Christian McBride Interview by Jake Kot –
When I first did an interview with Christian a couple of years ago, he was about to go on a world tour with Pat Metheny. Not long after that, he went on tour again with, as Christian states, one of the best bands he has ever worked with, The 5 Piece Band featuring Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Kenny Garret, and Vinnie Colaiuta.
Following that, he created his latest to entity called “Inside Straight” featuring Eric Reed, Warren Wolf, Steve Wilson, and Carl Allen, and went on tour with them as well as completing the band’s first CD, Kind of Brown. This prestigious player definitely gets around, not only globally, but musically and artistically in every sense of the word.
His penchant diversity is more than obvious, and his dedication to absolutely any style of music he undertakes is unquestioned. This is truly a 21st century player that has all the capabilities of staying a cutting edge player, and balances that with a deep respect for the jazz traditions laid down by our musical forefathers in that idiom. His compositional prowess is an equal match to his diversity as a player as he has written for everything from the traditional trio format to a big band ensemble, and has received nothing but praise from the jazz community for his efforts.
His reflections on what a younger player should be considering are noteworthy in this interview. It takes someone like Christian to be able to have that kind of perspective; a player that has a history of being able to musically interact with so many icons in so many genres so successfully over the years. And once again I’m reminded that the true greats in our musical community embrace the words humble/egoless almost as an ideology, as well as keeping the perspective of remaining a student of the arts an absolute “ongoing” life quest. These are the qualities of a “consummate” musician, and that’s where he lives.
Jake: How did you come up with the lineup of musicians for the Inside Straight band?
Christian: A couple of years ago I was hanging out at the Village Vanguard and it occurred to me that I hadn’t played there in ten years as a band leader, and that’s a big no-no. If you consider yourself a self-respecting jazz musician, the Village Vanguard is one of those havens where you must perform to ‘check in with the angels’ so to speak. I went to the owner, Loraine Gordon, and said, “it’s been so long since I played here, can I come back?” And she said, absolutely, you can come back, but I know those guys in your current band and we don’t book rock and roll in here. (Laughs) I knew what that meant, that’s hallow-ground for straight-ahead jazz—no fusion in the Vanguard.
Jake: Was that the CMB band that she was referring to?
Christian: That’s right. So I put together some Vanguard regulars. There’s a younger guy, I’ve been in love with his playing for a while, his name is Warren Wolf, a vibes player, and also Steve Wilson, Carl Allen, and Eric Reed. These guys are always playing the Vanguard—they’re like New York staples. So I put that band together thinking we would just play one week at the Vanguard, and then go our own separate ways, back to what we were all doing. But the week was sensational. We did amazing business, and all the guys in the band had fun. A few record industry people came down and they said whatever happens you have to keep this band together. All the guys in the band seemed to agree, and a year later we recorded Kind of Brown, and the year after that it was released, which is this year, and we pretty much have been on the road ever since.
Jake: I know you composed eight of the eleven tracks for the CD and I was wondering if the writing preceded the band. But it looks like it was the other way around.
Christian: There was a song that I had already written, The Shade of the Cedar Tree—that was actually a song from my first CD. I thought it would be a good time to re-record it. Other than that I believe everything else was brand new.
Jake: Who else contributed to the writing for the CD?
Christian: Eric Reed wrote one of the songs, I recorded one of Freddie Hubbard’s lesser-known songs called Theme for Kareem, and we recorded an old standard called, “Where are You.”
Jake: Is it true that you got the name for the band in a “Name that Band” contest?
Christian: That’s correct, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. After we played the Vanguard, we didn’t play together for another year. We had two gigs, one in Brazil, and the Monterey Jazz festival. We played the festival on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturday we announced that we’re having a name the band contest, and everyone could submit a band name to my website, and we would check them overnight and name the winner on Sunday. In that 24 HR period, we had over 3000 entries, and my manager and I knew that there was no way in the world we were going to be able to go through this overnight. We figured we needed about a week to go through everything. We finally settled on Inside Straight. Stylistically speaking, it seemed to sum up the band perfectly.