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Christian McBride: Getting the Inside Straight

Esther Berlanga-Ryan By

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And I've been working with them for about six years now, I believe it is; and we've had some amazing moments up there, we have a lot of great programs, like "Jazz for Curious Readers," which we invite a writer to come and basically give a dissertation on whatever books they are writing. Then Jazz for Curious Listeners, where we feature the music of a certain artist, and we just play records for our listeners, and they are free, so we always have really big turnouts. And Harlem Speaks was basically the program that really got the museum running. So there's a lot of good things going on up there, so check out the Web site, it's www.jazzmuseumofharlem.org. And you can see all the different things going on.

AAJ: Don't you feel sometimes that jazz should be broadcast more than it is?

With McCoy Tyner and Jeff "Tain" Watts

CMB: Oh, of course! I mean, unfortunately, as I said earlier, when we were talking about the whole Michael Jackson frenzy, welcome to America, where people love, they absolutely have a fascination for BS. They know it is, and they still like it. [laughs]. So, I say that to say that, yes, jazz should be heard more but I think that would confuse people because it would be like eating healthy food every day. Why would we want to do something as awful as that, eat healthy food every day? Why would we want to work out every day, even though we know it's good for us, and we know we need to do that? But yeah, I am not excluding myself either, I am an American citizen myself, too, but I try to train myself not to watch the news too much. I don't watch American Idol, I don't watch Cougar Town, and I never watched Sex in the City. It's just escapism, and it's fine, every now and then you need it, but I found that so many people make a meal out of that, like eating fast food every day. So jazz is really good, strong, serious, important, cultural music, and you will not hear it on mainstream radio, you will not see it on mainstream television because it's too serious.

Even guys who make it fun, like Roy Hargrove and Chick Corea, guys who make it entertaining, for even the non-jazz listener. So it's hard to get their voices heard by the mainstream, because that is just how it is. But I also think that the music will outlast everything that is weak. Everything that is serious, everything that is done with a high level of artistry is always going to be timeless. Unfortunately, the masses may not catch up with it until much, much later, but the music will always survive. That is why people always predicted the death of jazz, and they've been saying that for half a century now, and if it is not dead by now, I am sure it's not going anywhere now.

AAJ: I have also heard for years that some people have accused jazz of being too intellectual. And I think there is a difference in people as well; I don't feel jazz the same way my father did.

CMB: That's the flip side of the coin because sometimes it seems, particularly inside the jazz world, the more intellectual it can be, the more cerebral; the more esoteric it can be, the more heralded it can be, as being highly artistic, and really creative music. As if playing the blues was old, or somehow keeping the music from progressing. I disagree with that whole-heartedly, because if you listen to for example the Count Basie band, or the Duke Ellington band, are you going to tell me that that is old? Anybody who wants to perform the music like that is preventing the music from progressing? I think not.

I think that's an awful way to tell people that intellectual jazz is the music that people really need to be appreciating. So yeah, that is why people think jazz is too intellectual, that is why people don't want to hear it, because people inside the jazz world are subconsciously making people think that. "Oh well, in order to be really serious, in order to really make a statement, as a true creative artist, you can't just swing, you can't make people feel good, that's been done already, you got to make something different with the music." You don't need time, you don't need changes, you don't need a melody, you need to be weird. [Laughs]

So, yeah, there is a small contention of musicians I think who can, sometimes, only sometimes, over intellectualized the music, and I think they have pulled a certain group of people away from the music. But I think there is a strong contingent of musicians who don't do that, they like to have fun when they play.


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