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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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.


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