Christian McBride: Bass Beautiful


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These days, I almost don't want to talk about my influences because a lot of writers use an artist's influences to be lazy and not give that person credit for creating anything.
Christian McBride, the young and perhaps most exciting jazz bass player since Ray Brown, returned to his hometown of Philadelphia with his new band for an October 2nd concert at the Zellerbach Theatre on the University of Pennsylvania campus.

Joining McBride will be Ron Blake, saxophones/flute; Geoffrey Keezer, piano; and Terreon Gully, drums. Mcbride has been acclaimed worldwide for his brilliant bass. He has six recordings and his latest is Vertical Vision. He has some very personal Philadelphia connections which we will cover here.

Some of his answers in a recent phone interview are shown below:

All About Jazz: Feelings on playing again in Philly, your home town?

Christian McBride: It's always great to come home. Philadelphia's a great place to grow up. However, I've played so much in Philly recently, I hope they're not tired of seeing me! I played there with Roy Haynes in March of '03, Pat Metheny in October '03, CMB (Christian McBride Band) January '04, and now this CMB concert coming up in October. I hope it's not overkill!

AAJ: Thoughts on your band, what you hope for with them in today's music world?

CM: It's still a big challenge trying to crack the ice with this band. For one, it's hard to develop when you only work a couple of weeks out of the year. Any band needs someone who's going to be aggressive in getting a band consistent work, not stay conservative and hope one day, some big promoter will wake up and say, "I want the Christian McBride Band." It just doesn't happen that way. Secondly, because I do so many high-profile sideman projects, people will always be a bit slower in reacting to Christian McBride - the Bandleader. Also, it doesn't help that my band's music is music that is different from what a lot of people still associate with me - straight ahead, acoustic jazz. After all these years, there are some people who still don't know I play electric bass. I consider that being under a jazz rock (no pun intended). That's like people in the 80's who were still saying, "I wish Miles would play straight ahead again."

Even though I toured with Sting for almost two years, and had a fairly successful project with The Philadelphia Experiment , the jazz community - which is my base audience - will always want to hear jazz. So, it's been a bit of a challenge to combine both audiences, but we just need to work a bit more as a group.

AAJ: Early memories of Philly, jazz people and clubs here?

CM: Having two bass players in the family and having an uncle who worked for a popular radio station (WHAT-AM), I was exposed to live music very early in life. My earliest memories of music in Philly were of R&B shows. I can remember all of the ladies on my block preparing for one of Teddy Pendergrass's now legendary "Ladies Only" concerts in the late '70's. Seeing the Isley Brothers' "Go For Your Guns" tour in 1978 at the old Civic Center.

Seeing the O'Jays at the Spectrum. Seeing The Jacksons at the Spectrum (when Michael still had an afro!). Seeing my dad play with Mongo Santamaria at the old Bijou Café on Broad Street and also at the Robin Hood Dell East. Oh, man, I saw all kinds of people - The Whispers, Gladys Knight & The Pips, Smokey Robinson, Wilson Pickett, The Mighty Clouds of Joy, Albertina Walker, etc, etc. I even got to go the grand re-opening of the Uptown Theater.

Sadly, it didn't stay open very long. Of course, the first time my dear uncle (he passed away two years ago) took me to see James Brown live, I was forever ruined! That was in October of 1982 at the Academy of Music. If you remember, James Brown was FAR from a huge box office draw in 1982,but because of that, he was inspired, hungry and mad, so he performed like a man on a mission. I'd seen old film clips of James Brown, but seeing it live was deep. Very deep. By the time I got to high school and started getting into jazz, I met men like Odean Pope, John Blake, Tony Williams, Eddie Green, Edgar Bateman, Trudy Pitts, Jimmy Oliver, Joe Sudler, Tyrone Brown, James Hicks Glenn, Uri Caine, John Swana, The Landham Brothers, Lewis Taylor, Monette Sudler, etc, etc, and hanging out at clubs like Jewel's, Slim Cooper's, The Top Shelf, The Blue Note, TNT Monroe's, etc, etc. Of course, most Philly people know I was very close with Joey DeFrancesco, too.

AAJ: Major jazz influences on you and your favorites?

CM: These days, I almost don't want to talk about my influences because a lot of writers use an artist's influences to be lazy and not give that person credit for creating anything. (Surely not saying that you would be one of those types of writers) "Oh, now I see where he got that from..." "Well, that's not very original..." The fact that I'm somewhat of a historian backfires on me from time to time. I get accused of being "stuck in the past." "A '70's connoisseur." So, I'll just say that every single great musician I've ever heard has touched me deeply. Which is very true.

AAJ: Memories of your dad and will you hear him play while you are here?

CM: I won't be in town long enough to hear him play, but I'm sure he'll be working somewhere. I remember him teaching me my first song on the electric bass, "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."

AAJ: Did you ever expect the fame you have to come so young?

CM: Well, I never thought of fame as one of my successes. I've found that recording with and touring around the world with great, popular musicians (jazz and pop), having major recording contracts, being artistic director at various schools, winning polls, and being relatively influential on my instrument doesn't lower my taxes, get me recognized on the subway, or get me on the cover of Down Beat. So, I've never considered myself "famous."

AAJ: Feelings on electric bass use?

CM: That's kind of a slanted question. Almost as if the electric bass deserves some special mention over (or under) the acoustic. It depends on the music. It's just an instrument.

AAJ: Any other comments.

CM: I hope the Eagles finally do it this year. They have Terrell Owens. There's no excuse. But then again, they've never had any excuses! :-)

Providing something of an insight into one major link of McBride's career, we talked to another Philadelphia bass man of note, his father, Lee Smith. He is a marvelous bass man who works all over town and regularly with a duo at the Prime Rib, Sunday to Wednesday and some Thursday's. Some of his answers to our questions follow.

Lee Smith:

  • I started my pro career mostly in R&B, worked with Delphonics, Billy Paul, Blue Magic, later with Mongo Santamaria for four or five years.

  • My favorites in terms of bass would be Ray Brown and Oscar Peterson.

  • I used to think of jazz as progressive, evolving into another form, but it really hasn't evolved that much recently.

  • I am quite proud of my son.

Clearly, Christian McBride has some strong Philly links.

Related Articles
2003 Interview
2002 Interview

Visit Christian McBride on the web at www.christianmcbride.com .

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