Take 5! Shook and Russo

Amy Shook, photo by Medford Canby.

Bassist Amy Shook and the Shook/Russo Quartet have been working together for thirteen years, with a focus on performing their original compositions. On Thursday, September 19th, Amy and the quartet perform in SAAM’s Kogod Courtyard from 5–7 p.m. as part of the Take 5! Jazz Series.

How did you discover jazz?

I attended the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival in Idaho with my school jazz choir. I had no idea what I was hearing, but I felt the energy of it, and knew I wanted *THAT*. I heard Lionel with Dizzy Gillespie, and Carmen McRae, but everything distilled down when I heard bassist Ray Brown with pianist Gene Harris and drummer Jeff Hamilton.

How did you choose the bass?

After hearing Ray Brown, I developed a love of the bass and that deep groove. I eventually became the bassist with my jazz choir. Although I was a violinist (eventually earning a Master’s degree), I participated in Boise’s ‘Swap Strings’ program and taught myself how to play upright bass.

How was the Shook/Russo Quartet formed?

In 2003, my husband Pat Shook joined the Army Jazz Ambassadors on tenor sax. I started freelancing soon after moving to the area. I began playing regularly with drummer Frank Russo and holding living-room jam sessions. Pianist Tim Young and trumpeter Tim Leahey later joined us. We are now a quartet with guitarist Jonathan Epley.

I'm thrilled to witness the contributions of incredible women musicians finally being recognized. Young women need to have ‘heroes’ who are women...

— Amy Shook

Who are some of your musical influences as composer and performer?

My main musical influence as a bassist is Ray Brown. Other influences include Oscar Peterson, Paquito D'Rivera, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I love playing all styles, but my roots are in swing and the blues, music that gives me that good ‘pain in my heart’ and makes me want to dance. Miles Davis’ various ensembles shaped me as a composer. As a performer, I have learned so much over the past five years from having performed with the incomparable Maurice Hines, Jr. as well as Sherrie Maricle and the DIVA Jazz Orchestra.

Significant efforts are being made to acknowledge the role of women on the jazz scene. Have you perceived any changes throughout your career?

I'm thrilled to witness the contributions of incredible women musicians finally being recognized. Young women need to have ‘heroes’ who are women, play their instrument and are fierce; when I was coming up, I was not aware of any women jazz bassists. There are many incredible musicians who have faced challenges in their careers because of their gender (including Sherrie Maricle). I tend not to think twice about it because I'm just another musician operating at a high level, and my gender doesn't matter. I want to ‘do my thing’ at the highest possible level with the best musicians I can find, regardless of gender. I want to be called to play because of what I bring to the table musically; being the best choice for the job is my primary goal.

Interviewer Bertrand Überall has been a Take 5! volunteer since 2012. In addition to his work at SAAM, he also helps plan the Jazz in the Basement series at the DC Public Library (in conjunction with the Goethe-Institut), as well as the Jazz at UUCSS series in Silver Spring.