Bassist extraodinaire, composer, arranger, educator, curator and administrator, Christian McBride, has been one of the most important and most omnipresent figures in the jazz world for 20 years. Sometimes hard to believe, considering this man is barely in his 40s.
Beginning in 1989, this Philadelphia-born bassist moved to New York City to further his classical studies at the Juilliard School, only to be snatched up by alto saxophonist Bobby Watson. Since then, McBride's list of accomplishments has been nothing short of staggering. As a sideman in the jazz world alone, he's worked with the best of the very best -- Freddie Hubbard, Sonny Rollins, J.J. Johnson, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Pat Metheny. In the R&B world, he's not only played with, but also arranged for Isaac Hayes, Chaka Khan, Natalie Cole, Lalah Hathaway, and the one and only Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown. In the pop/rock world, he's extensively collaborated with Sting, Carly Simon, Don Henley, and Bruce Hornsby. In the hip-hop/neo-soul world, he's collaborated with The Roots, D'Angelo, and Queen Latifah. In many other specialty projects, he's worked closely with opera legend Kathleen Battle, bass virtuoso Edgar Meyer, the Shanghai Quartet and the Sonus Quartet.
Away from the bass, Christian has become quite an astute and respected spokesperson for the music. In 1997, he spoke on former President Bill Clinton's town hall meeting "Racism in the Performing Arts." In 2000, he was named Artistic Director of the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Summer Sessions. In 2005, he was officially named the co-director of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Also in 2005, he was named the second Creative Chair for Jazz of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association. And in 2016, he was named artistic director of the Newport Jazz Festival, succeeding the festival's founder and artistic director since 1954, George Wein.
In 1998, McBride composed "The Movement, Revisited," a four-movement suite dedicated to four of the major figures of the civil rights movement -- Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The piece was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society and the National Endowment for the Arts. The piece was performed throughout the New England states in the fall of 1998 with McBride's quartet and a 30-piece gospel choir led by J.D. Steele.
Ten years later in 2008, "The Movement, Revisited" was expanded, re-written, re-vamped and performed again in Los Angeles at Walt Disney Concert Hall. The updated version now featured the gospel choir, an 18-piece big-band and four actors/speakers. The Los Angeles Times called it "a work that was admirable for both the content of its music and the character of its message."
Since 2000, McBride has blazed a trail as a bandleader with the Christian McBride Band. McBride's fellow bandmates -- saxophonist Ron Blake, keyboardist Geoffrey Keezer and drummer Terreon Gully -- have sympathetically shared McBride's all-inclusive, forward-thinking outlook on music. Releasing two CD's -- 2002's Vertical Vision and 2006's Live at Tonic, writer Alan Leeds called McBride's band (affectionately known as the "CMB") "one of the most intoxicating, least predictable bands on the scene today." It is a group that has mesmerizingly walked an electro-acoustic fault line with amazing results.
In 2009, Christian released his quintet CD Christian McBride & Inside Straight on the Detroit-based Mack Avenue Records. The CD was a return to his undiluted "straight-ahead" roots featuring alto/soprano saxophonist, Steve Wilson; vibraphonist, Warren Wolf; pianist, Eric Reed and drummer, Carl Allen.
His second release on the label was Conversations with Christian, a recording of duets with McBride and some of his best friends and mentors -- George Duke, Angelique Kidjo, Dr. Billy Taylor, Hank Jones, Chick Corea, Eddie Palmieri, Regina Carter, Ron Blake, Roy Hargrove and Russell Malone among many others.
In a stellar career that continues to showcase his remarkable talents as a consummate musician, McBride reaches another milestone with the 2011 release of The Good Feeling, his first big band recording as a leader and newest release for Mack Avenue Records.
In addition to his work in the neo-soul arena with The Roots, D'Angelo, Queen Latifah and others, the Philadelphia native has also led his own ensembles: The Christian McBride Band, A Christian McBride Situation and his most recent group, Inside Straight (fresh off their critically acclaimed 2009 effort, Kind of Brown). There are many sides to the musical persona of Christian McBride, and The Good Feeling has him realizing another one: as the leader, arranger and conductor of his big band.
McBride's first foray into the world of big band composing and arranging dates back to 1995, when he was commissioned by Jazz At Lincoln Center to write "Bluesin' in Alphabet City," featured on The Good Feeling and originally debuted by Wynton Marsalis & The Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra.
A hallmark of The Good Feeling is its consistent energy, present from the opening track "Shake 'n Blake." With its powerful trumpet section pronouncement, the band is telling the listener, "Here we are, ready to have some fun, and we're taking you along for the ride." But just as important is the band's understanding of nuance; it's McBride's arranging touch bringing out the best in its members, helping to create the tightly knit sound you hear throughout this recording.
Putting a big band together is no easy task, but in this particular band, McBride feels fortunate to work with some of the most talented musicians in the jazz world. For his part, McBride feels that this process turned out the way he had hoped, with many musicians involved with whose work he is particularly familiar.
"[Trumpeter] Freddie Hendrix is one of the flagship guys in the big band, as is Frank Greene, along with trombonists Michael Dease and Steve Davis. (Steve and I go way back. He was one of my first calls). And the saxophone section was kind of a no-brainer -- Steve Wilson and Ron Blake, who have been the saxophonists in my last two working bands. I had to have those guys," McBride says. "Now, one thing that seems to be my Achilles' heel with any band that I've had during my career is the piano chair, simply because everyone's working all the time. But the X-Man, Xavier Davis, came in and did such a fantastic job."
The repertoire on The Good Feeling features classic, staple tunes along with original McBride compositions -- the perfect balance and platform on which to showcase the band. The selections range from easier, in-the-pocket swing -- showcased on "Broadway" and "I Should Care" -- to McBride's originals, many of which have been featured on the bassist's earlier recordings, now rearranged for big band. These tracks include "Brother Mister" (the opening track of Kind of Brown); "The Shade Of The Cedar Tree" and "In A Hurry" (both featured on the 1995 classic Gettin' to It); and "Science Fiction" (the nucleus for McBride's 2000 effort Sci-Fi). Additionally the disc features tasteful renditions of "When I Fall In Love," "The More I See You" and "A Taste of Honey" -- all featuring exceptional performances by vocalist Melissa Walker.