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Interviews

Christian McBride: Knocking on the Door

By Published: June 25, 2012
AAJ: You originally wrote a number of the compositions on the CD for smaller ensembles—like "Shake 'n' Blake" as a duet with Ron Blake
Ron Blake
Ron Blake
b.1965
saxophone
and number that you recorded with Inside Straight. How would you compare the experience of writing for small groups and large ensembles?



CM: I'm starting to wonder—if I ever get the discipline—if the big band could be my main band one day. Because I'm really starting to hear layers all the time now, and when I started taking songs like "Shake 'n' Blake" and "The Shade of the Cedar Tree" and "In a Hurry" and started expanding them for big band, it seemed really natural. So I actually plan to see how far I can take this big band.

AAJ: Who are some of your influences for big band writing?

CM: Oh, everybody. Anybody who has made any music remotely connected with a big band—that's who my influences are. On the liner notes of The Good Feeling, I included a list of people, being facetious, saying "just to name a few," and it almost took up the whole page.

AAJ: Well you mention Duke Pearson
Duke Pearson
Duke Pearson
b.1932
piano
in particular.

CM: Right. My arrangement of "I Should Care" is basically an arrangement of his arrangement. Duke Pearson is a big influence. I probably would have to say Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
Oliver Nelson
1932 - 1975
arranger
may be my biggest influence. I think a lot of people, even in the jazz world, are asleep about how important he was in the '60s and early '70s, not just in jazz but in the commercial world, writing for television and film. I guess he just never really had the opportunity to write the big Hollywood movie score like Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
Quincy Jones
b.1933
producer
or Lalo Schifrin
Lalo Schifrin
Lalo Schifrin
b.1932
band/orchestra
did, but had he lived, I believe he would have eventually gotten there.

AAJ: About the musicians in the big band—I noticed that saxophonist Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
Steve Wilson
b.1961
sax, alto
was counting everybody off at the beginning at the Highlights in Jazz concert.

CM: Well, the lead alto man is the man, and for me, Steve Wilson is unequivocally the man. He is probably the most focused and professional musician I've ever known. You know, he approaches every situation the same way. It could be some little small gig in a supermarket with maybe five people, or we could play in front of 15,000 people at Yankee Stadium. He approaches every gig the same exact way. And I totally respect that about him.

AAJ: And Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
Nicholas Payton
b.1973
trumpet
is also in the band.

CM: Yeah, it was really sweet. Nicholas and I have worked together on and off for years in a lot of different contexts, and my original intention was to just have him play on the CD. But Nicholas kind of volunteered himself. He said, "Well, if you're going to have me play on the CD, why don't you just have me do the gig?" We were going to play at Dizzy's a week before we made the recording, just so that we could kind of warm up and get everything together. So he made the gig with us at Dizzy's, and then we went straight into the studio, and you saw him again at that concert.



AAJ: He's been kind of on people's minds lately with some broad statements about jazz. Where do you stand on that?

CM: Yeah, I have pretty broad statements on jazz, too. I'm not quite sure I would come off as incendiary as he has, but, you know, I agree with him on many issues regarding what jazz is. I once said that jazz now seems to be the only kind of music where a mistake can be changed into a concept and then be applauded for it. Now, on the one hand, that could be good, because a mistake could be something like, "Wow! I didn't know that could work! Check that out!" Somebody like Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
Herbie Hancock
b.1940
piano
can get away with that. But it's almost like—if I gave you a guitar, and I said, "Here, play a tune for me." And you say to me, "But I don't play guitar—I don't know what I'm doing." I say, "Well, play it anyway." And you get up there and play the guitar, fumbling and stumbling; you're getting your fingers all in the wrong place. Jazz is the only kind of music where there's one out of five people that will listen to you and go, "Wow, he's got something there! Yeah, that's different!"

It's so easy to fool people in jazz. And you can't do that with any other style of music. You can't do it. What I love about playing with a lot of musicians in the funk and R&B world is that you can do anything you want—kind of like jazz. You can play any kind of weird chord changes. You can sing anything you want, as long as it's funky. As long as it's got some power behind the groove, you can put anything you want in there. So, I like that. When you mess around playing European classical music, even if you play something more so-called modern or cutting edge, I think even the untrained ear can tell when you're faking it. But in jazz, you can really get away with a whole lot.


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