Christian McBride: Knocking on the Door
AAJ: It's funny you bring that up, because at the Highlights in Jazz concert, you were introducing the song "I Should Care," and you made a joke about playing in free-jazz style. And then, during that song, when it came time for Loren Schoenberg to take his tenor sax solo, as a joke, he started out his first couple of bars sounding like Albert Ayler.
CM: Which was amazing, I thought. It was amazing because I'd never heard him do that before. I didn't even think he knew how to do that. Just the contrast of it was brilliant, I thought, for those first two bars.
AAJ: And then, when it came time for your solo
CM: I had to do the same thing. I had to steal his idea.
AAJ: You also work with Loren at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem.
CM: I've been working with Loren and the Museum now for seven years. Loren and I have a very long relationship. We first met in 1990 or '91, something like that. He was leading the American Jazz Orchestra down at Cooper Union. And he called me for a gig. I knew who he was, and he tracked me down, and we worked together. That was also the first time I played with Steve Wilson. And we did all of the music from Miles Davis and Gil Evans projects. Dick Katz played piano and Kenny Washington played drums. It was a very memorable gig. Jimmy Knepper was in the trombone section. And Loren and I always kind of loosely stayed in touch ever since, and we started working together at Jazz Aspen in the summer of 2000. I was the Artistic Director; he was the Educational Director. And we had such a nice rapport in Aspen. He had already been working with the Museum for a couple of years, and he said, "I think we need you. Come up to the Museum, and let's work together. Let's build this from the ground up." So, at that time in 2005, it was nothing like it is now. The entire museum was our back office space. But the free programs that we helped implement in those early days, kind of put the Museum on the map. "Jazz for Curious Listeners"I did a whole month of session in that series in Decemberand "Jazz for Curious Readers," and particularly "Harlem Speaks," that's been a very popular program. I enjoy it. It's much, much bigger now; we have a very powerful board. We have our approval to move into a new building, and hopefully, we'll be in there by 2015the old Mark 25 building, which is directly across the street from the Apollo Theatre. So, it's been something to watch how it's grown over the last seven years. And the same thing is happening now with Jazz House Kids.
AAJ: Yes, that's the jazz education program for young people that your wife, Melissa Walker, foundedshe's the Executive Director and you're the Creative Director.
CM: Right. It seems like in the course of the last five years, it's just really exploded. Melissa's really put the pedal to the metal, and she is getting out of it what she puts into it. I always think this is a good lesson for people in general. If you really, really focus on something that you want, you can get it, if you work hard enough.
We just did our annual "Inside the Jazz Note" master class June 6 at Montclair State University, and we've the tenth anniversary gala coming up on October 17th at NJPACthe New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. Diane Reeves came in for "Inside the Jazz Note," working with the Jazz House Kids big band along with the members of Inside Straight. I always love when younger instrumentalists can hear a vocalist's point of view. In jazz, nobody ever wants to hear what the singer thinks. It's like, "You guys aren't musicians, you're just singers." But they can't do that to Diane, because they now that Diane can lay something on them. So, it was exciting to have her there, and I just love working with her anyway. She's one of the greatest singers of all time. I don't think anybody can deny that. And as far as this day and age is concerned, she may just be the greatest jazz singer on the planet.
And then, on October 17th, I'm also excited about the Jazz House Kids' tenth anniversary gala at NJPAC. My big band will be the house band, and we have some serious special guests coming in. We have Angelique Kidjot; we have Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley; we have George Duke; and we have Maurice Chestnut, the great tap dancer. And we're hopinghe's not going to play; it would be great if he didbut we're hoping we can get Wayne Shorter to come so we can give him a lifetime achievement awardhave him come back to his home town. I'm really excited about that. I can't wait to see these students' faces when they hear Maceo and Fred Wesley play all that funk up close. I know they won't know what hit 'em.
AAJ: Melissa is also featured as vocalist with your big band, too.
CM: Yes. I'm always teasing her. I say, don't let Jazz House Kids let you forget why you originally got in this business in the first place. I'm glad that she has a vehicle with the big band to still sing.