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A Fireside Chat With Christian McBride

By Published: October 7, 2003

Mom and pop stores are almost non-existent in this day and age. They're not as important as they once were. I think that is because corporate America has taken such a chokehold with all these record companies, they forgot about the mom and pop stores that are in the community. So I try to reach out to those people directly.

FJ: You mentioned the website, where you feature a diary.

CM: It does get a little dicey sometimes because I will meet people who think they know me and I am like, "Hey, wait a minute. Back up." For example, you used to be able to email me at my website, but I had to take that down fast because some of the emails that came through were marriage proposals, girls sending pictures.

One guy sent me an email saying if I thought it was righteous that I wear so many sporting uniforms. What does the essence of sports have to do with Paul Chambers?

FJ: That guy is taking life a bit too seriously.

CM: Every now and then, I got emails like that, so I pulled that down quick. But now, they just go on the message board. Certainly, with the new CD coming out, there have been hits coming left and right on the website. It has really been good most of the time. I really have to be careful how much of myself I expose on the website. I don't want to give everything away.

FJ: Being associated with a major label is a blessing hidden in a great deal of angst.

CM: Well, I think the good part about me doing what I have always wanted to do, how I wanted to do it on all my CDs, is that I am in the position now that what people expect from me is the unexpected.

Nobody knows where I am going next and I like it like that. I could go to the right. I could go and do a real traditional, straight-ahead album. I could do that at any moment. I could put the acoustic bass down all together. That is unlikely, but it is possible, and do an all electric bass album. I could do a solo bass album. I got a lot of influences in which to draw from and I don't think anybody has been able to predict where I am going next.

Of course, the flipside of that, musically, that is great, but commercially, it doesn't really ring a great bell with most people in the office. I think the sad part about my last days at Verve was that they made it very clear that they were going to change their focus. Not only me, but there were a lot of great artists, Nicholas Payton, Russell Malone, Eric Reed, a lot of guys suffered the burden of the corporate choke as I referred to earlier.

You are going to pay a price either way you go. If you try to appease the brass, you could easily get a really big hit that you hate, but you have to perform that the rest of your life or you can make the music you want to make and not have a big company to push your music. Either way you go, you have your pros and cons. I would rather go to my grave happy with the kind of music that I make.

FJ: Now that you are on the Warner Bros. label, I know some A&R guy has pitched a Joshua Redman, Chris McBride, Brad Mehldau reunion.

CM: Of course, but if I was still on Verve, it would be a Mark Whitfield, Nicholas Payton reunion. If I were on Telarc, it would be a Benny Green, Russell Malone reunion. Anyway you go, you will have an all-star setting. They are always going to throw their artists together to do more all-star records.

As far as Joshua's group is concerned, who knows. Mehldau is already well established as a leader now as well as Brian Blade. Brian Blade is doing so much stuff, I would like to bet money if anybody could get him for a recording session in the next two years. We will see what happens.

FJ: By your own admission, you are boundless by category, which allows for a great deal of misconceptions and preconceived biases, particularly on your new record.

CM: Right, which has been going on really badly with this new CD. I think the biggest misconception about this entire CD is every marketing position needs an angle in which to sell the CD and I think with a lot of the stories that have been written, the angle is that Christian McBride is no longer an acoustic, straight-ahead, young lion. He has turned his back on straight-ahead jazz and that is really the most wrong thing anybody can say.

We are very much a jazz group. We still play a lot of straight-ahead. The acoustic bass is still very much the central nervous system of everything that I do in this band. I don't want people to read any of these articles and think that I don't play jazz anymore.

We're still playing jazz, but we don't play it as we did five or six years ago. We have more rhythms. We have more textures. We have more layers going on.

That's probably the main angle that I want to try and squash. I don't want people to think that I have suddenly put the acoustic bass down and don't like swing rhythms anymore. That is probably the biggest one.

FJ: You are playing what you know.

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