Another interesting point about the band was the violent change of the personality of the band switching between Vinnie Colaiuta and Brian Blade. Even before the tour started, we knew that Vinnie was going to have to leave the tour for an extended period of time to play with Jeff Beck. So Chick called Brian Blade to take over. You could not find two more completely different drummers then Vinnie and Bryan. Vinnie is more or less this big strong he-man of the drummer, in volume, and in chops. And then you have Bryan Blade who is like this exquisite painter and minimalist. He’ll just drop a bomb every now and then to make it a work of art. The interesting thing was how John dealt with it. John actually has some hearing issues, as you can imagine with all the drummers that he’s played with over the years. Vinnie, who of course plays much harder than Brian, coupled with the fact that he had these mounted monitors behind his head, had a much bigger sound. John was using Vinnie’s monitors as well, and the sound on stage was very dense. And Brian is the type of guy who would use no monitors, or very little monitor feed. It was hilarious on the first couple of gigs with Brian watching John looking at us going, is he playing? You could see on John’s face that he was panicking a little bit, and he knew he was going to have to get used to this new setup. Obviously, he did get used to it, and it was wonderful.
Jake: Did you have to make I guess I’ll say kind of a different approach conceptually playing with Brian after working with Vinnie?
Christian: Well, I didn’t need as much volume; it was certainly much more of a natural stage sound so to speak. With Vinnie, we kind of had to crank it a little bit just to get over the drum sound. But with Brian, I think just in terms of stage volume, it was a little more natural. That’s certainly not to say that I didn’t enjoy playing with Vinnie as much. Vinnie and I had played a few gigs with Sting together as well, and I certainly see Vinnie being at legendary status now; and rightfully so. He’s the consummate musician.
Jake: Best that you can answer this for me, what do you think has been the key element to your success as far as being able to work with players on such a high level, and such a diversified construct over the years; from Sonny Rollins, to Metheny, Corea, Sting, and on and on?
Christian: Man, I don’t know—tough question. I think people know that I do have a genuine respect for all music in general. Everybody says, they love everything, and they respect everything, but I’d like to think that I’ve proven that I really do try to respect the elements of all these different styles of music. And if I don’t know something, I’m very willing to learn and really get inside of it. I don’t ever want it to get to that point where I would say, well, I’m Christian McBride, and I don’t really need to do any extra work. A lot of guys do that, as we all know, once they reach a certain level in their career. For example, I’ve worked a lot with Eddie Palmieri, and I think one of the reasons he’s been so gracious to allow me to play with him so much is because when you start talking about Latin music, you’ve got to understand that those musicians are very passionate about what they do. And I know if I’m going to play this music, I better play it right. I can’t come up and try to rough off a kind of one bass line fits everything. And I think Eddie knows that I really try to respect the music, and learn what needs to be done. It’s about being flexible, and really putting the music before my own ego. I think Herbie Hancock has been the greatest example of somebody who can just do anything, and do anything well. Chick is also like that. These guys are wide open, and respect everything. If they don’t really know what it is, they’ll “ask” you what it is and what they need to do to make it better.
Jake: It’s got to be gratifying for younger players to know that their contemporaries are working just as hard, and I think that’s a great message to send out. And I think that maybe you’ve answered my question; it’s a continual process, it never ends.
Christian: Absolutely! It’s all about having a passion—a love and respect for the music. If you’re busy just trying to establish your own thing, there’s no balance. This is what all the legends do; they really take the time to figure out all that needs to be learned in whatever they are involved in, and then they’ll work to fit in.
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