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Christian McBride: Knocking on the Door

Christian McBride:  Knocking on the Door
Bob Kenselaar By

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Christian McBride was talking about the Grammy he received in October, 2011 for his big band album, The Good Feeling (Mack Avenue, 2011)—his first Grammy as a leader and third overall. While the bassist certainly appreciated getting the nod from his peers and from the Recording Academy, he said he gets just as much of a reward—if not more of one—when he gets calls from musicians he admires asking him to work with them because they like what he does. For example, Ron Carter contacted him recently asking him to put together an arrangement of "Mr. Bow Tie," written in honor of fellow bassist's father, and play it with an ensemble of 12 bassists for "Ron Carter at 75," a tribute concert at Lincoln Center held in March, 2012. Carter could have asked any number of musicians to write that arrangement, but he specifically wanted McBride to do it, and that meant a lot to the younger bassist. "Ron is a tower. He is a pillar—a pillar of greatness."

Suggesting that the same could be said about McBride himself, he answered with a big laugh, "Nawh. Well, I'm knocking on the door and asking to be let in."

Ask anyone who has been following McBride's career over the last 20-plus years, and you're certain to come away thinking that that McBride has already pulled open that door to greatness—sheared it right off its hinges—quite a long time ago. He's renowned for his astounding technique, brilliantly inventive solos, telepathic sensitivity as an accompanist, impeccable time and swing, and the full, rich, powerful sound he gets from his bass. He is deeply steeped in the great traditions of jazz and, at the same time, shows influences from R&B, fusion, and funk—a protégé of the iconic jazz bassist Ray Brown who also reveres the Godfather of Soul, James Brown.

Since his arrival in New York in 1989 from his hometown of Philadelphia, the bassist has played with a host of jazz masters, starting with a stint in saxophonist Bobby Watson's band just two weeks into McBride's first semester at Juilliard. Before long, he signed up with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, touring with him for over two years. Another especially important early gig for McBride was with Ray Brown's Super Bass, working alongside Brown and John Clayton in the unusual setting of a three-bass trio. Over the years, he's played with saxophonist Sonny Rollins, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, pianists McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, and guitarist Pat Metheny, among many others. And he's worked with a wide spectrum of collaborators outside of jazz, including Isaac Hayes, Natalie Cole, James Brown, Sting, Carly Simon, the Shanghai Quartet, and Kathleen Battle.

McBride recorded his first album as a leader, Getting' to It (Verve), in 1995, when he was 22 years old, and he has long led his own bands. Inside Straight, the quintet he formed in 2008, has met with enormous success and continues to tour widely. In addition to fronting the Christian McBride Big Band, he also leads a trio, working with pianist Christian Sands and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr.. Along with The Good Feeling, he had another CD release in 2011, Conversations with Christian (Mack Avenue), a star-studded collection of duet recordings. And beyond his nearly constant touring, active recording schedule, composing and arranging, he's busy as an educator and advocate for jazz. He's Artistic Advisor for the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, has hosted his own radio show on Sirius XM, coordinated jazz programming with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, been the Creative Director of the educational organization Jazz House Kids for the last ten years—and that's just a sampling of his many activities.



All About Jazz: You finished up a tour of Europe with your trio recently. How did it go?

Christian McBride: It wasn't a long tour—it just felt long. The travel was really intense. Every day was two modes of transportation or more—either two planes and a train, or a plane and a train and a drive. It was really back breaking every day. We played every night. We went to Europe on April 22nd from St. Louis—I had a gig with my big band there—and I took my trio to Europe straight from St. Louis. And we played, I believe, six or seven straight dates. Then, I flew back to New York to play at the International Day of Jazz concert at the U.N. All in all I was home for three days and then flew back to Europe to finish the rest of the tour. And we finished by playing six straight dates. My manager called me last night; he said, hey a last minute offer came in for you to play—before he finished the sentence, I said, "no." "But I haven't told you..." I said, "I don't want to know what it is. I am not going anywhere for a couple of weeks."

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