Here comes McBride

Bassist Christian McBride returns to Israel this week for the sixth time to perform from his latest album ‘Kind of Brown.’

McBride 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
McBride 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Christian McBride has been mixing it with his contemporaries, and many of the older generations, for so long now that it’s hard to believe the jazz bassist is still the “right side” of 40.
“I think people make too much of the issue of age,” states the 39-year-old Philly-born New Yorker who will make his sixth working visit to this country in the last two decades, when he appears at Zappa Club in Tel Aviv and Herzliyah on Wednesday and Thursday respectively.
“Everybody I have ever looked up to started out when they were young. [Late drummer] Tony Williams may not have played with as many bands as I have, by the time he was 39, but he rewrote the book on modern drumming. It is far more important to look at what a person has achieved, and is achieving.”
McBride certainly qualifies on that count too, right across the board. He has performed and recorded with a huge number of jazz legends and ensembles, including trumpeter Freddie Hubbard, saxophonist Joe Henderson, pianists Hank Jones, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and Uri Caine, guitarist Pat Metheny and vocalist Diana Krall, to name but a few. McBride also puts in his fair share of non-jazz stints and has worked with opera singer Kathleen Battle, pop icon Sing and soul legend James Brown.
The bassman not only plays with many different kinds of artists, he also varies his output as leader. His last album, Kind of Brown, featured him with his Inside Straight quintet but he is coming here with a different lineup.
“This is a new trio with a young man called Christian Sands on piano. I think he is going to be one of the next major voices. He’s only 22 years old and he’s incredible. He studied with [pianist-composer-educator] Dr. Billy Taylor as a teenager, and he also spent some time with [pianist] Oscar Peterson.”
Taylor died last year at the age of 89 and Peterson died in 2007 at the age of 82.
“It’s refreshing to hear a young man who really has a grasp of tradition and also has amazing technique. He is clear and precise, and he can play very fast and he can play a very tender expressive ballad. He also has very modern ideas so I think he is the complete package.”
High praise indeed.
The third member of the trio is not exactly in the senior citizens league either. Drummer Ulysses Owens Jr. is just 28 but has been on the scene for a while.
“Everything I said about Christian can be equally applied to Ulysses,” says the band leader.
“He has been working with me, on and off, for about three years now and he is quickly becoming one of the first call drummers in New York City.”
WHILE MCBRIDE has paid his dues on the gig circuit, and in the recording studio, his formal musical education was, willingly, cut short when he decided to leave prestigious New York conservatory of the arts, Juilliard School. Juilliard accepts only around six percent of those who apply to study there annually so it must have been quite a decision to make. “I don’t really think you can learn to be a great jazz musician at school,” states McBride.
“All school can give you is a place to experiment and to put your own ideas to the test, and to work with other musicians. I have mixed feelings about jazz education. While it’s wonderful that young jazz musicians can have a place to go to school, and the music can get the Establishment attention it deserves, we also have to be very careful that we don’t teach young jazz musicians to lose their individuality.”
For McBride the emphasis is definitely on the latter, and he goes along with the oft-quoted ambition that jazz artists should strive “to find their own voice.”
“I have heard a lot of jazz musicians saying that schools just teach kids the same thing, and jazz is not the same thing to everybody. There has to be a way to embrace one’s individuality.”
Still, the bassist said he didn’t leave Juilliard emptied handed.
“I studied strictly classical music there – they didn’t teach jazz when I was there – but I learned how to play my instrument properly. I learned a lot about my favorite classical composers. That’s what Juilliard was for.”
McBride has certainly kicked on considerably since then. He has put out nine albums under his own name and contributed to almost 300 other recordings, including vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Grammy Award winning album Eleanora Fagan: To Bille With Love, From Dee Dee.
Besides pure entertainment and, possibly, spiritual uplifting, McBride says he feels music in general, and jazz, can help to bridge cultural and social gaps. His Kind of Brown album, for instance include a number simply called “Pursuit of Peace.”
“Music is a healing force. Every time there’s some disaster in the world they call in the artists. They know the power of music can heal all.”
Then again, the powers that be don’t always remember that.
“It is really sad that the US government has little by little, every year for the last 20 years, taken away money from the public school system for arts programs.
In fact, jazz musicians for years have had to make at least half of their income outside the States.
Things like jazz and experimental music are embraced everywhere else in the world.”
McBride is evidently happy to be coming here this week, and the Israeli jazz loving public ain’t too down about it either.
The Christian McBride Trio will play two sets each night at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv and in Herzliyah on June 8 and 9 respectively. Doors open at 7 p.m. and 9:45 p.m. and the shows start at 8 p.m. and 10:45 p.m. For tickets: (03) 762-6666