Eva Kess: "The sound of bass comes from the left hand. The right hand is important as well, but it’s how you press the strings that forms the tone"

Eva Kess
(Image credit: Eva Kess)

Born in Germany in 1985, Eva Kess grew up in the Brazilian city of Porto Alegre and later in Bern, Switzerland, where she lives today. Growing up, she sang songs in German, English, Portuguese, French, and Swiss German with her family, and studied the piano before switching to double bass at the age of 17. 

Studying and transcribing recordings by Paul Chambers, Oscar Pettiford, Charlie Haden, and Larry Grenadier, she attended the Music Academy of Basel and later won a scholarship to study in New York City. In 2010, Kess released her debut album, Wondering What Is Coming, and followed up in 2017 with Flying Curly, a co-production with the Radio SRF 2 Kultur released on the UNIT Records label. Her current album, Falling Stars, is out now, as she explains. 

“My way into bass and my way into life are both very diverse. I was born in Berlin-Schöneberg in Germany, and in 1987 we moved to the south of Brazil as my dad got a guest professorship in philosophy in  Porto Alegre. 

“In Brazil, we learned songs in Portuguese and my grandmother told my mom to send me to ballet classes. The interesting thing was that in this dance school in Porto Alegre, every child had to learn tap dance in order to develop and incorporate a sense of rhythm. Later on, in Europe, I continued to dance and started to play the classical piano.  

“After 12 years of piano, I discovered the double bass after missing the bus after dance class. When waiting at the bus stop, I heard beautiful music from a nearby double-bass quartet – and it blew my mind. The sound touched me deeply. For the first time in my life, I perceived the double bass consciously, and realized the enormous versatility of this wonderful instrument.

“You can play melodies, middle lines, rhythmic patterns tapped on the instrument’s body or on the strings. You can play arco with a bow, and pizzicato with your fingers, and of course, you can play rhythmically, melodically, and harmonically interesting grooves, which I love.“

“When I told my high school music teacher that I was considering learning the bass in addition to the piano, he immediately lent me a double bass for free. Later, I found out that he was a founding member of the association Pro Basso in Bern, that supports double bass activities and also double bass students.

The best advice I’ve been given about bass is that the sound comes from the left hand

“After a while, I got my own bass, and when I started to study music I sold that one and purchased another. When travelling I often play other basses – we bassists are used to that and tend to be very flexible. Of course, I prefer my own bass as I am used to the spacing on the fingerboard. For gear, I’m using a David Gage pickup and D’Addario Zytex strings as I currently do some bowing. Before that, I used Velvet Anima and Velvet Garbo.

“The best advice I’ve been given about bass is that the sound comes from the left hand. Of course the right hand is important as well, but perhaps surprisingly, it’s how you press the strings that forms the tone.

“I admire Ron Carter as he has accomplished so many awesome things in his lifetime, and remains a super humble and kind person, and sound-wise I admire Larry Grenadier and his down-to-earth attitude. From him I learned that the most important thing is that the bassist sounds good. After that, the bass has to sound good, then the strings, then the pickup and finally the amplification – in that order!”

  • Eva Kess's new album, Sternschnuppen – Falling Stars, is out now via Neuklang.

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