If we think about it for a little while, it's possible to believe that there is something almost mystic and undeniably powerful about jazz. The way it developed through the years and its constant ignition-like energy; the creativity of those who lead the way and those who continue the journey today; the improvisation that takes over souls and willingly delivers its magic for an amazed world to listen.
Jazz is a growing teenager whose future is as wide and vast as the horizon that lies before its tapping feet. Looking back, one also realizes that nothing you ever heard before can quite be compared to anything you are hearing today, for jazz is a never-ending adventure, and part of its ongoing, boundless imagination gently rests its head on a past so brilliant that the mind can only welcome what the heart feels...and that can only be described with music.
That is when Christian McBride comes in handy. His versatility has been praised and admired for years, making it seem as though the 37-year-old bassist extraordinaire should be in his late seventies by now. He has mastered an instrument that for many is the absolute essence of jazz, guilty of giving it a sense of unity and control. The former Juillard student's work with a bow is a simple, and rather delicate indication of just how deep his artistry really goes.
Leave it to the bassist to show you the way to musical perfection. And better yet, leave it to him to show you a good time while listening to his new straight-ahead band, Inside Straight, with Carl Allen on drums, Eric Reed (a most celebrated side man for Wynton Marsalis) at the piano, Steve Wilson (Dave Holland Big Band) on sax and Warren Wolf Jr., on vibes, completing this faultless circle that he has created for his new studio project, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue Records, 2009).
Some may think Ray Brown and maybe Paul Chambers while listening to a still-young-enough Christian McBride, but the Philly native is truly his own artist, and always has been. At this point in his career, he does not need the comparisons that many still keep trying to impose on him. Kind of Brown is nothing but an unnecessary proof of greatnesssomething to listen to while getting ready to admit that maybe, just maybe, McBride is one of the best things that has ever happened to jazz in particular, and music in general.
All About Jazz: I have heard a little bit about the process of coming up with the name of Inside Straight. Tell me about that.
Christian McBride: [Laughs] Yeah...Two years ago I was hanging out in the Village Vanguard one night, and I realized that I hadn't played there in 10 years! And any jazz musician worth his salt should be playing the Village Vanguard. So I asked Lorraine Gordon, the owner of the club, if it would be okay if I came back, and she said, "Of course it would be okay, I'd love for you to come back, but you know what we do down here. I don't want that band that you usually play with here, that is not a band for the Village Vanguard," talking about the Christian McBride Band. I said "I know, I know, I'll put a band together just for this gig." So I called Steve Wilson, Warren Wolf, Eric Reed and Carl Allen, and we went down there and played, and it turned out to be such a successful week, musically, commercially, financially, that we were all happy.
Everybody was happy, Lorraine was happy, we had a full house crowds for each show for six nights in a row...The writing was on the wall, I had to keep the band together, and all the guys on the band wanted to keep on playing together, people who came for the show wanted me to keep the band together, there were a lot of people from different record labels that were interested, and even they said "look, whether we sign you or not, make sure you keep this band together." So it was overwhelming. I didn't think I was going to be able to keep the band together, because everyone in the band has their own projects, especially Eric Reed, Carl Allen and Steve Wilson.
So it took us almost a year to play together again, but we finally got some gigs booked, and that's when we played the Monterey Jazz Festival, and this is also right before we went into the studio to record Kind of Brown. So we were in Monterrey, and we were listed as the Christian McBride Quintet, and you know, every jazz band in the world with five guys is called a quintet. It's boring. There's no creativity whatsoever. For all the creativity jazz musicians have when it comes to making music, we have no creativity when it comes to naming our bands! It's always such and such quintet, such and such quartet, such and such trio...oh man, so boring. So what could we name our band?
So we were all sitting around trying to think of a name for the band, and my manager and I looked at each other and he said "look, let's have a contest, we'll have the audience name the band." So we got on stage at the Monterrey Jazz Festival, and we announced this contest for naming the band. And then people who came to the show that night were sending their submission to my Web site, and then the following night we would announce the winner. Turns out we got almost 3,500 submission in 24 hours! And it was just too many to go through in 24 hours. I would have needed a team to go through all of that! So it took about a week to go through everything, but we finally settled for Inside Straight. The couple that named the band, Debra and Doug Moody, they are responsible for the name of the group.
AAJ: And why did you like this one and not another one?
CMB: It was catchy, you know? Inside Straight. It's a little...I don't know, it has that little element of hooliganism in it, Inside Straight being a poker hand, for people who play poker. And also musically it describes the band. It's inside, and it's straight ahead, it's a totally acoustic quintet, much different from the band I had been playing with for so many years. I think that's why everybody liked it so much. Everybody was joking; people were so excited to hear me play straight ahead acoustic jazz again. So I thought "wait a minute, my band was not exactly a rock band, you know?"
Yeah, but people like the real straight ahead stuff, so Inside Straight seemed to make a lot of sense all along.
AAJ: So why did it take you so long to play at the Village Vanguard? Was it only because of the kind of music you were playing with the Christian McBride Band, or...?
CMB: Yes, that's exactly why. But what's funny is that I didn't even play at the Vanguard with anyone else! I mean, inside that 10 year span, I've done gigs with Benny Green, I've done a few gigs here and there with Joshua Redman, I've played with other different bands that could have played the Village Vanguard, they just didn't. I don't know why. But I think that the main reason was, like you said, because of the music that I've been playing with the Christian McBride Band. But that's all been rectified now, our band was born at the Vanguard.
AAJ: Is there any club, I don't know if the best, but maybe where you have felt the best, more comfortable? I don't know, maybe the vibe with the people, or the club itself, maybe something to do with the history of the club...
CMB: Yeah, there's a couple of clubs that I think are rally hip. In Detroit there's a place called Baker's Keyboard Lounge, which is a really old club. I believe it's the third or the fourth oldest jazz club in the country. It opened in the '30s or '40s, and that's a really, really great club. It's obvious they haven't remodeled much since then, so it definitely has this old time feel in there, and people who come to that club are like the old school, serious jazz fans. They know what's happened. It's in a black neighborhood, and a lot of hip people come to this club. So that's one of my favorite places to play, Baker's.
Jazz at the Bistro in St. Louis is another one of my favorites. I like audiences that react to the music, I like audiences that participate, I like audiences that holler and scream. Most jazz clubs now are not really jazz clubs, they are restaurants that happen to have jazz, you know? The music is secondary to people eating their food, and it's hard to really get a good vibe in a place like that, because people are there to eat and not necessarily to hear music, so St. Louis, Jazz at the Bistro, is one of those places where people come to listen to the music first. They don't let the food distract them from what's happening on that stage, and that Yoshi's in Oakland is one I like too, always had a good relationship with the audiences at the Bay area.
Then many places here in New York: Village Vanguard, the Iridium, Dizzy's, Birdland, The Jazz Standard...all the joints! I don't think there's any argument that the New York audience is super hip!
AAJ: Have you ever had that feeling of "man, I wish I would have been born fifty years ago," musically speaking?
CMB: Not really. I think that...(silence).. I was very fortunate to play with a lot of older cats. I had a chance to spend a lot of time around people like Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Roy Haynes, Dr. Billy Taylor, the real founding fathers of bebop, and when I was around them, when they would start telling stories, they really did take me back to that time; I felt like I got into a time capsule when they would sit around and tell stories. But they were always very careful, and I find that this is the case with a lot of older musicians; we today always romanticize their time, and they all say "those good old days that you all talk about weren't that great most of the time." Yeah, the music was great, but there was a whole lot surrounding that music that wasn't so great, like the segregation, racism, the poor traveling conditions for musicians in those days, so they all said that it was a big drag a lot of the time.
So they would always say "you wouldn't want to go back in those days, and re-live all the BS part that went along with the music, so you guys should be happy where you are now." So I tend to agree, I'm happy with the time I was born in.
AAJ: So, I asked you why "Inside Straight" ... Why "Kind of Brown"?