marquee.