Interview: Emily Ruth, bassist, The Young Sounds of Arizona
By Patricia Myers
Emily Ruth, bassist in one of The Young Sounds of Arizona’s two bands, had an early start in music performance: She first played toy percussion instruments around the house with her sister and brother. She wanted to be a rock drummer until she heard the sound of an upright bass in elementary school.
“I loved the way the bass sounded, the things you could do with it. It had the same expressiveness as a violin, and a sound that is always something new and wonderful and beautiful,” Emily said. “I played it in the fourth grade band at school, and I still love the sound, the beauty of it.”
She later played electric bass in the eighth grade big band, and also plays in a Christian rock band. She has been in the Young Sounds 5 O’Clock Band for a year, trying out at the suggestion of Jennifer McQuade, the teacher who directs the marching band at Skyline High School in Mesa, where 17-year-old Emily is a senior.
“Being in Young Sounds pushes you in ways the school band doesn’t,” Emily said. “In a smaller ensemble, it teaches you to listen to others in group. The way Mr. (director Vince) Wedge directs us brings new life to jazz and puts us in a jazz mind.”
She also said her bass instructor, Chris Ross, had given her Miles Davis’ “Kinda Blue” to listen to. “It was really interesting and has a strong groove. Sometimes you hear a track of the music you play, but you don’t get the full color and understanding as when you hear it all.” Emily said she likes the bass work of Ray Brown, “but also Louie Armstrong, his voice, how simple he plays, and how he uses space well; he plays laid-back and he communicates really well.”
When Emily listens to recordings, she said she focuses on the interaction between instruments, “and the bass in relation to other instruments. I listen for how solos use the melody, and how everything plays together.”
She values her Young Sounds experience “because of the depth of understanding you get from being in the band. In school bands, you don’t have the same dedication of musicians. These are harder charts, and it’s good being around other musicians at your level or higher, and seeing how they improve their musicality.”
Emily performed in a septet for this year’s first Young Sounds concert on March 5 at the Phoenix Arts Center. She particularly liked one composition. “ ‘Other Mothers Brothers Blues’ is a classic blues chart in a minor key. It’s ‘fat,’ as Mr. Wedge says, a groovy sound but with a melancholy undertone.” The concert performance featured saxophonist Clint Ottmar, trumpeter Pablo Beckman and Emily on acoustic bass. She also liked “Unchain My Heart,” a 1960s Ray Charles hit. “I love the bass line, and the way the pianist (Christopher Reyes) does the vocal.”
While playing bass in high school, Emily also played trumpet in the marching band. “I met some kids in that band who said they needed more trumpets, and we had one at home that my mother got for her ninth birthday from my grandmother. My mother liked playing it when she was young, but then she got braces and it hurt to play. My mother remembered what she learned and showed me about ‘buzzing’ – how you put your lips to the mouthpiece that’s totally foreign from bass playing. And she still had all her books, so I took lessons from the band director.”
Although music has been a large part of her life, Emily plans on a dual major of mechanical engineering and music, at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Va. “Now that I’m higher academic classes at school, I like physics, how everything works, how something works mechanically and how make it better, and manipulate it, to build in the world and make things better.
“My dream job would be as a ‘Disney Imagineer’, the engineers behind the scenes at Disney who make the magic happen. And I would love to be in a symphony when I’m older, because I love music so much.”
The next concerts for the two bands will be 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, free in the Musicians Hall, 1202 E. Oak St., Phoenix 85006, 602-254-8838 or 602-235-2309; and 7:30 p.m. Monday, June 1, in the concert theater of the Musical Instrument Museum, 4725 E. Mayo Blvd., Phoenix 85050, 480-478-6000, mim.org
The Young Sounds of Arizona was founded in 1971, and remains the first and oldest continuous program of its kind in the nation. It is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, sponsored since its inception by the Professional Musicians of Arizona, AFM Local 586. For more information, go to youngsounds.org or Facebook.com/youngsoundsofarizona or MusicSceneAZ.com, or call 602-235-2309.