Trailblazing solo double bassist talks about his love for the music of Victor Wooten and Jaco, what he’s doing in “retirement” and more
By David Sands
For all his accomplishments, Gary Karr is a remarkably humble guy. Not only is he the first classical musician in history to make a full-time career out of playing solo double bass, he’s also responsible for founding the International Society of Bassists (ISB), which just celebrated its 50th anniversary this year.
A Los Angeles native from a family of orchestra musicians, Karr studied music at the University of Southern California, Northwestern University and the Juilliard School, learning his craft from teachers like Herman Reinshagen, Warren Benfield and Stuart Sankey. His big breakthrough came in 1962, playing the New York Philharmonic with Leonard Bernstein conducting. Since that time, he’s played as soloist with the Chicago Symphony, London Philharmonic Orchestra, Hong Kong Philharmonic, Montreal Symphony, Simon Bolivar Orchestra in Caracas, Venezuela, Jerusalem Symphony, Oslo Philharmonic, Zurich Chamber Orchestra and with all the major orchestras of Australia.
Throughout his career, Karr has had compositions written for him by Vittorio Giannini and Gunther Schuller and commissioned works by Lalo Schifrin, John Downey Alexander Brott and Dennis Farrell and other composers. His work has also appeared on numerous CDs, several of which have topped the charts in Eastern Asia. And he’s been featured on the BBC, CBC and CBS Sunday Morning.
Beyond all that, he’s also a noted instructor, having taught at the North Carolina School of the Arts, The Juilliard School, Yale University, Indiana University, the New England Conservatory of Music and the University of Wisconsin, among other institutions. He hosts an annual Karr Kamp summer camp at the University of Victoria campus, located near his home in British Columbia, Canada. Through the University of Wisconsin, he’s also released two videos: the double bass instructional video BASSically Karr and the children’s concert Karrtunes.
His many honors include the Rosa Ponselle Foundation’s Bronze Medal and the American String Teachers Association’s 1997 Artist/Teacher of the Year Award. Karr played his farewell public concert during the 2001 ISB Convention in Indianapolis.
Despite all his successes, Karr continues to practice daily and study and enjoy the work of other musicians. FBPO’s Jon Liebman recently spoke to Karr about his open-minded approach to the bass and a whole lot more during a conversation at the 2017 ISB convention in Ithaca, New York.
Watch our interview with Gary:
Gary Karr to perform with international gathering of double bassists
Victor Wooten says no free Facebook lessons
New live Jaco album gets day in the sun