Questionary: Paul Cannon

My German language weblog features an interview category called Fragebogen (which means “questionary” in English).
Paul Cannon is the newest member of the  Ensemble Modern here at Frankfurt. But because he is from Houston, Texas, I translated the questions for him … so that’s the first article of my new interview category here at

Paul studied with Paul Ellison at Rice University in Houston, Texas, where he received Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in performance. In 2010, Cannon was awarded a Wagoner Fellowship in Paris, France, where he studied extensively with famed bass soloist François Rabbath. While there, he received a performance diploma and teaching certificate from the Institut Rabbath before returning to Houston.
Paul has joined Ensemble Modern in the spring of 2014. Previously, he has been a featured artist at the TCU Double Bass Symposium and with the contemporary ensemble Musiqa. He has appeared as a guest with the Houston Symphony, Boston Symphony, Austin Symphony, and the Houston Grand Opera. He has performed at festivals including Aspen, Tanglewood, Sarasota, Spoleto USA, and Domaine Forget. From 2011-2014, he was Director of Education at the Quantum Bass Center and provided numerous outreach services throughout Houston as a 2013 Da Camera Young Artist.

Paul came to my workshop as a customer, but since he has also worked as a luthier in the USA, I always enjoy discussing details and getting insights into the american double bass world …

What CD is in your stereo at the moment?

Well, I just moved here two months ago and still haven’t bought a proper stereo, and all my CD’s are still in boxes. It looks like the last thing I listened to on my computer was “The Tuning CD” — I guess that shows where my priorities have been lately! The last real thing I listened to was Mark Dresser’s “Time Changes”.

Which bassist(s) do you listen to most often?

I’m a big fan of Renaud Garcia-Fons, Mark Dresser, Stefano Scodanibbio, Sebastian Dubé, and Edgar Meyer. They have all pushed bass playing so far, while also making music I really love to hear.

Which bassist was you main influence?

I’ve had so many strong influences personally and professionally. My two main teachers, Paul Ellison and François Rabbath, were definitely my biggest mentors and really shaped me into the kind of player I wanted to be. I also drew an incredible amount of inspiration from my peers at Rice University, and from all the teachers at Domaine Forget.

Which recording would you take to a desert island?

Parliament Funkadelic’s “The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein”. No question.

Who is your favorite composer?

I don’t have one. Sorry!

What are you practicing at the moment?

I’m usually spending about half an hour a day on scales and arpeggios, then another hour on technical things. Since starting with Ensemble Modern, I’ve had to take quite a lot of time to study new and extended techniques which I never studied in school. At the moment, I’m working on understanding all the options for harmonics (particularly higher partials), and slowly working out a fingering system for quarter tones. After all that, I spend as much time as I need on whatever repertoire is coming up in our schedule. This week, I have a big solo in the Ligeti Kammerkonzert that needs some attention.

How did you become a bass player?

When I was ten years old, every student in my grade was taken into a big room to talk about joining the school orchestra. The teacher began his talk by introducing each instrument, starting with the double bass. I heard him say, “The double bass is the most important instrument in the orchestra…” — after which I fell asleep. When I awoke, he had finished talking and was asking everyone to line up by instrument choice so he could tell us what size of instrument we needed to rent. I saw the bass line was the shortest, and figured it was the fastest way for me to get outside to the playground. I’ve been a bass player ever since.

Do you remember your first gig as a bass player?

I think my first paying gig was with a local orchestra when I was 15 years old. I think we played Dvorak’s 9th Symphony.

Do you remember your first instrument? And your first bass?

I played violin for about a week when I was really young, but that doesn’t count. My first bass was a rented ply bass, but I don’t remember the brand.

What has been your most important gig (or recording session) so far?

For me, the best concert experience so far was my first show with Ensemble Modern. When I got called to play the show, I was really nervous about playing one of these crazy modern pieces the group is famous for. But as it turned out, we were playing the Mozart Gran Partita in Salzburg. A very nice surprise for me, and a very enjoyable show to play. For a modern ensemble to get a standing ovation at the Mozarteum for a performance of Mozart seemed really special.

What do you think is the most important quality of a bass player?

A genuine interest in growing as an artist. No matter how good they are, once that interest dies it’s just not any fun to play with them. I guess that’s true for any instrument.

What do you hope to teach your students?

At the moment, I don’t have any students. But my hope for any student is that they can find satisfaction in the work at hand. When you understand your goals, and how to proceed with them, then the most important thing is to enjoy the process.

What instrument do you play?

I own two basses. One by Paul Toenniges made in 1936, the other is a solo bass built for me by Christian Laborie in 2010. I also have a couple bows by Boris Fritsch that I really love.

What’s the nick name of your bass?

I never named my basses, but as a young student I remember using an old Kay bass that had the name “Ookie” carved into its back.




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