Christian McBride is a bassist, composer, arranger and jazz commentator/host. He tours and travels the world with the energy of a man constantly pumped up on the spirit of the music.
It is from listening to him play that you feel his joy for the art form. His tight musical sense of connection with other artists is strikingly apparent in the very rich and easy-going “Conversations with Christian,” his interview show now on Sirius XM’s “Real Jazz.”
What has been the biggest change in the music industry from when you began?
The instruments and sound world have become a lot smaller since early 1980s. In an instant, you can pull out your smartphone and immediately find out what somebody’s doing halfway around the world. You can put music out there and anyone can access it.
What has been the biggest change in the music itself over the years, as in, how jazz sounds?
Probably the last development that has unanimously shaken the boat in the jazz community was fusion in 70s.
Instrument you would love to learn?
Often I have dreams that I’m McCoy Tyner, so maybe the piano.
Top musical influences?
James Brown, Ray Brown, Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Oliver Nelson, Quincy Jones, Jaco Pastorius, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra.
Top personal influences?
My mother Renee, who has been a huge influence. She has so much integrity, she’s so smart and has a lot of guts.
Benny Green was probably my first really close friend in my school years. I met him when I was 17. He was a major influence.
What is your favorite aspect of your career right now: composing, performing, producing or as a host of your radio show?
I’m pretty good at being able to focus completely on whatever I’m doing at the moment.
Being behind the bass is probably where I feel the most natural.
Most interesting radio interview and why?
I’ve had some fun ones. Maybe Lou Donaldson, he made me laugh the hardest. Also Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. I was so humbled and awestruck. He’ll do that to you.
What is the key to great improv?
Relinquishing yourself to the mood. Never to overthink.
How did you learn the discipline to practice your craft?
No one ever had to tell me I had to practice. I couldn’t wait to do it.
Where would you like to perform that you have not yet visited?
India. I’m dying to get there.
Would you say the bass is your alter ego when you perform?
Big time. Without question.
Describe your experience with the full orchestra doing “The Movement Revisited” and what did you take away from the success of that performance?
There’s been a few of those. The first time, in 1998, my honest thought was I can’t wait to do this again when it’s a little more developed. I knew people would enjoy it in 1998. I learned as a performer that as long as you play your heart out and give them the most you can, people will appreciate it.
If you’re composing something, you know when it’s not quite what you want to give the audience. When we played it in 2008 that’s when I was really excited.
Do you feel we have made any progress against racism in the music industry? Are you hopeful for our society as a whole?
There are two ways to deal with racism in music. One is to channel your anger into the music and be a reporter of your culture. Often you are preaching to the choir. If the person who is a racist is not a fan of your music, then your anger is not going to matter to them. If a racist likes your music, I have a feeling they can turn it off.
I think of someone like Sly Stone. Without making one single radical musical song per se, you look onstage and see he’s got two women, two white guys, two black guys. There’s this amazing racial mix and they’re making this fun music together, they’re harmonizing. That would touch a racist better.
You’re a big football fan. Do you see a correlation between jazz and organized sports?
I think there are a lot of parallels between them. You have a playbook, you have a plan of attack, just like in jazz. The melody is written and the changes are determined. There is a blueprint for you to improvise. Sometimes when you get on a court you have to improvise based on what’s given to you in the moment, based on what you know.
Continuing to juggle all these different new ensembles: my quartet, my big band, and then NPR Jazz, my radio show “Conversations with Christian,” curating for the Newport Jazz Festival and the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
© 2017 Debbie Burke
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