Hans Sturm from Nebraska wrote a biography of François Rabbath, a French double bass virtuoso, soloist and composer who influenced countless bassists around the world.
The book “75 years with 4 strings: the life and music of François Rabbath” will be published in early 2022 and is available for pre-sale.
Rabbath, who is now 90, is renowned in the bass world for his innovative left hand technique and pedagogy that revolutionized the way bass is played and taught. Sturm, professor of double bass and jazz studies at the Hixson-Lied College of Fine and Performing Arts, has worked with Rabbath since 2000.
“I’ve known him for a lot longer, since the early 80s, when he first came out,” Sturm said. “I went to study with him. I returned there two to three times a year, starting in 2000, and this led to the creation of the two DVDs that I produced titled “The Art of the Arc” and “The Art of the Left Hand.” “
Those DVDused cutting-edge technology, including user-selectable angles and biomechanical animations, to experience Rabbath’s subtle artistry. The work led to more in-depth conversations and Sturm became interested in the stories of Rabbath.
“One of the things that are so fascinating about Francis is his story and his background,” Sturm said. “By doing the DVDs, we would talk about his philosophy, then he would tell another story about his past. Each one would remember, then it would call another one back.
Rabbath was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1931 to a family of musicians. Her brothers performed together at a local cafe, then left for a concert in Damascus for three months. After three months they returned and Rabbath, then 12, was delighted to see them.
“Elie told Francois to do him a favor and run to his room to get him a handkerchief,” Sturm said. “And so Francois, wanting to please, runs into the room, and there’s a bass in the corner of the room. François knows that he is not supposed to touch his brother’s instruments, but he cannot resist the big instrument. He walks up to it and plucks the string, and he says the window is shaking and the whole room is shaking. He runs down the stairs and walks over to his brother and lets out “What’s that big violin in your room?” And he said, “First of all, it’s not a violin, it’s a bass. And Francis said: ‘Well, who is it for?’ And Elijah said, ‘Who wants it?’ So Francois said, “Can I take it?” And he says yes, and by God you will join the group immediately.
“And I think that’s a big reason he kissed bass. Because as long as he can play bass, he will never be separated from his brothers.
Eventually the family moved to Beirut and the brothers played at the Normandy Hotel during dinner time, then performed in the evenings at the nearby Kit Kat nightclub. Sturm said the great violinist Yehudi Menuhin once saw Rabbath perform at the Normandy Hotel.
“Francois often played in the upper register with the bow melodies of popular tunes, and Menuhin was impressed and said let me see your fingers,” Sturm said. “And he seen Francois had one line between his fingers, and he said, ‘Oh, see, I got the same one. You will go far. And Francois said: ‘But your line is so fine.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, sure, I’m a violinist, and you’re a bassist.’ But it was very encouraging for him. He was maybe 18 at the time, and one of the world’s greatest violinists was in Beirut and cheering him on.
Rabbath eventually emigrated to Paris. The brothers performed with singer Charles Aznavour. After a performance in Monte Carlo, Quincy Jones, who had a European big band at the time and was named Black Senior Vice President of Mercury Records, asked Rabbath if he had a demo.
“Francois said no and Quincy said, ‘Well if you do a demo make sure you send it to me,’” Sturm said.
Rabbath set aside time at the Philips Recording Studio, but before he could record it, the studio manager offered him a contract after learning of Jones’ interest in Rabbath.
“He did a three-track demo, one by his brother Pierre, one by a friend, and the third was just kind of a thing he was working on with bass and drums, and the Philips committee loves that, and said they want more of that, “Sturm said.” So this record comes out, ‘The Sound of a Bass,’ which is bass and drums. “
Recording launched her career, which has included performances, as well as composition for film and theater.
“For the bass world, I can say it has completely revolutionized the way bass is played,” Sturm said.
In Rabbath’s method, the entire fingerboard is divided into just six positions, made possible by a technique called pivoting. His methods focus on the use of the left hand and his particular attention to the bow arm.
For Sturm, the book and his relationship with Rabbath are personal.
“It has completely changed the way I play, approach, teach and think about this instrument,” Sturm said. “The second thing I can say is his generosity and the contagiousness of the way he gives and the way he wants everyone to grow. And then finally, it is his love of humanity. There’s that bit of history that comes up many times where it’s rejected in one way or another. And he always comes back to bass. It is the sharing of love through music.
Sturm said that preserving Rabbath’s stories was a dream project for him.
“Francis has had such a profound influence on my life and the lives of so many of my friends and colleagues – everyone I contacted to share their experiences was eager to participate,” he said. “For me to play a part in her life story has been a great honor. I hope readers enjoy the stories and come away with an appreciation for his wonderful life in music and, perhaps, learn from his experiences as he originally intended.