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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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: Yeah...wow. 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...."

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