Bassist extraordinaire, 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 just entered his 40's.
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.
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 claimed the "Movement" as, "a work that was admirable — to paraphrase Dr. King — 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 celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month, here's a playlist of favorites from Grammy Award-winning bassist, composer, educator, broadcaster and Jazz Night in America host Christian McBride.
NPR's Mary Louise Kelly talks with Christian McBride, the host of Jazz Night in America, about the toll the pandemic has taken on the jazz community.