Christian McBride Interview
Talking with Christian McBride
by Paula Edelstein
Photo: Deborah Feingold
The celebrated jazz educator, master bassist, composer and arranger, Christian McBride gives us a new recording, told in a language of blazing originality. McBride’s latest is a first-class masterpiece and he gave us some insight about the recording in a recent interview. Here’s what he had to say…
PE: Hello Christian, so nice to talk to you again. Congratulations on your debut for Warner Brothers. Let’s talk about VERTICAL VISION. It clearly demonstrates that you appreciate and embrace both the historical and cultural aesthetic of jazz music. There’s bebop, fusion, free and traditional jazz styles included on the program. What inspired VERTICAL VISION?
CM: The same thing that inspired my last few CDs…just the beauty and diversity of improvisation. The beauty and joy of living life in general and just trying not to fight any certain emotion or whatever feeling you have at that moment. I am totally a guy who lives in the moment. I sometimes tend to do things and worry about it later. That could be good or bad but I find that generally, when it comes to music, it’s almost always a good thing that you don’t try to hold anything back.
PE: Would you agree that VERTICAL VISION is also a symbolic definition of the language that emanates from your acoustic bass?
CM: Yes and you know I didn’t think about that until after I made the record.
PE: Christian, you’re a well-respected man that wears many hats. You’re a bandleader, composer, arranger, educator…how do you delineate the mindset of each profession in order to accomplish the specific goals of each calling?
CM: Well, I think it helps; one that I’m a Gemini! (Smiles) and two, I think it helps that I have a passion for all music in general and whatever I’m called to do at that point, I really want to do it well. Maybe there will come a point when I decide that maybe I can’t do everything as well as I’d like to. So maybe I’ll start editing as time goes on. But at the moment, I like doing a little bit of everything. I like to compose, I like to arrange, I like to teach, and I like leading a band. But I also like playing in other people’s bands where I don’t have any stress. I can just follow orders. I like doing it well. I don’t like going into anything halfway.
PE: Well Christian, most geniuses don’t and you certainly are a genius in every sense of the word. You also have this growing body of work and reputation for edgy innovation, you’ve already begun carving a place for yourself in the genre’s long and still-unfolding story of compelling creativity. How has the collaborative and creative process with this particular ensemble of Ron Blake, Geoff Keezer, Terreon Gully, David Gilmore and Danny Sadownick kept your creativity flowing and bass chops burning?
CM: I cannot begin to tell you how blessed I feel to have this band. And I can say this truthfully from the bottom of my heart. If something happened where this band broke up tomorrow, I would really feel grateful because up until this point, I’ve had nothing but wonderful times with this band. I’ve finally found a group of guys who have completely open minds who are not afraid to try anything…no matter how bizarre it may seem at the moment. I just have a lot of fearless guys in the band who happen to be very musical. They use their taste to the utmost and when you have that combination of taste and fearlessness, I think you get a group of musicians that are going to make you feel good every night. Ron Blake has been playing with me since the end of 1999 and Geoff Keezer and Terreon Gully joined about nine or ten months later. When they joined the band, the group that I have on my SCI-FI recording with Rodney Green and Shedrick Mitchell had just split up under some really strange circumstances. So I started touring with these four guys, I was in a headspace where I didn’t care whether this band stayed together or not. I was like “Look, if we stay together, fine. If not, I expected it.” Now three years later, it’s like WOW! We’re still together and it still feels new. I am really looking forward to this upcoming tour.
PE: We are too! Christian, at this point in your career, do you consider playing jazz music an aggressive way of making art?
CM: Aggressive? I wouldn’t…it can be aggressive obviously. There are some moments when the aggression can get a little intensive. But it doesn’t necessarily have to be aggressive because…well, look at karate. That’s an art form. That’s a serious art form that can cause you some physical pain. (Smile). Making music doesn’t necessary cause you…
PE: But Christian…to use a metaphor, you have really “slayed” your audiences with those serious bass chops of yours! In fact, you’ve “floored” me as an audience member many times! (Smiles) So artistic aggression is good indeed! And finally, what do you want your listeners to come away with after hearing VERTICAL VISION?
CM: Well, I would hope that people would listen to the CD and just really try to hear the CD and say to themselves, “These guys really know each other well and enjoy playing together.” So I just hope they keep an open mind and let the music take them naturally instead of thinking “Oh Ray Brown’s protégé…former Wynton Marsalis protégé…Sting’s bass player…session guy.” Then trying to put an equation on the whole thing. I rather them just listen to the music and enjoy it.
PE: As they should. Again, thank you for the interview and congratulations on VERTICAL VISION. We’re looking forward to hearing music from it at your upcoming concerts. In the meantime, we’ll keep the CD in the player and stay updated through your website at www.christianmcbride.com
CM: Thank you, Paula.