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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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?

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