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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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 greatness—something 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.

Christian McBrideSo 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.

Christian McBrideAAJ: So, I asked you why "Inside Straight" ... Why "Kind of Brown"?

CMB: [Laughs] That is a little bit more confusing, I don't know why "Kind of Brown." I just thought it sounded cool. [Laughs] I was hanging out in a bar one night with Billy Childs and Jeff "Tain" Watts, and we were just hanging, talking, having fun, and the phrase "kind of brown" came up. I don't know what we were talking about exactly but I said to myself "I kinda like that...kind of brown...I'm gonna put that away." That's how it happened. I knew that at some point somebody was going to have some bright idea that I was trying to compare this to Miles Davis, which is absolutely ridiculous, but fortunately I haven't had too many of those complaints. I think I've only had one, since the recording's been out. Maybe one or two people have said "how could you do such thing to insult Miles Davis?!." It's just a name, I think people just need to chill out.

AAJ: So why did you decide to put this particular band together? Why Carl Allen, Eric Reed, Steve Wilson and Warren Wolf?

Christian McBrideCMB: Well, knowing that I was going to play the Village Vanguard, which is the haven for real straight ahead jazz, and real creative music, I called the top New York guns that I could think of. You know, Steve Wilson is a Vanguard regular, he is always playing there with someone. And Carl Allen and I have so much history together, he was a no-brainer. Eric Reed, we've been friends for 20 years, but we've never played together that often. A gig here, and gig there, but nothing where we had a chance to stretch out and make a lot of music, so I was excited about calling Eric.

And Warren, well, he was actually a former student of mine at Jazz Aspen Snowmass, the summer program that I've been the artistic director of for the last 10 years. He came out in the summer of, I believe 2000, and he was so incredible, he was so far ahead from everyone else. I promised to him, "Warren, one of these days I'm gonna start a band with you in it." That's how good he was. And it took a little while, but I called him, and wherever we go he's a big hit, he's going to be a superstar very soon.

AAJ: I think I have to admit that the first time I heard anything from this album, probably my first thought was "huh, why did he choose vibes?" It's not that common.

CMB: Well, not that many people play it. It's like nowadays you can find an abundance of really good saxophone and trumpet players, and drummers; there's too many of them, especially drummers...But vibraphonists, there aren't that many of them. The ones that can play are really incredible. I just always loved the sound of vibes. All music that includes vibes gives it this airborne sort of lift. Warren is just one of the best I've ever heard at the instrument, so...I've always been a fan of vibes. Even now a lot of people would hear the instrument and they don't know what they are. They think it's that instrument they played in elementary school (xylophone). No, it's not the same. [Laughs]

AAJ: I was thinking about something the other day, trying to remember when the first time that I remember hearing you was, as in knowing who you were, and that was with "In a hurry," from Gettin' to it (Polygram Records/Verve, 1995).

CMB: Well, you know it's amazing to me how many people still comment on my first record. I saw the producer of that record not too long ago, and he told me that that album is still selling, and it's sold almost a 100,000 copies worldwide, which for a jazz record is pretty damn good. So I have very good memories of my first CD, it was very special in a lot of levels.

AAJ: The next thing I remember about Christian McBride is seeing you on the Kansas City movie set. That's when my father was saying "that kid can play."

CMB: [Laughs] Yeah... Kansas City, that brings a lot of great memories, getting to work with Harry Belafonte, Robert Altman and all these people from the film industry. We spent about three weeks in Kansas City, and I don't have any bad memories whatsoever, but the fun memory I have of Kansas City was the fact that we had barbecue every single day, so I didn't want to see any barbecued ribs for about a year! We were so full, everybody in the band had so much gas after we did that movie, that it wasn't funny. [Laughs]

AAJ: I actually don't remember what the movie is about, I just remember the music.

CMB: Yeah, it seems that most people that saw the movie don't remember the plot of the movie. I actually had a call from Harry Belafonte about a month ago. I think he is making a CD for the first time in many, many years, and he asked me to play with him but unfortunately I couldn't do it, I was in Japan. But I was so happy to hear from him again, I thought he had forgotten about me. [Laughs]

AAJ: Is there a certain pattern you follow when it comes to deciding which compositions you will be recording for an album?

Christian McBrideCMB: The whole concept of composing is one that I still don't have a firm grasp on yet. I do a fair job of it, I guess, but being around someone like Chick Corea or Wayne Shorter or Pat Metheny, these guys are so prolific, they write music all the time, especially Chick. He can write you a symphony in like an hour because he is so used to being creative, sitting down on the piano and actually writing music. It's a skill, you have to do it every day, just like everything else, you have to develop it and hone it. So, I've never done it often enough to really get a firm grasp on it. I'm working at that though. With this new band I am playing with, I've actually been forced to write new music, so it's good for me.

AAJ: How do you decide what you want to record for an album?

CMB: I guess the same way you would think about putting together a set. You want to open with a song that has some energy. I've always liked real raw energy. It seems like jazz records that lean more towards the mellow side sell better. Well, what is better in jazz—25,000 units? [Laughs] But I like music that tends to swing hard and hit hard. So I like to put together a variety of songs that have some energy and want to balance it out with some mellow things, maybe a ballad, maybe a bossa nova, or a "straight eighths" song, as we say in the business, something that features me.

One of my favorite things to do on all of my records is to play something with the bow. Having been trained at Juilliard, I like to play with the bow often. For my first record [Gettin' to it] I did a feature where I played "Night Train"; on my second CD [Number Two Express (Polygram, 1996)] I did a feature where I played "Little Sunflower," where I over-dubbed a bunch of different basses, kind of making somewhat of an orchestral arrangement; and on "Kind of Brown" I did "Where are you." Eric Reed and I just played a duet. So I tend to think about building a CD the same way I think about building a set, just giving the listener a good variety of different things to listen to.

AAJ: And if you had to choose between electric and acoustic, which one would you pick, if you really had to choose between the two of them?

Onstage with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette

CMB: Oh, I am sure I would choose acoustic. The acoustic bass is Mother Earth. That is the instrument that gives birth to all music, I believe. Somebody once said in an interview that, it resonated with me and it seems very, very true. He said that "drums are the father of all music and bass is the mother." Somehow, a lot of times, you feel a song with the rhythm first, you just kinda feel some kind of rhythmic pattern in your head, your feet start moving, your hands start moving, you're like "what is that?" That's the drums. It's the rhythm you're feeling; then you start feeling this harmony, you start feeling what's going to go with it, and it usually starts with the bass. So I'm going to have to agree with that. I would pick the acoustic bass, because it's wood, it's big, it's natural, it's organic, it's of the Earth, and it's Mother Nature.

AAJ: The influence of your father and great-uncle.

CMB: They are both bass players. My dad is the reason why I play the bass. When I was six or seven years old, I saw my dad play for the first time, and it was so incredible to sit in the audience and watch my dad play with this Latin jazz legend named Mongo Santamaria. I had so much fun. And I think that after that concert I just got curious, so I told my mother that I wanted a bass, and I didn't play for a couple of years, but I was nine years old, and I fell in love with the instrument.

As soon as I touched an electric bass I knew that's what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. It was so natural. I was fortunate enough that I discovered my love early in life. But then my mother saw that I was becoming really, really serious about it, and was empathetic about it, and she decided she would send me to a school that had a good music program. And that is when I started playing the double-bass, the acoustic bass. And I started studying privately with a woman from the Philadelphia Pops Orchestra, and that was my introduction to classical music and classical bass, and I fell in love with that, too. At first I didn't like it as much as the electric bass.

Of course you wouldn't, when you're 11-years-old, you just want to play pop music, or rock 'n roll or funk music, or whatever all of your peers are listening to. But eventually I learned to love the acoustic bass as well, and that's when my great uncle came into the picture. He turned me on to Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, Charles Mingus, Buster Williams, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland...He's the one that really, really was responsible for turning me on to the great, great bass legends.

And I want to think that I had some sort of small influence on my dad too, because he didn't start playing the acoustic bass seriously until four or five years after I started playing it. He played the electric bass exclusively his whole career, and when I started playing the acoustic bass he started to show some interest in it, and now he is playing the acoustic bass.

AAJ: Do you think you would have been a different kind of person if your father would have been a postman, or a lawyer, that still loved jazz, but didn't play?

CMB: I don't know! That's a tough one because there's always been music in the family in some way; my great uncle also being a musician; my uncle, my mother's brother, worked for a very popular radio station growing up, so I was always going to live concerts for as long I can remember. From the time that I was like four years old, I was very lucky to see people like Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Gladys Knight, The Whispers, The O'Jays, James Brown, of course, so I think I would have been in the show business in some kind of way.

AAJ: You said "James Brown, of course," what is it with James Brown?

CMB: [Sigh] Anybody who's ever seen him knows the answer to that. [Laughs] Anybody who's ever experienced his music deeply knows the answer to that. James Brown had a line to what makes people move more than anybody, I think, of his generation, and of many generations.

I think we, as human beings, I don't want to sound too deep or silly, I should say, but I think as human beings, there is a natural dance tempo. There is a tempo that all human beings might agree it is a good dance tempo; James Brown figured out what that was. There's not one song of his that doesn't make you dance. You can make the argument that a lot of his music is repetitious, it sounds the same, too derivative of itself. But I mean, you got to admit, when you want some music that's gonna give you some power, and really is going to get you going, James Brown will never, ever, let you down.

Christian McBrideThe first time I saw James Brown perform live I was seven years old. It was on an old TV show called The Midnight Special, and it ruined me forever because I had never seen anybody perform before with that type of intensity, and I'd seen a bunch of great R&B performers by that time, a whole lot of the great Motown artists. But seeing James Brown in front of his band, screaming, and dancing like that... I mean it was just...I just sat in front of the television with my mouth hanging on the ground going "oh my God, what is this?!" So I was literally ruined for life. So the first time I saw him live I think I was 10-years-old, at a place in Philly called The Academy of Music, and I remember being in the audience, scared, before he came on stage. I just had never felt that kind of excitement for a concert before. For a sporting event, like a basketball game or a baseball game, yeah, you get excited, you scream for your team, but for a concert, I was nervous. I remember thinking "I don't know if I really want to be here." It was just too intense.

Even before James Brown came out on stage, you could cut the tension with a knife in the audience. I just sat in my seat like...petrified. But it certainly was one of the most memorable nights ever of my entire life, just being that close and watching this mad man perform on stage. And of course by that time I think he was in his fifties already. Everybody was so much into Michael Jackson, God rest his soul...Michael was great, too, but seeing James Brown then it became obvious where Michael got it from, so Michael didn't seem quite as impressive as everyone else thought he was. Yeah, he was great at what he did, but James Brown was such an original.

AAJ: Were you nervous when you played with James Brown? Did you feel like that 10-year-old kid again?

Christian McBride & Inside Straight

CMB: No, the irony is that when I finally got to play with him I wasn't nervous at all. I've always believed that there was some type of divine intervention when we wind up working together. I was so fortunate to have such a close, personal relationship with James Brown by the time we worked together. When that time came, when we did that concert at the Hollywood Bowl, yes, I was nervous, but I realized that I had a job to do, and I wasn't petrified like I was seeing him as a kid. I feel like I've known his music so well, I have such an intimate relationship with his music that I wasn't nervous at all. I probably should have been, but I wasn't.

AAJ: You mentioned Michael Jackson, what did it mean to you as a musician to lose somebody like him so soon?

CMB: You know, I've always felt bad for Michael Jackson. We know that ever since he was a child he had a spotlight on him. He never really had a moment where he was just able to be an anonymous citizen of the world that could just go out and do whatever he wanted to, because somebody was always chasing him, somebody always had a camera on him. I can't imagine what it feels like to have an overbearing father, just completely towering over your life, and to be that successful at such a young age to where you have no life. So I always felt very bad for Michael Jackson. Yes, he's a great artist, and he did some amazing things as a performer, but there is always a bigger part, at least to me. I always wanted him to kinda retire and get off the scene and have a life, but I guess he was never able to do that.

And then you know, the minute after he died, the second after he died, the jokes came. It was like everything I hoped that it wouldn't happen, happened. The media frenzy, the doctor killed him, that they did it on purpose, his father making a complete fool of himself doing all these interviews... I wish they wouldn't do this, but you know, welcome to America.

AAJ: So back to your music, I know there's probably a reason behind the Christian McBride, as far as why you chose to go electric for so long, for like eight years. Why did you do that? I mean, I have nothing against it, I'm just curious.

CMB: Well, first of all, I actually never thought of that band as an electric band, because I did spend most of my time playing the acoustic bass there. But yes, it was a band that had a lot of layers; it could do a lot of things other than play acoustic straight ahead jazz. Even when we played straight ahead jazz it still had that little shadow of electricity in it, and after a while, especially when we played live and did songs like "Boogie Woogie Waltz," it would get loud, so I've always heard that people only remember the last thing that they hear. So when we would play a song like that for about 15 minutes, playing all this electric, people had already completely forgotten that we played like five acoustic tunes before that. I say all of that to say that I had never thought of that band as an all electric band, but it was fun to play with that band, because that was the only band that I played in that did everything.

We could play straight ahead, we could play fusion, we could play funk, we could go classical if we wanted to, it was an all-in band. And no band that I ever played in was like that, except the Five Peace Band, the tour I did with Chick Corea and John McLaughlin. That was the closest thing I've ever experienced to a perfect band, at least something that I've always dreamt about being in, a band that could go anywhere at any time. That was another reason why Inside Straight made sense to put together, because after I played with Chick and John I didn't need to get back with my guys again, I needed to do something else.

AAJ: Are you going to put that band together again?

CMB: Oh yeah, we'll be back. We will definitely be back. I don't know when but we will be back. Everybody is so busy, doing their things, especially Ron Blake. When he joined the Saturday Night Live Band, that really changed things, because he was no longer available on Saturdays, and what kind of jazz ensemble, what kind of touring band can't work on Saturdays? So, for the longest time I had to keep finding saxophone players to sit in for him, and it became a problem after a while. But yes, sooner or later we will be back, you can believe that.

AAJ: I know you've been busy in the studio before you started touring with Inside Straight. Different collaborations with Dee Dee Bridgewater and others. Tell me a little bit about that.

CMB: It's been so many of them, fortunately. I've actually done a lot of work with Angelique Kidjo. Angelique and I, we struck up a really tight bond about two years ago. We both performed at the grand opening of the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky. And it was one of the biggest events I've ever been a part of. Everybody was there! All of the great fighters, Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield, George Foreman, all of the great sports casters, James Taylor Quartet performed, I played with Herbie Hancock.

Christian McBrideIt was an amazing event, and Angelique Kidjo was one of the performers, and I told her how much of a fan I'd been of hers. And my wife, Melissa, she really loves Angelique Kidjo, (said), "go talk to her, get her number, I want you guys to work together." And I was like, well, she already had a band, and I really don't have any projects in mind to do anything with world music, but I rapped with Angelique and she likes James Brown [Laughs]. Watching her on stage you get tired. She has boundless energy. I mean, you lock yourself in a room with Angelique for about 15 minutes, and you'll be coughing, and breathing heavily and going "man, I feel like I just ran off the block," and that energy comes through her music.

I've done a lot of work with her this year. She is a guest on my duets series, Conversations with Christian; I was a guest on her new CD, coming out I think early next year; and I did another project with her, she did a special project for Starbucks, just like two songs, and I performed with her on that as well, so she is one of the people that I worked with a lot this year. And then Dee Dee Bridgewater, James Carter, Melissa Walker [Walker] has a new CD that just came out that I played on...So yeah, I guess there have been quite a number of things that I've done in the studio this year.

AAJ: And what about the Conversations with Christian, how's that going?

CMB: That's going very well. It's a monthly Podcast, that's been going on all year. The first one came out in February. And each month I released a different duet, and in February all of those duets are going to be released in one CD, and it's on unedited form. Right now the podcasts are mainly a snip of the actual performance, and it's me interviewing my guests, so when the CD comes out it will be all unedited duet performances. It's been going really, really well. It's been a dream, because I never thought that so many people would agree to do it. That's the thing I've been more shocked by it, you know? Sting did it, George Duke, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Hank Jones, Dr. Billy Taylor, Eddie Palmieri, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone, Ron Blake, Angelique Kidjo, as I mentioned earlier, Regina Carter. So it's been incredible to get to record all of those duets with all these people, and to get to interview them, talk to them. And of course that is all also part of a radio show that I am also working on for Sirius XM. So yeah, this whole thing of performing and interviewing is another new thing that I am getting used to. I blame this on my manager—he is milking me for all of my creative juices, but that's good. I am glad somebody is doing that [laughs].

AAJ: And how did you come up with the idea of the Conversations with Christian?

CMB: I don't know. All of these things kinda unfolded at the same time. The conversations, the radio show, all of it just kinda hit all at the same time. Mainly just because my manager and I were brainstorming about different things to do, and somehow this idea about...well, I know how it sort of started... I've been the executive director for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem for the last five years, and one of the free programs is a series called "Harlem Speaks," where we interview some legendary musicians, mostly from Harlem. That's how it originally started, we interviewed musicians that were based exclusively in Harlem, and most people didn't know their story; they heard them perform, but they really didn't know their stories, so we had people up there like Jimmy "The Preacher" Robinson, and we would interview them. And the series became so popular, my manager said "man, you should have a radio show just on your own, doing this kind of stuff." And that turned into "well, why don't you do a whole album of duets?" And it just spun out of control. I still do Harlem Speaks when I'm in town, I still record my radio yeah there's so much stuff going on right now, it's good.

AAJ: And how is it going with the Jazz Museum of Harlem?

CMB: The jazz museum is going really, really, really, really well. We have a new building that we're going to be moving to probably in 2012. We have been designated for a new spot directly across the street from the Apollo Theater. And we also are going to be sharing that space with the New York City Department of Tourism, so there's going to be some heavy traffic on that building, and we're really, really excited about it.

AAJ: I know I actually found out about the Jazz Museum of Harlem because of you.

CMB: Well, the story goes like this...Leonard Garment is a former White House lawyer under the Nixon administration. He is a huge jazz fan, grew up in New York, played saxophone when he was a teenager, and he is retired now, and wanted to start a museum. He's been a lifelong New Yorker, and realized that there is a museum in New York for almost everything in the arts, except jazz. There are museums that have jazz in it, but there is no place that is an exclusive jazz home, so he got some of his lawyer friends in Washington, D.C., with deep pockets, and they started a board to do a jazz museum.

Of course, at some point you just need to call some musicians to come and help you, you just can't have a bunch of rich guys who mean well, but you know, you kinda need somebody in the business who knows about it to help you put it together. So, I believe it was in 1999 or 2000, Leonard knew Loren Schoenberg, who is a very well-respected jazz historian, writer, saxophonist, educator, here in New York, and then Loren and I, we worked together at Jazz Aspen every summer as well, so after being involved with the museum for about two years, Loren said, "well, it really, really would help the face of the museum a lot if you came on board with me as my co-director."

And I thought, man I'd be honored because I always loved Harlem, it reminds me of Philly, it reminds me of where I grew up.

Christian McBrideAnd Harlem, like many places in this country, particularly where a lot of black people live, they need that culture in their neighborhood, because at one time that culture was available in the neighborhood, and then moved out of there, and it started going downtown. It was good in terms of musicians maybe made more money, the accommodations were better for musicians but it took the culture out of the neighborhood. So I'm glad that there can be a home for jazz in Harlem.

And I've been working with them for about six years now, I believe it is; and we've had some amazing moments up there, we have a lot of great programs, like "Jazz for Curious Readers," which we invite a writer to come and basically give a dissertation on whatever books they are writing. Then Jazz for Curious Listeners, where we feature the music of a certain artist, and we just play records for our listeners, and they are free, so we always have really big turnouts. And Harlem Speaks was basically the program that really got the museum running. So there's a lot of good things going on up there, so check out the Web site, it's And you can see all the different things going on.

AAJ: Don't you feel sometimes that jazz should be broadcast more than it is?

With McCoy Tyner and Jeff "Tain" Watts

CMB: Oh, of course! I mean, unfortunately, as I said earlier, when we were talking about the whole Michael Jackson frenzy, welcome to America, where people love, they absolutely have a fascination for BS. They know it is, and they still like it. [laughs]. So, I say that to say that, yes, jazz should be heard more but I think that would confuse people because it would be like eating healthy food every day. Why would we want to do something as awful as that, eat healthy food every day? Why would we want to work out every day, even though we know it's good for us, and we know we need to do that? But yeah, I am not excluding myself either, I am an American citizen myself, too, but I try to train myself not to watch the news too much. I don't watch American Idol, I don't watch Cougar Town, and I never watched Sex in the City. It's just escapism, and it's fine, every now and then you need it, but I found that so many people make a meal out of that, like eating fast food every day. So jazz is really good, strong, serious, important, cultural music, and you will not hear it on mainstream radio, you will not see it on mainstream television because it's too serious.

Even guys who make it fun, like Roy Hargrove and Chick Corea, guys who make it entertaining, for even the non-jazz listener. So it's hard to get their voices heard by the mainstream, because that is just how it is. But I also think that the music will outlast everything that is weak. Everything that is serious, everything that is done with a high level of artistry is always going to be timeless. Unfortunately, the masses may not catch up with it until much, much later, but the music will always survive. That is why people always predicted the death of jazz, and they've been saying that for half a century now, and if it is not dead by now, I am sure it's not going anywhere now.

AAJ: I have also heard for years that some people have accused jazz of being too intellectual. And I think there is a difference in people as well; I don't feel jazz the same way my father did.

CMB: That's the flip side of the coin because sometimes it seems, particularly inside the jazz world, the more intellectual it can be, the more cerebral; the more esoteric it can be, the more heralded it can be, as being highly artistic, and really creative music. As if playing the blues was old, or somehow keeping the music from progressing. I disagree with that whole-heartedly, because if you listen to for example the Count Basie band, or the Duke Ellington band, are you going to tell me that that is old? Anybody who wants to perform the music like that is preventing the music from progressing? I think not.

I think that's an awful way to tell people that intellectual jazz is the music that people really need to be appreciating. So yeah, that is why people think jazz is too intellectual, that is why people don't want to hear it, because people inside the jazz world are subconsciously making people think that. "Oh well, in order to be really serious, in order to really make a statement, as a true creative artist, you can't just swing, you can't make people feel good, that's been done already, you got to make something different with the music." You don't need time, you don't need changes, you don't need a melody, you need to be weird. [Laughs]

So, yeah, there is a small contention of musicians I think who can, sometimes, only sometimes, over intellectualized the music, and I think they have pulled a certain group of people away from the music. But I think there is a strong contingent of musicians who don't do that, they like to have fun when they play.

That's what I've always loved about Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, because they can play very free, esoteric music, but they can still present it in a way that people will embrace it, you know? They try to bring people in; they don't try to be exclusive with their music. They want people to come in and dig it. It's like "this might be a little out, ladies and gentlemen, but you know, just roll with us here, we'll take you with us." They don't kind of have this snooty attitude of "Yes, I am going to do some creative music, if you like it, fine, if not, you are just too dumb to really know what I'm doing anyway." Yeah, I've never liked those kinds of artists.

Christian McBrideAAJ: I always thought Louis Armstrong was more important to jazz music than some people want to give him credit for.

CMB: Oh, man, he's the father. He's the father of all of this stuff. Even the most modern of jazz, you can trace it to some Louis Armstrong recording. The whole art of modern improvisation started with Pops. It is a shame that some people won't recognize that, even after all these years. Same with Duke Ellington, you know? You listen to Duke Ellington, and for whatever modern style of big band that you like, I can guarantee you there isn't a modern chord, or what you would consider modern, that Ellington didn't already play at some point in his career.

AAJ: Well, probably somebody that says that Duke Ellington is not a big deal has never heard Money Jungle, (Blue Note, 1962) for example.

Christian McBrideCMB: Well, you know it's interesting what you told me some time ago about your dad, because that's the exact same thing that happened to me with my great uncle. He would always play Louis Armstrong, and then he would play Pharoah Sanders right after that; then he would play some Sun Ra and then The Platters after that! Or some Weather Report and then play Charlie Parker...and I would go "man, this is wild! All this variety!" And then I realized that this was all part of the same tree. I took my time to try to figure out exactly what was what, and how did this come from that, and how did this go from that to that. And I figured it out. But, you know, it was great that your dad too played so many different styles for you.

When I was in high school, there was a great record store, where all of the guys used to go, and the guy who was the jazz buyer for that store was also a DJ. He knew so much about all of the records. I would go in there once a week, and I would go "Okay, Craig, what do I need to buy this week?" "Okay, buy 'Moanin (Blue Note, 1958), Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers." So I would call my great uncle, and say "How's this 'Moanin' record?" "You'll love it!" "Oh, okay."

So I always had good people around that kinda turned me to a whole lot of different things. Now, that's one thing about my great uncle that I also appreciate now more than ever. There were certainly certain things that he didn't like. I think he was much more a McCoy Tyner man than he was a Herbie Hancock man, but he never said to me "don't listen to Herbie Hancock." I found that that would happen a lot, particularly with older musicians. "Oh man, Herbie don't play jazz, he's a funk pianist, you don't need to listen to him!" How can they say that? How can they listen to something like "The Sorcerer" [from Speak like a Child (Blue Note, 1968)], or the soundtrack to 'Round Midnight (Columbia, 1987) and say something like that? Elvin Jones can't play, listen to Tony Williams! I think, man, it's amazing the opinions that people have, they don't say "someone is different," they would say "don't listen to that cat, he can't play, he is weird," and things like that.

So I was always very lucky that my uncle never did that to me. So he always taught me to have an open mind about all these different players. I can tell when someone has done their homework, and who hasn't—I am talking about musicians. But for the most part, I try to keep an open mind for certain musicians. And I am very glad that you had that as well, we need more people like you!

AAJ: (laughs) Do you ever think of yesterday?

CMB: Well, depending on who you ask, 20 years ago was yesterday [laughs]. It's amazing how people say...Speaking of DJs again, there is a DJ here at home, WBGO, her name is Sheila Anderson, that she said to me not too long ago, "It's really hard to me to realize that you've been in New York for 20 years," because I was 17 years old when I moved here and started working around town. So she said "So many still think of you as a teenager." So "No, I'm not a teenager anymore, thank you," and she is like "Yeah, I know, but everybody in the jazz world is old, so...we have a hard time grasping the fact that you are a grown man." And I'm like, oh man, I don't know if I like that or not [laughs].

But to answer your question, do I look back? [Silence] I guess; I mean, I certainly like to look back about my early days in New York. I don't necessarily look back to kind of get sad about it, like "oh man, the old days are over, I wish those days could be back." I think I am realistic. Things must go on, you must live life, you must live in the moment. That's the only thing you have, really: the moment. It's nice to laugh and think about the old stories, but I'd rather live for the moment and try to prepare for what's coming later, and that's about it.

AAJ: Any gig or recording or something you said no to, and with time you went like "Oh, I wish I would have said yes"?

CMB: Ah...I will tell you...I don't think I've ever said this on print. I don't have many professional regrets at all, but I do have one regret.

I was caught between a rock and a hard place, I didn't know what to do, and I made a decision, and sometimes I'm not quite sure if I made the right decision. In 1996, Impulse! Records signed Horace Silver. They were going to do a major campaign to bring Horace back to the world with a new band; he was going to write new music, he was going to go on tour again. And Horace called me to play on this record.

Christian McBrideAnd I mean, I cannot tell you how flattered, excited, honored I was that I was going to get to play and record with the great Horace Silver. Oh, man, it can't get any better than that! The only thing I found interesting, or unusual, was that he wanted to rehearse for four days, and then he wanted to record for four days. And that is very unusual because most jazz budgets don't allow you to have that much rehearsal; you usually have maybe one rehearsal, maybe two if you're lucky. If you are lucky, you get two rehearsals, and you get three days in the studio. But Impulse! really gave him a nice budget, which he deserved; he should have been able to rehearse for as long as he wanted.

Now, two days later, after I got that call from Horace Silver, Dave Brubeck called. "Christian, I am getting a Lifetime Achievement Award on the Grammys, and they want me to play live, and I want you to play with me." I thought, "Oh, man, this is my lucky week. I get Horace Silver and Dave Brubeck like two days apart. This is incredible!" As it turned out, had I played in the Grammys with Dave Brubeck, I would've had missed the first day of rehearsal with Horace Silver.

Now on my brain, I'm thinking, well, he's rehearsing for four days, and recording for four days, and I already have the music, that I practiced and rehearsed, so I don't think Horace will have a big problem with me missing one rehearsal. I called Horace, and I said, "Mr. Silver, I just wanted to tell you I got this call from Dave Brubeck, he wants me to play with him on the Grammy telecast, but in order for me to do it, I'll have to miss the first day of rehearsal." And Horace said, "Well, I'm sorry, but if you miss one day of rehearsal you can't be on the record."

AAJ: Wow!

CMB: I was like, "Really?" [Laughs]. "But, you know, Mr. Silver, it's just one day!" "Oh, I'm sorry, man, I know it's a little severe, but I'm old school, I got to get used to my guys. I'm just going to get really nervous if someone misses one rehearsal. I know you're going to play great, whether you make the rehearsal or not, that's not the issue, I got to feel comfortable with my guys before we record, and I feel I really, really need you for all four days." And I thought "Oh, man. Wow..."

So, I called Dave Brubeck back and I told him what happened. And he said, "Any way you can talk to Horace and get him to change his mind? I really would love to have you with me. We're going to have Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman play with us as well. Christian, I've always loved you, I really want you to play with me, this is a special honor. See if you can talk to Horace." So, I'm really stuck, because it's obvious that Horace is not going to change his mind. I called him again and he is like, "I'm sorry, Christian, still stands. You have to make all four rehearsals or you can't do the record." Oh, man! What am I going do? So I'm sitting up all night long, scratching my head almost until it bleeds, trying to figure out what to do. What am I going to do? I don't want to disappoint Dave Brubeck, and I really want to play on this record with Horace Silver...I just don't know what to do.

Maybe if I can take a flight that can take me to Los Angeles and back to New York in time for the rehearsal. I'm thinking, "Okay, I know the Grammys come on at eight o'clock on the East Coast, which means it's going to be five o'clock on the West Coast..."so I'm doing numbers. Maybe I can find like a 10 o'clock flight for LA, and I'll get back to New York at six in the morning. Yeah, that's what I'll do.

So I called my manager and asked him if he could find me that kind of flight that could get me back to New York in time. Unfortunately, everything was booked so I couldn't find one that would get me back to New York in time. So the decision that was made, that I frankly regret, is that I did the Grammy Awards with Dave Brubeck. Horace Silver got another bassist to play in his recording.

Now, why do I regret it? Because my manager at the time, and this is why I always preach to students, when I am in Jazz Aspen or with some young musicians who could use a little guidance, I always tell them the story, because my manager at the time, and well, you know how managers are, they never really think in terms of art, they think in terms of commerce, and money and the bright lights and the stardom. My manager was like, "Oh Christian, you should do the Grammys, there're going to be millions of people who are going to watch you on television, this is going to make you a star, you have to do this, you might be able to make some contacts there...."

Of course, logic should have told me, "Well, people are not watching the Grammys to watch me, they're going to see Dave Brubeck." We're only going to get two minutes, I don't think I'm going to make that significant of an impact on the Grammy telecast in two minutes. I'm not even going to get a solo. So, when the Grammy Award telecast aired that night, there was some kind of miscommunication with the producer, so on the television it read "Special Tribute to Dave Brubeck, featuring Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman." So they didn't even mention my name. [Laughs] Nobody knew who this anonymous bassist was, playing with Dave Brubeck. So not only did I not get my name mentioned on this so-called "millions of people are going to see me, and this is an offer I can't refuse," but I ended up not being able to record with Horace Silver, and I never played with him.

I spoke to him, I hung out with him a number of times after that, but I never got to play with Horace Silver. I played with Dave Brubeck a million times after that Grammy telecast, and I am very thankful that I had a great relationship with him all these years; he made me the first artistic director of his school. But I never got to play with Horace Silver, and I really, really, really regret that. And well...(laughs), when I told Dave Brubeck manager this, to put a perfect ending to this story, he said "you should have played with Horace!" [Laughs]. Oh, man...

So yeah, that was a very long answer to your question, is there any recordings that I never played on, that I look at and I say..."damn!..." Yeah, the Horace Silver record. [Laughs]. It was called The Hard bop Grandpop (Impulse!, 1996).

AAJ: Wow...that's terrible. So, who are you today?

CMB: Who am I today... [Silence] I am someone who hopefully is better than he was yesterday, but not as good as he'll be tomorrow.

AAJ: Good...and what affects Christian McBride the most when it comes to music?

Christian McBrideCMB: I don't know...the feeling..I got to get some feeling from this. You know, people who are not musicians, they can feel when you're honest. They can feel when you're really true about your art. They may not able to tell you in musical terms what you are doing, but they can feel it. Like I said earlier when I was talking about all the television shows, about how American culture is, and people who are infatuated with pop culture, they know is BS. They like it, they watch it, but they know it is BS.

So, I think that for me, what affects me with music is just feeling the true honesty and artistry in the music, you know? That's what affects me the most. I listen to a pop record, and I can tell if somebody is really trying to make music or make money. I think the difference is clear. You can tell when people are really trying to make music, or in it to be famous. I like people who are in it to make music.

AAJ: And what about anything else?

CMB: I've always been a "feel" person. I've tried to find a better balance between the spiritual and the intellectual, because I know that maybe I don't intellectualize as much as I should, in some cases. I've always been more of an 80/20 kind of person, you know? If I'm in a neighborhood that I'm not familiar with, I can feel if it's okay to walk in that neighborhood or not, where somebody else might intellectualize it and say, "Well, historically studies have shown that such and such..." But I feel like it's okay. With relationships too, you know? "Oh, I've heard through the grapevines that this person is blah blah blah..." but I always had a good sense of being able to feel a person's personality. I never cared much about reputation, I always tried to meet people on a neutral ground. It's about feeling. I tend to think about life and music as one and the same way, I got to feel it. If it feels right, I'll go with it, if not, no matter what the intellect says, I'll go with the feeling.

Christian McBrideAAJ: And what do you treasure the most about your life today?

CMB: I think I just treasure life in general. I'm not sure if there's one particular thing that I can point out, I just like the fact that I am able to wake up every day and possibly not make the same mistakes that I made in the past and at least have an opportunity to try to do better; to correct what I've done wrong; and try to make people happy with music.

Life is a gift. I think about that often, because I think I am at that point now where there are a lot of musicians that I've been friends with, like Ray Brown, James Brown, my uncle, my mother's brother, people that have passed on. I always think what is the afterlife? What happens when you check out? So instead of thinking about that, think about what you can do while you are here! So I tend to really cherish life in general. I think about all I can do while I'm here. And unfortunately I am not going to be able to do all that I want to do, because I know a lot of people, I've been to a lot of places and there are a lot of things that I really want to do, and I'm really going to try hard to do them and I hope I get it all in, because I got big plans. [Laughs]

AAJ: Do you think that jazz is still evolving?

CMB: Yeah, it's always evolving. There is always somebody out there that's going to push the music forward. There's always somebody out there who's going to do their homework, and push the music forward in the right way. You can't push the music forward ignorantly. There are a lot of musicians out there that think, well, I am not going to listen to the records, that is going to subconsciously make me want to play like the record, and that is not true, you know? You have to be able to understand history in order to push anything forward. You can't push anything forward without knowing what came before you. You don't have to play that, but you at least have to understand what happened before you. Otherwise to me you are just fooling yourself thinking that you are progressing the music forward, so you have to have a sense of history.

AAJ: Are you one of those musicians that walk around humming all the time?

CMB: Yes. And banging on the table. Yes, that's me [Laughs].

AAJ: What's the difference between the US and the European audiences, jazz-wise?

CMB: Hmmmm... Well, it depends on where you are. I've always found that there are a few places in Western Europe that are supremely hip. I mentioned to you when we first met, that Barcelona is one of my favorite towns. It very much reminds me of New York. Last time I was there I had such a great time, going on to all these different clubs, and sitting in with the musicians, and these guys were playing it, just having fun, you know? Sounding great, playing hard, playing with some feeling. I found that in a lot of Eastern European places as well; Romania, places like that, places in Russia, they got soul there, you know what I mean? It's like the European version of Harlem. They want to get down, and have some fun! Certain places in Germany are like that. You get the sense that they really want some hard-hitting music, you know?

Like I said earlier, I like audiences that really respond; that are a little rowdy. I like audiences that holler, and shout and scream obscenities at the musicians. I like that, man; I can't stand audiences that sit there and watch you and once again they over intellectualize, they start trying to process what it is that you are doing. Just feel it, and then the processing will come later. Don't need to do it while we're playing, just feel it. I like raucous audiences!

AAJ: What is your first memory of some jazz that you heard, besides your father on stage?

Christian McBrideCMB: Watching Dizzy Gillespie play at the Atlantic City Jazz Festival. I was eight-years-old. My father was playing with Mongo [Santamaria] later on that evening, but I saw Dizzy, and once again, he was so much fun. Just watching him on stage, and he had so much fun with the audience, and with the band. Dizzy was always smiling and being silly on stage. I really, really enjoyed that a whole lot.

And after the concert was over, like I said, my dad was performing with Mongo that same night, so he took me backstage, and I met Dizzy. There was a long line of people waiting to meet him, and Dizzy was sitting in this chair, and this woman comes up to get his autograph, and she says, "Mr. Gillespie, you are one of my heroes, it's such an honor to meet you." I remember Dizzy Gillespie grabbed this woman's ass, he put his hand on the woman's behind, and said, "Yeah, baby, I'm a fan of yours, too!" Dizzy started laughing real hard! This woman was so shocked, she couldn't even get upset because she was so shocked, and Dizzy just laughed...and I thought oh man, he really is dizzy! He earned his nickname. So yeah, that was one of my fondest memories.

AAJ: You as an educator.

Five Peace l:r: Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Christian McBride, Brian Blade, Kenny Garrett

CMB: When I was in high school...well, maybe because of growing up in Philly, that is not that far away from New York, there were a lot of musicians that were always coming to Philly. Musicians like Bobby Watson, Kenny Barron, Walter Davis Jr., Red Rodney, Ron Carter, Branford Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, Max Roach, Donald Harrison, Dr. Billy Taylor, Grover Washington Jr....So I was very lucky to spend a lot of time with this musicians, because they came to Philly and they were doing a lot of workshops and master classes and things like that at this music school I was going to. We had access to all of these great musicians that were coming to spend their free time with us, and we knew they had no free time, so we were always really appreciative that they took time to do these workshops and master classes with us. I now know how important that was, so I always promised myself that if I ever was in the same position, where I could give some of my time to some younger musicians and inspire them in the same way that those guys inspired me, I would do it, without any question. My first opportunity to get involved with jazz education happened in the mid nineties, when the Berklee College of Music asked me to come up there and do a series of master classes.

I did six master classes throughout the school year. And they said: come up with your own theme, design it however you want to; and that was my first time. And that freaked me out, because half the class was older than me! So I thought, man, I don't have any business being here, but a few people seemed to enjoy what I was teaching, and they had me come back a number of times to do different things at the school, workshops and master classes, and things like that. And not too long after that, I was asked to come to Jazz Aspen and be a visiting clinician for the summer, just for a couple of days, and I guess the staff at Jazz Aspen liked what they saw, and they asked me if I was interested in being their permanent artistic director. So I was like wow...sure! I've been doing that for the last 10 years now.

And I mentioned earlier that when Dave Brubeck opened the Brubeck Institute, he asked me to be his Artistic Director, and to help him format the educational program, and I've been involved with so many different educational things, I am just honored so many people have asked me, because I love doing that. And I don't think, particularly in jazz education, I don't need to stand in front of a black board and go, "Louis Armstrong was born in this year and blah blah blah..."

Education, you have to teach young musicians, you have to give them inspiration, inspiration to work harder, you just can't stick your finger in their face and say "Practice!"—they already know that! You have to give them some type of inspiration, and you give them inspiration through stories. You show them chords you know they've never heard before, you play them records they probably don't know, you watch their faces light up. And you answer their questions; that's how you get them. Somebody else that they see everyday can do the traditional text book route, but I don't think that's my method. I like to teach students through my experiences, and they seem to get a lot out of that.

AAJ: You wear many different hats in your career. Which one is the one that suits you the most, as a human being, or as a musician?

CMB: It's all one and the same. I heard this interview that Herbie Hancock gave not too long ago, and he was talking about his Buddhist philosophy. I don't practice Buddhism myself, but I do believe in a lot of the theories that it teaches, as in you are one with the Universe, because the point that Herbie was trying to make is that he always thought of himself as a musician first. And at some point he realized that he is not a musician first, he is a person first. Herbie said he realized that he is a lot of things, and musician is just one of the things on that list. He says, "I'm a friend, I'm a son, I'm a neighbor, I'm a father, I'm a mentor, I'm a musician."

So being a musician is one and the same with all of that. So out of the different hats I wear this is just one big, you know, fedora.

Christian McBrideAAJ: Do you think the bass is underrated?

CMB: No, I actually think that's a myth. There's been many great bass playing band leaders, from John Kirby in the 1930s, to Charles Mingus, of course, Ray Brown, Jaco Pastorius, I am switching genres here, but, you know Marcus Miller, Esperanza Spalding, Dave Holland, Bootsy Collins.

I think there are quite a number of bass playing band leaders, who get just as much work, and have a significant contribution to the idiom as much as horn players or piano players. John Patitucci has some fantastic projects of his own. Yeah, I think there are some real good, serious bass playing band leaders out there.

AAJ: You mentioned Esperanza Spalding. We all know there aren't as many female jazz musicians. Jazz has always been mainly a male form of art, as far as musicians goes. How does it look like from the inside?

CMB: Well, I'll put it like this. As far as the musicians are concerned, the musicians are the ones that really run the show. There's the industry people, there's the writers, the magazines, the newspapers, the promoters: those are the people behind the scene. But as far as the actual musicians are concerned, there's not enough of us to be sexist or racist. I was hanging out with Branford Marsalis once and he said, "Look, if I met a woman who could play like McCoy Tyner, I'd hire her. I wouldn't care if she's a woman." All musicians I know agree with that. I think all musicians feel that way. I don't think a woman should get special treatment or a greater opportunity because she is a woman, any more than I feel like a black jazz musician should get more opportunities just because he is black.

You need to be good at what you do, you know what you mean? I feel the same way with anybody who wants to use their gender, their age, their sexual orientation, as an excuse to not get better at what it is that they do. That makes things rough for everybody.

I remember this one time, this saxophonist whose name I won't call because it's not worth it, this guys used to nag me for the longest time, "Christian I want to play in your band, I want to play in your band!" And the guy was just awful. He was like one of the worst saxophone players I've ever heard. I was like "No, you can't even play in the Salvation Army Band." "Man, that's cold blooded." I told him "You are not ready." And he insisted that he was.

But I have to give the guy points, because he never stopped. So we played a gig in New York, and I let him sit in with me one night and he was awful, and the guys in the band were making funny faces. "Why did you let him play, you knew he was going to be awful." And I told him, "You are so far from ready, so stop bothering me!" And finally he said something like, "I bet if was black you'd hire me." It took everything in my body not to punch this guy right in the mouth! I said, "Let me tell you something, you think I wouldn't hire Chris Potter or Brad Mehldau? Man, oh man...if I wasn't in control of my temper I would make you swallow all of your teeth right now for saying something so ignorant like that."

But it's people like that, that I mentioned earlier, they always want to have some excuse for themselves not to get better. He ended up quitting the saxophone, and I heard he became a lawyer. There are a lot of people like that, in life, in general, not just musicians. Oh, I'm black...oh, I'm a woman...oh, I'm gay...oh, I'm an only child...there is always an excuse for them not to get better!

AAJ: Have you ever had a moment when you stopped what you were doing, and thought, "Wow, look who I am playing with!?"

CMB: Oh yeah, it's happened many times in my career. Like being onstage with Sonny Rollins and Roy Haynes, knowing that it was Roy Haynes who recommended me to Sonny, "Hey, you have to call Christian McBride for this gig," and to know that Roy Haynes did that, it almost makes me cry. Knowing that I was in Freddie Hubbard's band for two-and-a-half years when I was 18- years-old. Recording in the studio with Joe Henderson, and with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette, Benny Carter, Hank Jones..I got to record with those guys? This is Incredible. Why did these guys waste their time with a child?! [laughs] Yeah, that happens to me often.

Selected Discography

Christian McBride & Inside Straight, Kind of Brown (Mack Avenue Records, 2009)

Pat Metheny, Day Trip (Nonesuch, 2008)

Christian McBride, Live at Tonic (Ropeadope, 2006)

Chick Corea/Steve Gadd/Christian McBride, Super Trio (Stretch/Universal Japan, 2006)

Diana Krall, The Girl in the Other Room (Verve, 2004)

Christian McBride, Vertical Vision (Warner, 2003)

B.W.B., Groovin'

Ray Brown/Jay Clayton/Christian McBride, Super Bass 2 (Telarc, 2001)

Uri Caine/Christian McBride/Ahmir Thompson, The Philadelphia Experiment (Ropeadope, 2001)

Christian McBride, Sci-Fi (Verve, 2000)

John Scofield, Works for Me (Verve, 2000)

Christian McBride, A Family Affair (Verve, 1998)

Christian McBride/Nicholas Payton/Mark Whitfield, Fingerpainting: The Music of Herbie Hancock (Verve, 1997)

Ray Brown/Jay Clayton/Christian McBride, Super Bass (Telarc, 1997)

McCoy Tyner, What the World Needs Now: The Music of Burt Bacharach (Verve, 1997)

Chick Corea & Friends, Remembering Bud Powell (Stretch, 1997)

Joe Henderson, Joe Henderson Big Band (Verve, 1996)

Various Artists, Original Soundtrack: Kansas City (Verve, 1996)

Cedar Walton, Composer (Astor Place, 1996)

Christian McBride, Number Two Express (Verve, 1995)

Stephen Scott/Roy Hargrove/Christian McBride, Parker's Mood (Verve, 1995)

Jimmy Smith, Damn! (Verve, 1995)

Joe Henderson, Double Rainbow:The Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim (Verve, 1995)

Christian McBride, Gettin' To It (Verve, 1995)

Roy Haynes, Te Vou! (Dreyfus, 1994)

Photo credits

Page 1: Courtesy of Christian McBride

Page 2: Courtesy of Chick Corea

Page 4, 7: Courtesy of Christian McBride

Page 5: Goio Villanueva

Page 6: Bruce Moore

Page 9: Insky

Page 11: John Kelman

Page 12: JazzBoo



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Clerow's Flipped

Clerow's Flipped

Christian McBride
Live at Tonic

Album Reviews
In Pictures
Live Reviews
In Pictures
Album Reviews
Live Reviews
Jazz Art
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Multiple Reviews
Album Reviews
Read more articles
Christian McBride's New Jawn

Christian McBride's...

Mack Avenue Records

Bringin' It

Bringin' It

Mack Avenue Records

Live at the Village Vanguard

Live at the Village...

Mack Avenue Records

Out Here

Out Here

Mack Avenue Records

People Music

People Music

Mack Avenue Records

The Good Feeling

The Good Feeling

Mack Avenue Records


Upcoming Shows

Date Detail Price
Chick Corea with Christian McBride and Brian Blade
Schmidtchen Theater
Cape May, NJ
Warren Wolf Group with Special Guests
Caton Castle Lounge
Baltimore, MD
Christian Mcbride Big Band
Mesa Arts Center
Mesa, AZ
Christian McBride
Ridgefield Playhouse
Ridgefield, CT


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