Acclaimed double bassist Gary Karr is 77 years old, but his nearly life-long love affair with the musical instrument is as strong as ever. “I think I’m sexually attracted to it,” Karr said during a phone interview from his home in Victoria, British Columbia, on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s a very sensual experience. You lean against the double bass and it vibrates (laughs). It creates a bond between the player and instrument.”
The engaging and young-at-heart Karr talked about the sexy double bass, Gonzaga University, Spokane and more ahead of his guest-solo appearance at Myrtle Woldson Performing Arts Center on the Gonzaga campus Monday evening:
You’re performing with the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra next Monday. What are you looking forward to most with the concert?
Two things. The audiences the two times before, they were so great and enthusiastic and supportive. And most of all working with director Kevin Hekmatpanah and the symphony. They are a really great group. Their spirit is wonderful and caressing. It makes me want to play better than ever. It is such a delightful experience. I feel like I’m coming home to family.
Do you know your setlist? When you were last here 1 1/2 years ago, it was under celebrated circumstances, including a world premiere piece.
I’m going to be doing what the audience likes. They like to have a lot of fun, and they expect a lot of fun from me. My first piece is the 18th century Dragonetti Concerto for Double Bass. I’ll give the conductor a rough time with it (laughs). It has a gorgeous, slow movement.
Then for my encore, “Fantasia” from Vincenzo Bellini’s opera “La Sonnambula” about sleepwalking. A woman by mistake goes to the room of the wrong person instead of her fiancé. The melodies come from arias, and my variations are a lot of fun. I try to enact the drama while playing.
This is your third time playing with Gonzaga in the past five years or so?
I love the Gonzaga Symphony Orchestra. I don’t often play concerts anymore because I’m retired, so I can pick and choose. I love Spokane, the orchestra and Kevin. How could I say no?
How did you start playing the double bass?
I come from a family of seven generations of musicians. I also am a chocoholic. If chocolate could sing, it would sound like a double bass – dark, warm, mellow and sweet (laughs).
You’re known as a legend in the double bass world. What do you think of the accolade?
I guess if you get old enough, you’d be a legend in any field (laughs). I even started a bass society 50 years ago to draw attention to the double bass and get us out of the shadows.
And Leonard Bernstein introduced you as a master in your craft at the ripe old age of 20?
If you can believe it, that was my first orchestra, my first appearance. It was the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein in front of 7 million TV viewers. Talk about diving into the cold pool!
I recently saw Diana Krall in Spokane, and I was obsessed with her double bassist John Clayton. Was is the allure of the instrument for you after all this time?
I was in a class at a girls school demonstrating the double bass, and I was asked the same question. My response was, “I think I’m sexually attracted to it.” After the girls stopped laughing, one of them followed up with, “How long have you had this problem?” It was the first time I’ve been speechless.
It’s a very sensual experience. You lean against the double bass and it vibrates (laughs). It creates a bond between the player and instrument. It’s as if I’m singing through the instrument. I’ve always considered myself a lyrical artist. My first desire was to be a singer, so I have always been determined to sing on the bass.
What else are you doing with your time in retirement in Victoria?
Victoria is the Garden City, and I’m a gardener. There is even a rose named after me. I have a large garden that I designed. I also am a train addict, a toy train addict, and I have a room in the house. I really enjoy doing that, and I’m a clock and watch collector. There is a clock club here. I have lots to keep me busy. Boredom is not part of my philosophy.
Anything else you’d like to add, Mr. Karr?
No, you’ve covered a lot of … bases (laughs).
Have you made that joke before?
No, actually I haven’t!
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