McBride of Jazz--Fest Bassist Christian McBride performs at Kuumbwa Jazz Center
Thursday, October 1, 1998
If you saw some of Christian McBride''s three sets at the Monterey Jazz Festival two weeks ago, you might be as interested as I am to hear more from this quartet. They play Monday at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz.
In an interview from Los Angeles with the 26-year-old bassist, we discussed his rise to jazz stardom, the misconception that he is a card-carrying member of the acoustic traditionalist "Young Lions" group, and his approach to jazz as presented on his new CD, A Family Affair.
With an eye towards wider exposure using a diverse mix of jazz styles, including two songs with lyrics he wrote with R&B singers Vesta and Will Downing as vocalists, he treads the ground between serious in-your-face hard jazz and the so-called smooth jazz. It is one way, he says, to gain recognition on a wider scale and expose young listeners to jazz by sneaking it in through the cross-genre back door. The CD''s 10 cuts include forays into fusion, avant-garde, funk, R&B, and a bass/guitar duo on Earth, Wind and Fire''s "I''ll Write A Song For You."
Although McBride has been recognized for his contributions to the classic jazz tradition since a young age, he has covered a wide range of musical styles.
"I played a lot of funk, I studied classical music pretty intensely, I was doing jazz gigs, and I was playing wedding bands. I played pretty much everything. The only thing I didn''t do was country western.
"Sometimes I giggle when I find that I''m labeled this jazz acoustic traditionalist kind of guy, and I think ''I''m nowhere near that. How''d I get that reputation?''"
Most likely it''s because when he first arrived in New York to attend Juilliard on a scholarship in 1989, he was hired to play gigs that reflected jazz tradition, working first with alto saxophonist Bobby Watson''s band which served as a training ground for young musicians much as Art Blakey did with his Jazz Messengers before his death in 1990. It was McBride''s dream to be part of the Blakey tradition, but he feels through his associations with ex-Jazz Messengers Benny Golson, Freddie Hubbard and Benny Green, among others, he has absorbed the vibe connected with that gig. But he has also played with artists who are removed completely from the jazz idiom.
Considered one of the busiest working bassists in the New York scene, McBride confesses it''s time to settle into one avenue of the business. For the rest of the year and for most of the next, he plans to tour, tour and tour some more with his quartet to develop a strong ensemble sound that gives the band a chance to reach levels it wouldn''t if he was working on too many other projects.
"I kind of feel like, to a certain extent," he says, "I''m teasing people. Because it almost seems, when someone mentions, ''What does Christian McBride do?'' they say, ''Uhhhh, I''m not really sure. Sometimes he''s a bandleader, sometimes he''s a sideman, sometimes he''s in the studio. I don''t know what he does. I guess he does it all.'' That''s a compliment, but at the same time, bandleading is something you want to focus on."
Christian McBride Quartet, Monday,