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The New Cool: Kate Olson KO's injury, returns to action

Abe Beeson
Kate Olson is back in action after a wrist injury.

One of the Northwest's most exciting reed players has been sidelined by injury for months, and now she's back with a vengeance. Kate Olson talked to New Cool host Abe Beeson about the tough break, the road back, and her exciting musical plans to come.

Arriving in Seattle around 2010, Olson started forming musical connections through the jam sessions at Café Racer. Here she found others who appreciate experimental music, and she also found the inspiration to form her own projects that would appeal to audiences at all the area jazz clubs.

Fans of The New Cool are familiar with Olson’s modern soprano sax sounds in the duo Syrinx Effect with trombonist Naomi Moon Siegel. Her solo project, KO SOLO, is complete with looping effects and beats.

Featuring more tenor saxophone, KO Electric works her modern inclinations within a quartet (usually) setting. On the acoustic side, the KO Ensemble is her most active project, recently appearing at Tula’s with pianist Alex Guilbert, bassist Evan Flory-Barnes, and Max Wood drumming.

You’ll also hear Olson with Birch Pereira & the Gin Joints, the all-star crew West Seattle Soul, the latin-soul-pop-fusion group The Pazific, and with theater and cabaret bands at the Seattle Rep, Triple Door, and beyond.

As you can imagine, a player with a busy schedule like this can ill afford an injury. But, according to researchers in Edmonton, 80 percent of professional musicians will suffer from injuries at some point in their career. Usually, it’s strained muscles, joints and tendons from repetitive use. Not for Kate Olson.

“I need to come up with a better story,” Olson tells me, embarrassed. “I was jogging after dark, and I tripped and fell. I landed on my hand, and I broke a tiny little bone in my hand called the scaphoid.”

Thinking it was no big deal, Olson wrapped her hand and proceeded to play a three-hour funk gig on baritone sax that night.

Kate Olson's "ridiculous tan line and badass scar" after the cast was removed from her scaphoid surgery.

Eventually, Olson’s doctors found the hard-to-spot injury and told her it required surgery. She continued to play with a broken wrist for a month or so to fulfill her musical obligations, and finally had the procedure that would keep her from playing for two months.

During that time, Olson says she learned tin whistle to keep her fingers in shape. “You don’t need a thumb to play it!” Olson told me. “They gave me a low-profile cast, and I was back to playing the day after that two months was over,” she says.

Still, it will take some time to return to the high level of playing Olson is used to. She told me about returning to her saxophones, “it feels like I’m holding an alien now.”

Happily, Olson’s friends and fellow musicians around Seattle lent their support during her injury. Saxophonist Art Brown commiserated with her about his own recovery from a broken wrist. Olson also reached out to a musical theater friend, guitarist Greg Fulton.

“He developed focal dystonia, totally different situation,” Olson says. “He told me about body mapping, massage therapy, all of these body awareness techniques.” Most importantly, he told Olson that she needed to be patient with people who could not understand how devastating it can be for a musician to deal with injury and recovery.

Discussing the frustrations of a long recovery, Olson told me: “My mom is a nurse. She told me ‘patience isn’t sold over the counter.’”

For other musicians for whom injuries are likely, Olson says they should remember “doctors are doctors for a reason, so you have to trust them. Also, if you can lock down all the things that are emotionally and psychologically hard to do – meditate, whatever – then your physical healing will go by faster.”

Thank goodness for Kate Olson’s determination and passion. She’s moving at full speed through this recovery, and she has a lot of plans for her music.

Olson is writing and performing a solo electric collaboration with Catapult Dance in Seattle coming in late September, performing with the Seattle Repertory Theatre for a monthlong run of the Pulitzer Prize winning drama "Indecent" into October, and eventually Olson will get into the studio to record an album with her own band.

The KO Ensemble’s debut at Tula’s this week was proof positive that this music is ready to be shared more widely. Olson’s also interested in recording her KO Electric band. “Some of the repertoire overlaps, but I wanna make two records to… have a record of both of these long running bands. Then I can move on and write a bunch of new music!”

You’ll hear one of Olson’s “classics” from the KO Ensemble’s live performance at the Royal Room from last November on The New Cool Saturday afternoon. Of course, Olson has lined up plenty of shows in the coming weeks, so take your pick and catch a rising star.

Go see KO in all her varied glory! She’s playing with The Pazific at the Southend Heritage Festival Saturday. Olson brings the funk with West Seattle Soul at the Parliament Tavern Aug. 1.

KO solo opens the night at The Sunset Tavern in Ballard Aug. 2, followed by a gig with Birch Pereira & the Gin Joints at the Anacortes Arts Festival Aug. 3. On Aug. 7, KO Electric opens for muscular sax star Tim Capello at the Funhouse.

Olson’s music for "Indecent" at Seattle Repertory Theater runs Sept. 20-Oct. 26, and she’s performing in the band for the multimedia stage series This Is Halloween, based on Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” at The Triple Door Oct. 18-31.

Catch up with the KO Ensemble in November. They’re at Vito’s in Seattle on Nov. 8 and Earshot’s Art of Jazz show at the Seattle Art Museum Nov. 14. I hope to see you out there!

The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle.

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