Bassist Christian McBride Celebrates His 20th Dynamic Year
As a Solo Artist, Band Leader, Educator, Artistic Director and Artist in Residence
Since 1989 when bassist Christian McBride moved to New York at the age of 17, the Philadelphia native has been one of the most important and influential artists of his generation. He's not only developed into a top-tier solo artist who is equally adept on acoustic and electric bass, but he's also been the go-to bass sideman, with support duties ranging from Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea to Diana Krall and Sting. Over the past 20 years, McBride has been documented on over 250 recordings. In addition, he has been at the forefront of jazz education, including serving as an artist in residence at festivals (most recently 2008's Detroit International Jazz Festival and the Monterey Jazz Festival). He is the artistic director of the JAS Band Academy (Jazz Aspen Snowmass, Band Edition) and also serves as co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. He is currently the creative jazz chair for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. In this role, he proudly served as producer, music director and arranger for his hero the late James Brown, for his first-ever jazz show at the Hollywood Bowl in September 2006.
In 2009, the 36-year-old, Grammy Award-winning McBride will make new strides on a variety of artistic fronts. He will issue his debut album for Mack Avenue Records Kind of Brown, with his new acoustic quintet Inside Straight, with pianist Eric Reed, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson and drummer Carl Allen. The album — his seventh as a leader — was recorded at the historic Fantasy Studio in Berkeley, CA in September 2008 and will be released on June 16, 2009.
McBride's new quintet was formed in June 2007 as a result of the bassist playing the Village Vanguard in New York for the first time in 10 years. While the group played material from McBride's earlier albums, the chemistry was right for future endeavors, including an appearance at the Monterey Jazz Festival in September 2008 shortly before the recording. "When we played at the Vanguard, everyone raved about the show," says McBride. "I had no intention of forming a future working band, but people kept telling me that the group had to be documented."
While the quintet was courted by various labels, McBride decided to hook up with Mack Avenue. "I was not interested in signing an old, classic recording contract," he said. "But Mack Avenue made it clear that it was not only excited about me joining its family of artists, but also wanted to give me the freedom to be creative and explore new models of distribution, which would be beneficial to both parties."
Kind of Brown will not only be released on CD and digitally, but it will also be released on vinyl and high-resolution 24-bit 96 KHz digital downloads, both firsts for Mack Avenue.
The new quintet, which has only played at the Vanguard, Monterey and Brazil for one show, will begin touring the U.S. in May.
In addition to Kind of Brown, in February, McBride will be launching his innovative yearlong Conversations With Christian project that encompasses 20 duet performances with a myriad of fellow artists complemented by a special one-on-one interview. The "conversations" will be available online at McBride's website, and the music will be offered as digital downloads available on an ongoing basis throughout the year, with a Mack Avenue CD compiling all the sessions to be released late in 2009. At present, McBride has conversed and performed with an impressive roll call of artists such as George Duke, Chick Corea, Roy Hargrove, Angelique Kidjo, Ron Blake, Eddie Palmieri, Russell Malone, Regina Carter, Dr. Billy Taylor and Hank Jones. Other artists expected to participate in the genre-bending conversation-duet project include Sting, Diana Krall, Bruce Hornsby and Gina Gershon.
The duet project started a few years ago as an outgrowth of the biweekly "Harlem Speaks" interviews McBride instituted at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. McBride says that the idea of making a recording of duets in addition to conducting interviews appealed to him the most: "I decided to enlist people who I admired and cared about," he says. "I wanted to work closely with those people." The first "converse and play" session took place with Duke on a tune McBride wrote, "McDukey Blues" ("Whooh, that was a lot of fun, but it was also like getting my butt kicked all day long by this great musician," McBride says with a laugh), and an early session took place with Palmieri on the tune "Guajira y Tumbao" that the duo co-wrote ("Eddie came in with a sketch and told me to put something in this hole he left open for me," McBride says).
This spring McBride will rejoin the Chick Corea/John McLaughlin Five Peace Band (also featuring saxophonist Kenny Garrett and either drummer Vinnie Colaiuta or Brian Blade). The super group toured Europe last fall and will be performing in the U.S. this year.
In the late summer and early fall, McBride plans to set up a New York big band residency. While the project is still in the planning stages, it will no doubt find the bassist/bandleader stretching the musical envelope as he had done throughout his career.
Other highlights from the past year include McBride's civil rights-inspired large ensemble piece, "The Movement Revisited" (premiered at the Disney Hall in Los Angeles), and his involvement as a teacher/facilitator at the Monterey Jazz Festival's springtime New Generation Festival and the Summer Jazz Camp. Said MJF General Manager Tim Jackson: "[Christian is] a real-people person and educator by inclination. He has a way of making young students feel comfortable because... it’s easy for him to see where these kids are coming from. Because he’s so strong in the fundamentals of music [and] in the tradition of acoustic bass playing, when he stretches to electric bass and lays something funky, there's a credibility with students — they recognize that he’s the real deal."
Tour Dates for the Five Peace Band can be found here.