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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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.


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