Joe McBride says he’s a lucky guy. For starters, he’s about to realize a dream by finally making it over here, even if it will be mostly a working visit. Besides being a jazz singer/pianist and composer, the Missouri-born McBride is a devout Christian and says he’s looking forward to being in the Holy Land.
“It has always been a dream of mine to go to Israel,” said McBride in a telephone interview from his New York home. “I hope I can find some time between gigs to get to the Old City of Jerusalem and some other places. We’ll see.”
His concerts will take place all over the country as part of the next slot in this year’s Hot Jazz series, kicking off with a February 8 (9 p.m.) show at the Rehovot Conservatory of Music and ending at Abba Hushi House in Haifa on February 15 (9 p.m.). In between, there will be concerts at the Jerusalem Theater, Zappa Club in Herzliya, Einan Hall in Modi’in and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art.
The 50-year-old McBride has been honing his playing and singing skills for quite some time.
“In the 1960s and ‘70s I’d listen to whatever was on AM radio back then – rock and roll, blues. I grew up in the St. Louis area, and St. Louis and the Midwest have a long history of music. And, of course, there were the [soul] sounds coming out of Motown and Top 40 stuff. Jazz came along later,” he says.
McBride certainly got a good grounding in the latter and listened to records by the likes of trailblazers saxophonist John Coltrane and trumpeter Miles Davis and the work of various musicians across the jazz ages.
“I was exposed to people I heard playing in some of the jazz clubs in St. Louis,” he recalls. “In the beginning it was mostly traditional jazz style. Everybody learned how to play the blues at least, and that’s the first jazz, blues.”
The bottom line for McBride is the spirit and joy he gets out of playing music and that his audience gets from hearing him do his thing.
“There are only two kinds of music – good and bad,” he notes, “and as long as the music has a groove, it’s okay by me. Jazz has so many styles. I love it all. It’s all great. As long as it makes you feel good.”
McBride’s course through life took a definitive turn when he visited his brother at North Texas State University in Denton in the mid- 1980s.
“There was a lot of music going on around there at the time in Dallas and other places, and I’d planned to spend a couple of weeks with my brother. But then I met Dave Love,” he recounts.
Love was a young trumpeter, and the two became good friends and musical collaborators. When Love moved to the other side of the music industry and started the Heads Up record label, he signed McBride to a record deal. His debut release, Grace, came out in 1992. To date, he has released six more albums with Heads Up, with another put out on the INAK Records label.
For his upcoming dates here, McBride will enjoy the seasoned sideman services of saxophonist Kenny Blake. The two crossed paths some 20 years ago when McBride played on Blake’s debut release with Heads Up, Interior Design, which came out the same year as McBride’s first fruit.
“Kenny and I have played together for a long time now,” notes McBride. “We have become sort of world traveling companions. We’ve played in South Africa together, and we’ve spent a good deal of time in Germany, The Netherlands and Spain. When I found out I was going to go to Israel, I said to Kenny, ‘Here we go again, brother.’ We’re used to playing and traveling together. It’s always exciting to play with Kenny. He’s a wonderful musician and a good friend.”
In fact, McBride got his first taste of performing for an audience when he was barely into his teens.
“When I was 12 or 13, I used to play with a blues band called Chump Change. I have a number by that name on my first record. They rolled out the big Hammond B-3 [organ] and they said, ‘You’re going to play that.’ The other guys in the band were about 35 or 40 years old. I guess that was my first bona fide gig, and I got paid for it. I got about $20. I was happy to get anything for playing music,” he says.
In addition to the sounds McBride imbibed from the radio and local clubs, his early musical ethos was largely shaped by visits to his local Baptist church.
“I’d play the organ in the church – gospel music. That’s part of who I am, too, as a person and as a musician,” he declares.
When McBride describes himself as being blessed by Lady Luck, considering he began losing his sight at the age of one and eventually became totally blind by age 13, you wonder why he feels so fortunate. In fact, what could have been a devastating development helped move his musical education along.
“I lived in a small town of around 20,000 people, and as there was no school for the blind there, I went to school in St. Louis,” he explains. “Because of the music culture in the big city, I was more exposed to a greater caliber of music, which I probably would not have had access to had I stayed in that small town.”
McBride says he is at an advantage compared with people who have been blind from birth.
“I did most of the normal things that kids did. I ran around and rode a bicycle. I could maybe still do that, but I’d have to be a little more careful,” he laughs. “I remember colors, which is important. Everything has its benefits. I think I have a lot more opportunities being blind than I’d have had if I hadn’t been blind. I think about that sometimes when I get depressed, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
McBride and Blake will play here with bassist Asaf Hakimi and drummer Aviv Cohen.
For tickets and more information: 1-700-5000-39 and www.hotjazz.co.il