Katie Thiroux, who played The Ritz Theatre & Museum on Sept. 24, is part of a new generation of jazz vocalists who have managed to make the music once again relevant to younger audiences, to an extent unprecedented in the modern era, here defined as roughly the last 40 years or so. Not only does she sing and write much of her own material, she plays upright bass, which puts her in the same class as contemporaries like Georgia Weber and the already-great Esperanza Spalding.
Thiroux has cut a wide swath this summer, touring in support of her second album, Off Beat, dropped Aug. 18 on Boulder-based Capri Records, which also released her debut album two years ago. Introducing Katie Thiroux went over quite well in jazz circles; it was named “Debut Record of the Year” by the Huffington Post, and finished among the top five debuts in the annual NPR Jazz Critics’ poll.
The new album puts Thiroux front-and-center in a quintet that includes pianist Justin Kauflin and drummer Matt Witek, as well as two veteran reedmen: Roger Neumann on tenor and soprano saxophones, and Ken Peplowski on tenor and clarinet. Both wield their alternate horns on the title track, creating a sound reminiscent of “Jitterbug Waltz” beneath the leader’s Blossom Dearie-esque vocals. It proceeds along at a breezy, medium tempo, with track 6, “Ray’s Idea,” a notable exception, swinging in 4/4 behind a clarinet lead, bookended by Thiroux’s scat-singing. The torch songs continue to simmer until the album closes with a funky, minimalist take on the classic standard “Willow Weep for Me,” a duet feature for Thiroux and, well, herself.
The Los Angeles native has been playing bass since she was eight, having started on violin at four. She joined the faculty at Berklee College of Music immediately after graduation, later earning her Masters in Jazz Bass from Cal State/Long Beach. All the while, she pursued a parallel track as a singer, landing principal roles in regional opera companies while taking private jazz vocal lessons from the great Tierney Sutton, all before she was even a teenager.
Thiroux’s gig at The Ritz (with pianist Glenn Zaleski and drummer Matt Witek) comes in between shots at The Jazz Corner in Hilton Head and Chicago's Green Mill, which places Duval in good company. (The group will be touring Denmark next month.) She also just finished a two-month residency in the United Arab Emirates, at the personal invitation of one Quincy Jones, where she was the featured artist at Q’s Bar at the Palazzo Versace Dubai, one of the newest and most elite luxury hotels in the world. (Prices start around $800/night, ranging up around $10,000.) She’s also a featured artist on Emirate Airlines, so she must have made quite the impression there. She certainly made quite an impression here.