Authentically Bass with Rob Thorsen

Acoustic bassist Rob Thorsen began playing classical guitar at the age of 7.

He later went on to play flute, saxophone, tuba, and electric bass before getting his first upright bass. It was a turning point in his life. He became very involved in music and learning as much as he could about the bass.

“When I began playing upright bass, the fact that I felt the sound as much as heard it had a profound effect on me. I was hooked for life.”

Rob was hired to perform on a cruise ship, the Royal Viking Star, for eight months traveling around the world. Afterwards, he settled in San Francisco. Soon, Thorsen was busy working in many of the bay areas top clubs including: Kimball’s, Yoshi’s, the Great American Music Hall, Pearls, and the Concord Jazz Festival.

In 1990, Rob moved to San Diego where he quickly became on of the areas most in demand bassists. In addition to leading his own trio/quartet he has worked with many notable artists. It’s a long list including Louie Bellson [see MakingMusicMag article about Louis Bellsons contributions to the drum world], Russell Malone, Charles McPherson, Curtis Fuller, Mundell Lowe, Hubert Laws, Jackie Ryan and many others.

Recently, Rob Thorsen released his fourth CD as the leader of the group Lasting Impression. The group features pianists Geoffrey Keezer and Josh Nelson, trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, saxophonist Ben Wendel, drummer Duncan Moore and others . It is on the Pacific Coast Jazz label and was released June of 2009. In addition to 4 of Rob’s original compositions it features many classic jazz songs including the Gershwin’s “The Man I Love,” Charlie Chaplin’s “Smile”, John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” and others. The album received national airplay and was on the “top 40” jazz listings for over 6 months.

He also performs regularly with the Mike Wofford/Holly Hofmann Quartet, Guitarist Mundell Lowe, saxophonist Charles McPherson, and the Gilbert Castellanos Quintet. Rob is also founder and leader of “Jazz An American Art Form.” This is a hugely successful jazz education program that was presented to over 6,000 elementary aged school children in 2011. He also teaches at the annual UCSD Jazz camp. Rob has performed at various jazz festivals including Telluride Jazz fest, Idyllwild Jazz Festival, Chiapas Jazz Festival, Ensenada Jazz Festival, Temecula Jazz festival, Glenwood Spring Jazz Festival and others. Rob was also recently featured in the San Diego Union Tribune newspapers “Into View” artist profile by George Varga.

A Chat with Rob Thorsen about Bass Life

Chuck Schiele: Tell me Rob Thorsen, what does a life as a bass player mean to you?

Rob Thorsen: I began playing bass when I was 19. Previously, I played classical guitar, flute, and saxophone. When I started playing bass I felt completely connected to the music and the instrument. Feeling the sound vibration as much as hearing it is a huge part of the appeal. I love being a bass player as it is very grounded in the groove yet also incredibly melodic at the same time. Also the option of playing both pizzicato and bowed bass is like two instruments for the price of one.

Chuck Schiele: What gets you interested in working with any particular artist?

Rob Thorsen: Their sincerity as an artist and the emotional content of the work.

Chuck Schiele: The top three habits that make you the player you are today:

Rob Thorsen:
1. Consistency of practice.
2. Always being critical and objective of my playing.
3. Love of the Music.

Chuck Schiele: Are there things that happen in your off-stage life that factor into your onstage world?

Rob Thorsen: Of course! I think everything that makes you who you are as a person affects what you play and how you express yourself. I love gardening, working on old cars, bicycling, healthy food, fixing things around the house. Although they aren’t musical in nature, these passions require a thought process to do the best job possible. And no “one way” is the right way. There are infinite approaches just like in music, especially jazz and creative music.

Chuck Schiele: You’re a great listener. Please discuss the art of listening.

Rob Thorsen: Listening is the most important aspect of music, no matter what the genre is. I think this simple fact is not realized by many players, at least to it’s full potential. Music is a language and we must learn to speak it. Transcribing (actually learning by ear and memorizing without writing it down) is one of the most important learning tools ever. We learn from the masters and then use that info to create our own unique and personal language — Our Sound.

Chuck Schiele: What is the main role and soul of the bass as you see it?

Rob Thorsen: It its the heartbeat of the music, sometimes the simplest part can be incredibly effective. The ability too step back and “hear yourself” is vital in creating your sound as a bassist. It’s all about being a team player, expressing yourself but ultimately serving the music to its highest degree.

Chuck Schiele: What would you say to a kid interested in picking up the bass?

Rob Thorsen: Do it! Don’t be afraid, but definitely start with lessons from a good teacher. Everyone has something different to give, we are all unique individuals so find someone you respect and pushes you to new levels.

Educational and Bass Organizations

Young Lions Jazz Conservatory
Jazz an American Art Form
A program I founded 10 years ago through Arts for Learning that presents a history of jazz program to students in under-served communities. Featuring trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, it’s presented to over 8,000 students annually.
The World Of Jazz
An Educational program created with pianist Danny Green through the La Jolla Athenaeum. Approximately 3,000 to 4,000 students served annually.
Voices of Our City Choir
A choir created for people experiencing homelessness in San Diego by my wife Steph Johnson. Recent appearance on Americas Got Talent (Golden Buzzer award)


Check out other BASS MONTH articles!

Traveling through Bass & Time with Lee Sklar

Options in A-minor with Bassist Edgar Pagán

Chuck Schiele is an award-winning musician, producer, editorialist, artist, activist and music fan. He still plays every day.

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