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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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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 show...so 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.


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