Active Bass member Laurence Mollerup
interviews world-renowned solo double
bassist Gary Karr.
Laurence Mollerup: Hello Gary,
It's an honour to be interviewing you for the ActiveBass
website. I know there have been some incredible
highlights in your career like your debut with Leonard
Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic. (At last year's Karr
Bass Kamp you told a story about being on a riser up
over the orchestra playing "The Swan" on live
television, when Mr. Bernstein said "Great, now play it
8va" . . .)
Would you talk about your history a little
It's hard for me to talk about my history, but I
will say that it's rather strange to begin ones career with
a Swan song!
Actually, my first solo experience was with the Chicago
Little Symphony conducted by Thor Johnson with whom
I toured as soloist in 1961, the year that I began my
My appearance with Leonard Bernstein was in 1962 in
Carnegie Hall in front of 7 million viewers who were
faithful fans of his Young People's Concerts. I was the
featured young artist on one of these programs which
launched my career in a major way.
LM: You mentioned listening to
the Metropolitan Opera when you were young, and
trying to emulate the arias on your bass.
Actually, I was the number one sub for the
Metropolitan orchestra so I played four operas a week
during my Juilliard student days in New York. I was so
inspired by the great singers of the time that I would go
to the Juilliard library, check out the scores, and imitate
what I heard the night before.
LM: Who were your teachers
I started studying the bass with Uda
Demenstein, a Russian bassist who taught three
generations of my bass playing family. I then studied
with Herman Reinshagen and later with Stuart Sankey.
I also studied with Gabor Rejto, cellist, Leonard Rose,
cellist, Zara Nelsove, cellist, Leonard Shure, pianist,
Alfredo Antonini, conductor and, of course, my mentor,
LM: What was it like to come
from seven generations of bassists?
Not at all helpful. In fact, my family did all they
could to discourage me from going into music. I have
no contact to this day with the other professional
bassists in my family.
LM: Were you intimidated when
you met Pablo Casals?
Quite the contrary....I felt a special bond with him
because of what he faced in trying to make the cello an
established solo instrument. He understood my plight
better than anyone whom I had encountered before.
LM: What was it like to learn
from Jennie Tourel?
She taught me to think of music from a singer's
perspective. To this day, I feel as though I am singing
through the bass. The bass is my voice, and if I could
really sing, I would like to sound like my doublebass.
She taught me to phrase like a singer, to hold the
intensity of long lines and to breathe with the music.
LM: I know that playing with a
depth of emotion is of utmost importance to you. Is
a way you help students to develop that aspect of
Gary Karr in Concert
The music one plays on the bass must reflect
your soul or that which is inside you. The key to opening
the door to the real you is your sound. If I can help a
student to connect with his sound so that he feels that it
is a part of him, it naturally follows that the instrument
becomes a vehicle for expressing his inner
LM: Where can bassists study
I no longer give masterclasses or private
lessons, but the Karr Kamp.
(LM: see Gary's web page
for an article
on the Bass Kamp) It takes place during the month of
LM: Having the Amati
doublebass given to you must
have been an amazing experience, what was that
Mrs. Koussevitzky attended my debut recital in N.
Y. and the day after she called me. Having never
spoken to her before, I didn't recognize her voice and
thought from her thick Russian accent that it
was a friend playing a practical joke on me. When she
said, "This is Olga Koussevitzky speaking," I replied by
saying, "Yeh baby...I'll bet!!!" She invited me to her
apartment and presented me with the Amati
as a gift in order to carry on the legacy of her husband.
Surely, it was the most important and the greatest gift of
LM: What about your current
instrument, the Jim Ham bass?
It's my instrument of choice now because it is so
user friendly and has such a satisfying tone. The Amati
has always been temperamentaland difficult to play.
The Ham bass does everything I want it to do.
LM: How does being owned by
a dog make you a better bassist?
He loves me and my bad bass playing
unconditionally. No one else is willing to tolerate me to
such an extent. He has become the inspiration of my
LM: What are Shin-Ju's favourite
The ones his auntie Kay sends him from the
Washington D.C.area.....they look and smell like
LM: Your instructional books are
great! On your web page I noticed that you updated
Volume 1 in 1996, how did you improve it?
The music by Alice Spatz is a great improvement
over the music by Paul Ramsier who was not as
sensitive as Alice to the technical aspects of bass
playing. I injected a number of changes that resulted
from the feedback that I had gotten from those who
used the books during the past decade or so. It is
easier to understand now.
LM: I know you favour an electric
bass style of fingering for doublebass, and that you
concentrate on the bow arm. What other aspects
of music are foremost in your method
The books are designed to establish a good
sound and a good posture with the instrument. They
eliminate any fears of using the entire length of the
fingerboard and they help the student to think
intervalically, more like a good jazz player.
LM: What new developments in
bass playing interest you?
Changes in tuning, new strings, new basses,
new bows (I now have a new one made by Giovanni
Lucchi in Cremona, Italy who I believe
is the greatest bow maker ever in the history of the
LM: Where do you see the future
of bass playing going?
More and more public awareness of the what the
bass can do, a better standard of orchestral bass
playing, more major compositions written for the bass,
more talents attracted to our instrument and an
acceptance by the establishment for the doublebass as
a bonified solo instrument.
LM: Can you talk about what
your surroundings were during the recording
of the Bach solo suites?
I played the entire CD while gaining inspiration
and maintaining tranquility by looking out at the view
from my window in Victoria, BC....the sea, islands and
snow capped mountains. It's so wonderful that
I wish I had moved here at least five years sooner. I
adore the climate and the great opportunity it affords
me to pursue my favorite hobby of gardening.
LM: What new CD's do you have
A Jazz ballad CD with Ray Brown, Monte
Alexander and others (still in the planning stages),
albums of Schuman, Beethoven and Schubert as well
as loads of other transcriptions I've done during the
past 40 years of concertizing.
I'm planning a large number of CDs with organ and
more CDs with the trio of solo bass, Harpsichord and
electric bass on continuo.
LM: Thanks Gary for doing this
interview, I've enjoyed it a lot.
All best wishes, Gary
on the web at GaryKarr.com